Our first guest blogger is Jenny from Jen+Eric Generation, one of my favorite lifestyle reads (make sure you check it out!). It's a blog dedicated to "defying mediocrity" with a slogan straight from C. S. Lewis: "We are far too easily pleased." :) Jenny is a great writer, and I was thrilled when she agreed to be a part of the series. She must have telepathic abilities, too, because she captured what I had in mind for this project exactly without having any examples before her.
Without further ado, here's Jenny's story about who inspires her to be authentic...
"Be yourself" is an anthem we hear all the time. While I think everyone would agree that 'yourself' is the only person you should be, the phrase is vague and not exactly motivating in a culture that screams the ubiquitous message that we all must look a certain way, buy specific products, say the right things, and just overall be normal. That's what the media tells us, anyway. But motivational speakers, entrepreneurs, and people who generally seem content in their own skin, tell us a different message: you have to stand out to be successful. You'll never be happy being someone else besides you.
I completely agree that everyone should be their own authentic selves. Don't we all? It makes the world a lot more interesting. But, as the second oldest in my family and a born rule-follower, sometimes my people-pleasing side and my side that wants to be honest, are in competition. It's hard to stick your neck out there and be a little different sometimes. Confirmation is a comforting thing. But that deep realization that confirmation from other's is not something that should drive us, is something I want to be really comfortable with.
When Anna asked me who I know that really demonstrates authenticity, I had to think about it. My first thought was, "well, all of my friends and family". I value creativity and marching to the beat of your own drum pretty highly, and I think most of the people I really connect with are pretty authentic people. But then it hit me who the most authentic person I know is.
Julie being herself at a very young age
My sister Julie is the older of my two younger sisters. We are nineteen months apart, and in a lot of ways very similar. But in most ways, we are very different. Growing up, our personalities balanced each other out perfectly and we got along the majority of the time. I was the polite one never wanting to offend in social settings, with a fake laugh that sounded pretty real. Julie never committed to something she didn't actually want to do, never led a guy on (even accidentally), and couldn't care less about her popularity status.
Today, Julie would tell you that April Ludgate (played by Aubrey Plaza in Parks and Recreation) is her role-model. You don't know Julie, so that probably sounds odd if you are familiar with the dry, totally weird, funny and sarcastic character that is April. Julie is all of those things, but in a less socially awkward way. But the thing about April is that she gets to be herself. And that is something Julie has always been.
Growing up, if I was in a heated argument debate with my older brother or youngest sister, Julie would usually interject with nonsensical statements in her attempt to lighten the mood. She sings Broadway songs loudly and constantly, and rarely loses a staring contest. She is an introvert who was heavily involved in drama in high school and college, and is completely comfortable in front of a crowd.
In high school, she created a youtube channel for her random monologues, rants, and musical interpretations of her favorite songs from musicals. While the rest of the family laughed and cringed at her very public display of what used to be only an at-home indulgence, she steadily grew a large following of adoring fans. And when the occasional hater left a rude comment about how idiotic or ugly she was (ha!), she was happy for the challenge to leave brilliant responses for them dripping in sarcasm. It made the rude people look pretty foolish, and made Julie's channel all the more amusing.
Julie and me at her wedding shower four years ago
I casually asked Julie how she is able to not care about the approval of others, and this is what she told me: "Being authentic is a win-win: yeah, you might put your foot in your mouth sometimes, but it also means you are equipped for a genuine apology. You have to be authentically considerate, too". Isn't that just the truth? That is definitely something I have come to value more and more in others as I get older, and strive for myself. Striving to be honest, in every area of life, makes us more true to our own personalities, and frees us from caring what other people think. And while being honest may occasionally bring out the worst in ourselves, it will also mean we are facing our faults head on. And that is the only way improvement is made.
Being honest with ourselves and others is something I talk a lot about on my blog. I think typically we think of being honest as telling the truth, but you can still tell the truth and not be honest. Telling the whole truth, even when it paints a less flattering picture, is difficult to do. It takes some getting used to, even in our own thought life. For me, being authentic gets easier when you break down your motives to yourself. Ask yourself why you are agreeing to something, why you are spending your time this way instead of a different way, etc. Make a commitment to questioning your motives. And be honest in your answers every time.
Obviously, there is a time for being polite when it would be more natural for you to be rude. Manners do have their place in a civil society. But we can also practice making graciousness a more genuine part of our lives. And in that sense, we can become more authentic in our interactions with others simply by wanting to be polite. What might not feel natural at first can be learned, if it is a quality we want to display. Being authentic is not always easy, but the alternative leads to discontentment. And in the end, being honest is a lot less burdensome than being someone else.
Is there someone in your life who inspires you to be yourself? Leave a comment below and make sure you check out Jen+Eric Generation. :)