I have been devouring a lot of books lately, only it doesn’t feel so much like “devouring” because it’s on Kindle. Yes, it’s convenient to be able to buy any book at any time. Yes, it’s nice not to have to remember which page I am on when I fall asleep reading because Kindle does the thinking for me. And yes, it’s nice that 90 books weigh less than half a pound in my hand. But, it always feels like something is missing, it’s just not enough. I love the smell of books, I love filling my library with books, I love going back to old books and reading the parts I highlighted. I just don’t get that with Kindle, it’s not as satisfying. So last week, after finishing 2 books by a new favorite author of mine, I decided that enough is enough, the third will be a hard copy. Off I went to the bookstore to buy it and browse through other similar titles.
With little time on my hand, between work and grocery shopping and getting home to my kid, I didn’t have the luxury to look around and stroll as I normally would. Instead, I went straight to the counter and asked the nice lady to point me in the direction of my book. She looked it up on her computer and then said, loudly, “You can find it in the Self-Help Section, ma’am”. I looked around, mortified, hoping no one heard. How shameful, I thought. Me, buying a book from the dreaded “self-help” section? And on top of that, me being called “ma’am”? Never!
Flashbacks from old movies with women leaning on the shelves of the self-help aisle with a box of tissues next to them, rubbing their red noses with tears streaming down their faces immediately came to mind. No. I am not a “self-help” kind of person.
So I stood there, looking down at my phone – as you do when you need to pretend to be busy – with the dilemma rolling in my mind. I was torn between really wanting the book, and not wanting to appear “uncool”. Ironically, the book I was looking for is about authenticity. And there I was, behaving in complete contradiction to how I feel. In the end, I decided to go buy my book and a few more too, from the self-help section.
This got me thinking; is “selective” authenticity considered authentic, or does it completely defy the purpose of being congruent and true to ourselves? I started questioning myself and wondering why I sometimes go with the flow, even when the flow doesn’t suit me. I find myself engaged in conversations and nodding along, sometimes even actively participating, when on the inside I’m going against my natural inclinations. Because of my sensitivity to the disapproval of others and in my desire to make people feel heard and understood, I have often compromised my own need for individuality. This thought shook my balance and forced me to ask myself a tough question: am I a fake?
I realized, after deciding to be kinder and less judgmental to myself, that being understanding to others, having social graces to listen and, yes, to take part in small talk is not inauthentic. Taking authenticity to the point where we refuse to engage in discussions that contradict our opinions and insisting on sticking to one rigid image of ourselves, regardless of the situation, is pretentious. I act silly and playful with my daughter, serious and firm during meetings, loving and flirtatious with my husband, patient and gentle with my grandmother. Does this mean I am being inauthentic because I adopt different personas in different situations? Absolutely not. Our authenticity lies in our ability to adapt to changing situations. Being true to myself means valuing my own growth, nourishing my own energy, and at the same time accepting and respecting where others stand on their own journeys.
I arrived at the conclusion that I am not a fake. I am real, and I am embracing the different shades of me. All of them.
So, today I might read a “self-help” book that holds profound ideas about our unconscious minds and our reason for being. Tomorrow, I will read a magazine article about the latest fashion trends. And that’s as real as it gets.