Authenticity is an Ongoing Process of Inquiry

Authenticity is an ongoing process of inquiry, not a static state of being. A person isn’t one day all of a sudden authentic, nor is authenticity something we achieve through accumulated effort.

As Brené Brown explains, “authenticy is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.” And then, if we are lucky, we get to rise up and make them all over again the next.

Authenticity is a word and concept that, from age 18 until recently, gave me the heebee jeebees. Mostly because I’m in an academic discipline that is suspect of essentialist ideas, but also because when academics do embrace authenticity, it is usually a pre-packaged variety of it, palatable to the powers that be. So, not authenticity at all.

When I leave the noise of academia behind, I find that authenticity is the core of everything I do. Authenticity is one of my core values, and to be inauthentic is to step out of my integrity.

Just because I know that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

One way authenticity pains me in particular is that often I’d prefer to fly under the radar, but my authenticity is a wee bit bossy, and has loud and rough hewn edges.

My authenticity often demands I behave in ways that will draw attention to myself when really I’d rather not.

My authenticity asks me to learn new skills, to grow, to be better.

When I’d rather stay in my office and read book after book and never leave the house, authenticity tells me to get my ass up.

Authenticity likes my discomfort.

For most of my adult life I have struggled with depression. Some of this is my biology.

But some of my depression stems from living out of alignment with my authenticity, from being out of touch with my core self and values.

Authenticity is energy, and when we don’t engage it, it metastasizes in a whole variety of ways.

Brené Brown has written extensively about this and explains that when we hide from or avoid authenticity, that energy instead often transforms into “anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”

That is quite a list, and most of us have experienced one, some, or all of the above.

authenticity is resistance

The patriarchy likes me depressed, because depression is a powerless state in which I will more easily eat the lies of capitalism.

Authenticity is necessary for agency, and the patriarchy works hard to keep us from being agents of joy, thought, love, and justice.

Authenticity is the center of our power.

Much of modern life is designed to keep us from being authentic, to keep us from understanding we’re not being authentic, thus keeping us in a state of powerlessness.

There is so much to unpack about authenticity, but the thing I really want you to take away right now is this: to be authentic is an act of resistance.

To resist is to push back, to rebel against oppression.

When something as necessary as authenticity is rebellious, the culture is broken.

To tap more deeply into your authenticity, do some reflection on the following questions.

  • What activities make you feel most alive?
  • What kinds of interactions with others enliven you?
  • When have others responded to you in deep and profound ways?

The answers to those questions are clues to your authenticity.

Send me an email [to cherri @ cherriporter.com]. I’d love to hear your answers.

Manifesto: I’m a Motherfucking Lighthouse

A few months ago I was asked an important question, though it seemed inconsequential at the time. My answers to that question have shaped my behavior since. That question was:

What did 17-year-old Cherri want/like/feel?

I didn’t have an answer right away, but that 17-year-old’s voice and values have come back to me, through the years, and get louder inside the more I quiet and listen.

For years I entirely ignored 17-year-old Cherri.

I hushed her off as an idealistic fool. I grew up. I became cynical.

After 26 years, 17-year-old Cherri is done being ignored.

She had ideals, that one, but she was no fool. She understood the cynicism was no way to live.

A friend made a video after our first semester of college that was a little bit silly and a little bit serious. It was shot on a cassette tape, so I never saw the results back then, but a few years ago he digitized it and posted it to social media.

This friend, who moved away senior year of high school, was back visiting half of our graduating class in Iowa and recording it for posterity. Mostly, we’re all just hanging out and having a good time in the shots.

He did, however, pause to ask everyone what their major was. Most of us were undecided, which strikes me now as an optimistic view of the future–a view that there would be time yet to explore and decide.

I was undecided, too. But this is what I said to him after I told him I didn’t have a major:

My major is life, kind of, and I think that there is an Indigo Girls song that says, ‘If the world is night / shine my life like a light,’ and that’s what I want to do with my life. That’s an important thing about me.

I gave a cheeky grin at the end. In the still, I am positively adorable.

Most importantly, though I was young and sweet, I was confident in that assertion.

I did not look naive or foolish.

I looked sure. I knew this was true.

That was my intention at 17, 19, 21—and even at 25. When I dropped out of grad school (which is whole different story), a gal in the program asked me what I’d do instead. Only half jokingly, I told her I was moving to California to become an alternative healer.

The light so badly wanted to shine, but I didn’t know how to let it yet. I lost my way.

Lost it to depression, chronic pain, health challenges, marriage, parenting, the forces of evil and darkness in the world at large.

You name it, I used it as a way to avoid my truth.

My avoidance took many shapes, and I grew a distorted vision of my true self.

I began to see myself as naturally cynical and bitter. As naturally difficult and disruptive. As outside the lines, and cranky as all get out.

I thought that because I was irreverent, I couldn’t be holy.

I believed that because I was cranky, I couldn’t be kind.

My cynicism was so pervasive at times, lightness had little place in my world.

That is a bad way to live.

I let the weight of darkness have power over the brightest parts of me.

I hid my light in a bed of depression under blankets of pain.

I ate longing and despair and starved myself of other nourishment.

This is what I know now to be true. This is what reconnected to my 17 year old self has taught me:

Lightness and depression aren’t mutually exclusive.

Light and pain aren’t on opposite sides of a spectrum.

Lightness is my essence, even when it’s not visible through the haze of struggle.

I can’t wait to feel better to change my life.

I can’t wait to be healthier to get in touch with my truest self.

I can’t wait until the sun shines on me everyday to follow the dreams that have just now begun to whisper up to me from 26 years of debris.

There is no future. There is only now.

If the world ends tomorrow, do I want to spend my last day glued to a newsfeed feeling irate about the forces of evil? Feeling angry and helpless in the face of disasters and crimes and terrorism and abhorrent politics?

Hell no.

I am a lightworker.

I am a motherfucking lightworker.

I am made of light.

I am a lighthouse so others have a guide in the night. So others can strike flint to their own truth.

I will live in light.

I will no longer fling myself against the walls of darkness created by others.

During that first semester of college, the one that had just concluded when the video I mentioned above was recorded, my work study job was in the dorm cafeteria.

Two days a week I worked the line in Friley Hall, swiping student ID cards for meals. At the time, Friley Hall was the second largest dormitory in the United States, and we served thousands of students a day.

I loved working the line. I smiled at everyone. I flirted with everyone. I remembered names, pointed out cool t-shirts, and had inside jokes with dozens of people.

My nickname that one fall semester in 1992: Sunshine.

I am still cranky as fuck some days, but I now acknowledge the lightness and the shine as part of my true nature.

Giving and The Love Languages

Have you heard of Gary Chapman’s Love Languages?

In this schema, each of us have different channels through which we most readily give and receive love. The Happier Podcast recently did an episode on it if you want to learning more. If you want to find out your love language, take the quiz here.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts on gift giving rolling around in my brain for years, yet learning about the love languages helped me clarify some of them.
My primary love language is acts of service, like how my husband vacuumed my car last week *heart eyes.* The best acts of service are things I don’t have to be in charge of. For instance, my husband says he’ll cook for me, but when I have to ask him to cook, and then tell him what to make, I feel anxiety and shame rather than loved. But, if he just cooks something for me, I eat it and feel nourished.

For years I’ve asked people to not buy gifts for me. Many might think I hate gifts or hate holidays or am just a joy kill. But my reasons for asking people to not buy gifts for me are more complicated than that, and related to my core story.

First, I hate for stuff to be not used. The stuff in our homes should be meaningful, useful, or beautiful. I don’t like waste or random stuff that doesn’t fit into that category. And I really dislike things that might be useful to someone, but are not useful to me, piling up. Those of you who follow me on social media have witnessed this, as every time I clean out a closet I want stuff to go to a good home rather than just the trash or a thrift store. Ultimately, I believe we show major disrespect for the planet and the future if we don’t value the things we have. So, that’s the first part of my no gifts puzzle.

The second part is that, for years, even when I was explicit about what I liked or wanted, I got other stuff instead–sometimes gobs of other stuff, or other stuff similar to what I wanted but not quite. At a core level, the story I was telling about these gifts was that the people who gave them: did not get me, did not understand me, and didn’t think it was worth figuring me out.

I get I’m a bit of an enigma, but am I really that bad?

What I’ve realized recently is that my secondary love language is receiving gifts even in all of these years of no gifts. Huh. The trouble is, random things, or things that don’t fit into the meaningful/useful/beautify metric, make me feel misunderstood and unloved, so it’s a double-edged sword. The results here are that I’m a complete asshole and only feel loved when people get the gift magically right, which is nearly impossible. Thus, no gift is better than some gift in this labyrinth.

Gifts in recent memory that really meant something to me: two years ago the only gift I got on Christmas was an Amazon gift card from my in-laws. I got to buy books of my own choosing with it and I didn’t feel compelled to buy household shit. The second gift was when my husband taped a Dutch Bros Coffee gift card to my steering wheel at the start of the new semester. I felt seen and understood in both of those moments.

Calendars and Planning for Rebels

Poster of Calendar

I pour over the calendar aisle in every store soaking in colors and bindings and smooth papers.

How does one choose something so important and personal?

When stressed, I obsess at planner porn and wonder how other people make them so pretty. How do they make their handwriting so neat? How do they know what pens and markers to use? How much flipping time do they spend writing out their schedules? Who has that much to write down? What do they do when they make a mistake? Why does anyone need a water log?

But alas, all this pretty is simply not useful or practical for me, because I’m a rebel.

One of the best things I learned from reading The Happiness Project was happiness begins by understanding our true nature, and not by pretending to be fantasy version of ourselves.

When I look at planner and journal porn, and the little voice in my head says, “maybe I do need a new planner,” what I’m really doing is imagining a fantasy Cherri, who is an upholder, and has a whole set of skills and habits that real-life rebel Cherri does not.

Gretchen Rubin’s first commandment of happiness is to “be Gretchen.” So for all personal organizational tasks, I must be Cherri.

Here is what I know about being Cherri when it comes to calendars and planners.

Cherri…

  • won’t write in a planner or journal if she paid too much for it. We could delve into the psychology of this, but this post is long enough.
  • doesn’t enjoy waste, nor does she like buying shit she doesn’t need, nor clearing out clutter fantasy Cherri purchased years ago. (She does, however, enjoy browsing, and often puts things in her cart while shopping and puts them back on the shelf again before leaving the store.)
  • prefers paper to digital systems. (Ideally I’d have a digital reminder system, but google calendar notifications stopped working on my account–and I’ve tried every trick to get them to work I can find–and so paper it is.)
  • prefers to use pencil in a calendar so it can be erased, but will use pen and whiteout tape when necessary.
  • likes to see a whole month at a time.
  • doesn’t write a to-do list in her calendar.
  • prefers low-contrast design with white paper and black/gray lettering.

I did not know these things about Cherri at ages 20, 25, 30. I mostly had them figured out by age 45, but still need to remind myself sometimes. I go into a panic every now and again about some aspect of my life, and for a brief moment, I think a new calendar or planner will fix it. Because, of course we should be able to organize the chaos of an uncertain universe with a few pieces of pretty paper. Of course.

Mostly, being Cherri means I know better.

Mostly.

Before you decide on a calendar/planner system—or before you revise the one that isn’t quite working–you might take an inventory of your actual habits when it comes to writing things down and keeping track of your must-dos. What you think is a gorgeous work of art and what works for your friend/spouse/parent might not be the right choice for getting your own shit done.

As far as my own calendar, as that is the theme for today’s challenge, I keep a simple monthly paper calendar where I write appointments, etc. If I have to be somewhere other than my normal work schedule, it goes on the calendar.

I don’t carry this calendar with me. I leave it at home on the desk. If I need to add something while out and about, I use my Penseive app to email myself then add it when I get home.

Originally published for #readwriteplan by Cherri Porter August 1, 2016.

Protip: Do not google “calendar porn” or “planner porn” without your safe search on. You can never unsee that!

Image Source: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Art & Architecture Collection, The New York Public Library. “August” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1887 – 1922. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-94b2-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

<©2018 Cherri Porter>