What makes you feel authentic?

“Pause long enough to think about the things you love, the things that make you feel authentic and untethered. The things that help you rise above and open up your view. Pick one. It doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated, or extraordinary to anyone else. Then consider your calendar and find a time to do it.

Afterwards, if you want to taste it twice, write about it. That way, when you occasionally get lost, you have notes to remind you how to find yourself again.”Kristin Armstrong

I read this on Hungry Runner Girl’s blog the other day and, as cliche as it sounds, it stirred something in me and it truly made my think.  It made me think in a way that I haven’t had time for since I started grad school last year.  Literally, when I’m not thinking about school or work, I’m brain dead on the couch watching TV or reading a book…letting other people do the thinking for me and feed it to me in small, digestible bites.  The main thing I kept thinking about was, “What makes me feel authentic?”

A lot of things make me feel fake, a wannabe, a poser.  But, authentic?  It’s such a strong word.  A good, strong word meaning ‘of undisputed origin; genuine.’  I’ve actually been called genuine before, by a boyfriend’s parents, and it was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.  But, it’s been hard to recall times when I’ve felt authentic.  As I thought about it, so many demeaning put downs ran through my head, believing that I am ‘less than’ at everything I do.  For example:

  • I run, but I’m not a real runner.  Sure,  I run a few times a week and I was up to almost 5 miles, but real runners run marathons.  Real runners exercise every day.  Real runners look like athletes.  I couldn’t be a real runner.
  • I am pursuing my Masters degree.  The subject: Operations Research.  The department: Industrial and Mechanical Engineering.  But, I’m not a real engineer.  Real engineers remember physics and calculus.  Real engineers didn’t do their undergrad in business.  Real engineers have real jobs that are real hard and pay real money.  I couldn’t be a real engineer.

I feel authentic when… (finish this sentence for yourself – it’s a good exercise)

  • I make dirty jokes.  This sounds so stupid, but when it’s more than your average “That’s what she said” and people laugh, I feel funny.  And I think I’m funny.  So that makes me feel like me!
  • I get angry.  This also sounds like a weird answer, but I only allow myself to get angry when I feel I’m justified in doing so.  When I feel I’m justified, I have conviction and passion for the argument.  All of those ingredients mix together to make authenticity.  My anger is a symptom of my caring about a subject matter – for example, when I get riled up about equal rights for the LGBTQ community.

Upon coming up with those two, I realized that my authentic self is based on college humor and anger, two traits that aren’t exactly the most positive.  So, I want to argue myself into saying that I am a runner and an engineer!

  • I’m a runner because I run.  This one really is that simple.  It doesn’t matter how far or how fast – I run; therefore, I am a runner.
  • I am an engineer.  I may not work in the field, but I am a student in the School of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering.  My GPA is a 3.8.  I am acing the same classes as those who do have engineering undergraduate degrees.  I am an engineer.

I was going do delete my undermining comment in the engineering bullet, but decided to leave it there with the strikethrough.  That is what I need to do when my thoughts start to diminish my accomplishments.  I was talking to my boyfriend about this, who looked at me with a confused expression on his face and said, “You don’t have to be the best at something to be something.”  That’s exactly where my hang up was.