Cultivating Authenticity (Part One)

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

If you’ve read or seen even a shred of motivational work in your lifetime, you’ve certainly heard the phrase “be yourself.” When I hear this, my mind goes back to the quote by E.E. Cummings I mentioned in my last post (“To be yourself in a world….is the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”). Simply “being yourself” can seem to lead to societal pushback, the whispers and murmurs behind our backs. It isn’t so much the act of authenticity that rubs some people the wrong way, it’s more so the guile of it. On one hand, we’re expected to be ourselves. On the other, we’re expected to be people-pleasers, expected to find the balance between honesty and keeping others comfortable. Tell the truth, but don’t say anything to make others too uncomfortable. Have the courage to disagree with the majority, but don’t say anything controversial. Do your best to sound informed, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

Some may argue that it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and people-pleasing, but I disagree. When we have to courage to be ourselves and nothing but, there will be some resistance, both from others and our own minds. We may fear that others may not like us as much when they see what we truly are and believe. So much of society is expected to put on the chameleon facade, adapting to the situations as they come, even if that means altering our personality and mask we put on for others. But, if life is about connections, then the only way we can cultivate and nurture those connections is to, and I quote, “be ourselves.”

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Many individuals already have problems with maintaining a healthy self-esteem, so to be asked to shed their safety blankets and show their true, imperfect selves can be incredibly daunting. But putting on a mask for everyone has its own risks. When we refuse to put our true ideas, talents, and opinions out into the world, they eat away at us. They fester in our minds and eat away at our worthiness. You can trade in your authenticity, but in return you may experience anxiety, depression, rage, resentment…the list goes on.

Think of authenticity not as a personality quirk, but as an active lifestyle choice. To quote Brené Brown, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” To quote her again, “Stand on your sacred ground.” Your sacred ground is your true self. Your morals, ideas, opinions, talents, all uniquely yours. Don’t let any disapproving glances or sneers from society throw you off your foundation, your “sacred ground.”

Mrs. Brown also has another invaluable piece of advice on the subject –

“I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

You were made specifically to be uniquely you. Don’t let fear of disapproval from others get in the way of what you’re meant to share with the world.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Your Imperfect Self (Introduction)

If I were to ask you to define the word courageous, what would you tell me? Would you perhaps give me some examples of individuals who, despite any fear, risk their lives for the greater good? Or, some smaller-scale examples, such as overcoming a fear of public speaking and giving a speech in front of a crowd?

The word courage is rooted from cor, the Latin word for heart. The original definition of courage was, “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Heroic acts are indeed courageous, but not all courageous acts have to be that of heroism.

Everyone wants to be courageous. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes a courageous act, but true courage lies not necessarily in risking one’s life, but in risking one’s heart. How do we risk our heart? We embrace who we are and what we’re supposed to be, and refuse to let others dictate what we should say, how we should look and, most importantly, how we should feel. To risk one’s heart is to be vulnerable at its most innate definition – we open up everything about who we are.

Our society is one of chameleons; we are experts at fitting in where we think we need to. We can alter our personalities to suit the situation we’re in, saying some things and holding others back. When we do this, we swap out one mask for another, wearing whichever one will get us through the situation with the least amount of collateral damage – without hurting others or ourselves. What’s more, this is encouraged by our society. We are told time and time again to put others before ourselves, and while this is a noble goal, the way we’re told to do this is ultimately self-destructive. Put your true self away, and bring out the you that can make it through this situation with no harm done to others. You may forget yourself in the process, but it’s okay, everyone does it.

So, if we take the concept of being vulnerable and being chameleons, they butt heads. We cannot be ourselves at every turn and please everyone. On the flipside, we cannot please everyone, but also be true to who we are as a person. E.E. Cummings once wrote,

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

In order to truly deepen human connection and find a love for yourself, it is completely necessary to be vulnerable. It isn’t optional. To be anything less than vulnerable is to be a chameleon once more – putting on the color scheme that will please others, and “switching it up” as need be. Compared to what I’m asking you to do, being a chameleon is incredibly easy. It takes the “no harm, no foul” approach of making it through situations, quick and easy. In return, however, you sacrifice meaningful connections and a sense of peace with yourself and who you truly are.

No, being vulnerable isn’t easy. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, unnerving, and, like many good habits, is very hard to stick with. Even the word itself, vulnerable, has a stigma attached to it – to be “vulnerable” is to leave yourself open to attack. Being a chameleon, when it comes down to it, is as much about protecting yourself as it is pleasing others.

It’s tough, there’s no getting around that. But how do you learn how to ride a bike? You practice riding a bike. How do you study for a test? You look over your materials, and practice your knowledge of it. How do you learn to be vulnerable? You practice being vulnerable. You learn courage by being courageous.

Great, you say. I’d love to be vulnerable. I’d love to be courageous and my true self and all of that cheesy stuff, but there’s one thing getting in the way. One large, looming, intimidating obstacle that stands in the way of pushing against the grain:

Shame.

The very first thing that anyone needs to understand about shame is this: everyone experiences it. Shame is a real and powerful human emotion, and the only ones who can’t feel shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Shame keeps us from being vulnerable by convincing us that, when people see our true selves, they won’t like what they see. While guilt is your mind saying, “I did something bad,” shame is your mind saying, “am bad.” Our true selves aren’t enough of what other people want to see, so we fall into the chameleon mindset – “I’ll become who they want me to be.”

That isn’t what our lives are about. We don’t live our lives for others, and so we shouldn’t live our lives according to others, despite what society sees fit to tell us. But shame is the single biggest factor in preventing us from doing just that. So, the obvious answer is to combat this shame.

How? The same way we open ourselves to being vulnerable: we practice. We build ourselves up to be shame-resilient, and work to convince our mind as best we can that those feelings won’t have nearly as much as an effect on us and how we live our own lives. In order to do this, we need to let go of certain mindsets that have been ingrained in our society to further support the chameleon mindset. And, in my upcoming posts, that’s what I hope to elaborate on.

To love ourselves and others is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous. To be courageous is to be vulnerable, despite the fear of shame threatening to push us back to our chameleon ways. If we combat shame, the rest will fall into place. Over the next ten-or-so posts, I want to go into more detail about certain things that invite shame into our lives and therefore, discourage being our true selves.

All of these concepts are things that I struggle with, and I know too well that many, many others do as well. I would love for you to join me on this journey of reaching a point of self compassion and love. As always, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or anything else, feel free to post a comment or use the contact form on my site to send me an email and I will always get back to you. Ideally, my next post on the subject will be up in a few days’ time, but life is unpredictable, so if it takes a bit longer, I apologize! I always look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, and hearing some of your own.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this upcoming series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Romantic relationships and Depression

It’s no secret that depression can negatively impact a great many relationships, and in my experience, romantic relationships can take a large brunt of the heat. Romantic relationships are built on mutual affection – “if you love and accept me for who I am, then I’ll do the same for you.” But what happens if, instead of not being able to accept your partner, you can’t accept yourself?

This goes without saying, but one of the biggest impacts that depression has on us psychologically is an overarching feeling of self-doubt. It makes us question whether or not we’re smart enough, or generous enough, or, quite simply good enough. As such, it only makes sense that these feelings find a way to interfere in relationships. Those suffering from depression tell themselves: “If I’m not [insert positive adjective here] enough, why should my partner spend any time with me?” Depression makes us question whether or not we’re actually deserving of a romantic relationship. If we can’t love and accept ourselves, how can we ask somebody else to love and accept us?

Then there’s the blow to communication. Ask any couples counselor and they’ll tell you that communication is one of the most important aspects in any relationship. However, communicate is one of the many things people with depression are least inclined to do. Generally, when people are in the depths of depression, the last thing they want to do is talk about it. Psychologically, there’s a plethora of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is because they’re convinced nobody else will know how they feel. Despite the facts showing that more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from the illness, depression has the uncanny ability to make people believe that their problems and way of looking at things are theirs along to deal with.

As a result, depressive thoughts and emotions are a subject not often brought up, even between partners. This often causes the one in the relationship not suffering from depression to interpret this as keeping secrets, or feeling like they aren’t trusted. Obviously, trust is a major component in any relationship, so for one person to feel like they don’t have it can damage that relationship immensely.

Building off of that, this lack of communication can lead to unneeded drama. If one person in a relationship is not communicating with the other due to depression, the other may decide to take matters in to their own hands. Quite frankly, it’s hard to stay mature and level-headed when it seems your partner has no desire to communicate to you what they’re feeling.

If you’re dating or married to someone with depression, please don’t take any of these actions (or inactions) to heart. Understand that any lack of communication or presumptions is not out of spite for you, but instead a natural part of the mental illness that is clinical depression.

One of my favorite things to say is “understand that you will never fully understand.” Without trying to sound pompous, if you don’t have depression, you will never understand how someone with depression feels. Those who have depression know that fact, and only want for you to acknowledge it too. Even if they don’t show it, people are incredibly appreciative when you make an effort to try and “work with them,” even when you don’t completely understand the way their mind works.

Depression is hard enough on its own – adding another person to the mix can make it even trickier. But this isn’t a reason to avoid relationships. Having another support figure in life who not only loves you, but accepts you and makes an active effort to be compassionate and stick with you to the bitter end can do wonders for a mind suffering from depression. It isn’t easy, I know. But few things in life worth doing ever are.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Some words of encouragement

I want you to know that you’re worth something.

I want you to realize that, whatever problems you may be dealing with, you are never alone.

I want you to understand that people, even those you may not realize or talk to every day, are here for you.

I want you to know that whatever may have happened yesterday, last month, last year, last decade, doesn’t affect how wonderful you can make the future.

I want you to realize that you can overcome anything that comes your way, no matter who or what tells you otherwise, including your own mind.

need you to understand that there are good people in this world, around every corner, who won’t judge you, or abuse you, or put you in a place you have no desire to be in.

need you to understand that you are stronger than any self-deprecating thought that crosses your mind.

I want you to know that I know being strong isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

I want you to know that no outside opinion of you matters, only the light you view yourself in.

need you to know that people care. I need you to know that I care. He cares. She cares. They care.

I want you to know that there are people out there who, when they look at you, see the sun.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

13 Reasons Why you should watch 13 Reasons Why (give or take)

So I’ve never done any sort of movie or book review on here (or really in general), but today is going to be the exception. I read a book a while back called 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. It was a pretty popular book at the time it came out, always on the teen-young adult bestsellers shelf at Barnes & Noble. The premise is this: A teenage girl by the name of Hannah Baker commits suicide, and upon the act of doing so organizes for seven cassette tapes to be passed around to 13 individuals, all of whom she deems “responsible for her death.” The tapes are her personal explanation of how each person drove her to kill herself, and many people say that these tapes are sort of her “last word” upon dying. The protagonist of the novel, Clay, is one of the people the tapes are passed to. As he works his way through the tapes, trying to figure out what he did to make Hannah commit suicide, he learns her story of abuse and bullying.

The book is now a 13-episode series on Netflix, and the way they portray bullying, depression and suicide is both informative and utterly heartbreaking. Over the course of 13 one-hour episodes, you see Hannah go from being a happy, upbeat, incredibly friendly girl, to a person who has lost faith in the world, and decides that the best way to deal with it is leaving it completely.

The series as it’s portrayed on Netflix is half-drama, half-PSA. While it still has a few funny moments here and there (so you won’t be frowning the whole time), most of the screen time is dedicated to Hannah and her life before death, which revolves around her relationships (both friendly and romantic) and how they break down catastrophically. We see these memories from the viewpoint of Clay, a socially awkward yet lovable teenager with a thing for Hannah, who’s working his own way through the stages of grief, having lost Hannah, and trying to understand how he could have possibly contributed to her death.

The whole thing is presented hauntingly beautifully – the joys of great relationships and people who are there for you, and the heartbreak of when it all comes crashing down, generally unfairly. At the beginning, the viewer barely knows Hannah. They feel for her, as she committed suicide, but not much more. Over the next 13 hours, though, each episode will break your heart a bit more as you see the injustice done to her during her life.

It also attempts to present depression and the warning signs of suicide in a way many people can understand. Even the happiest of people can be brought so low to feel like there’s no way out, and as scary as it is, it’s something people need to realize, before it’s too late.

So, my recommendation? If you have Netflix, go watch it. Heck, even if you don’t have Netflix, shell out 8 bucks for a month subscription to watch this series alone. I swear to you, as someone who watches next to no television, this series is worth your time. Know the signs of depression and suicide before they strike – the world will be better off for it.

– Ryan

Take care of yourself – first.

Growing up, a majority of us are taught to always put others before ourselves. This isn’t a bad thing – this mindset has the tendency to not only teach us compassion, but see it received firsthand. We’re told to treat others the way we want to be treated, and that our experiences with others will go towards shaping ourselves as individuals. In my opinion this is most certainly true – human beings are infinitely shaped by contact with other human beings (among many other things). The intent of putting others first is a great one, as it promotes compassion, acceptance, and patience. But is there a point where this becomes too much?

As crude as it may be to compare human beings to machines, hear me out for a moment: our bodies and minds are much like them. A machine for, let’s say, manufacturing, exists to manufacture goods. As such, it puts all of its energy into pumping out these products, as long as it receives some sort of energy from another source. Electricity, water, wind, etc. These pieces of metal, which are designed specifically to pour their energy into these tasks, still need that energy from somewhere. So, everything else aside, let’s say humans are “compassion machines.” Put aside your personal beliefs for a moment and pretend that humans are specifically meant to pour out compassion unto others. These “compassion machines” put every ounce of their energy into being kind to others, being selfless, being patient, and every other way of “being good” to others. However, if they don’t receive energy from elsewhere, as an actual machine does, it crashes and burns. It overheats, it smokes, it starts sleeping all day, it might start throwing back a few beers each night to help it forget…not only are humans much more complicated than machines, humans deal with their problems in many different ways than machines.

Being good to others is good. It’s great, it’s fantastic, it’s what we should all strive for each and every day we’re on this earth. But in order to do this effectively, we need to step back and realize that we aren’t some sort of “infinite-power” machine. We need rest and recuperation, we need to hit the power button at the end of the night. Plug in and recharge, however you feel it best to do that (it goes without saying that there are healthy and unhealthy ways of recharging, but that’s a different subject entirely).

Here’s the part that will make me sound selfish: make sure you’re happy before you start making sure others are happy. Again, I can’t stress enough how important I believe it is to be selfless and compassionate – but only where it’s reasonable. As admirable as it is to throw all of your energy into being good to others, if you don’t have any energy left to make sure you’re happy, it’s a lose-lose situation: you’re burnt out because you spend all your time on others’ wants and desires, and the people you’re trying so desperately to make happy often notice your weariness, and this could have the exact opposite effect of what you intended.

I’m not telling you to cut in line, eat the last cookie, or lie to your parents to get out of trouble. I’m not telling you to be selfish. I’m just telling you that you don’t always have to be selfless. We are all equals in this world – no one person deserves to feel more or less happy than another – and that includes you.

Being selfish is rude, hurtful, and discouraging, but always being selfless is simply unhealthy.

Stay strong

– Ryan

A Perverse Jealousy

Jealousy is such a powerful emotion. Whether talking about it in the sense of the Christian faith or not, it isn’t hard to see why it’s considered a sin. Personally, in times where I find myself jealous, it overtakes me in a way very few other emotions do. It clouds my judgement – I find my decision-making revolving around what I can do to achieve that goal that I’m envious of. There’s a fine line between jealousy and determination, and for me that gap is bridged when I find myself having negative feelings towards others who have achieved that goal. If I ever find myself thinking lesser of a person because they have something I do not, that’s my cue to take a step back and look at the situation from a level head.

Not that that’s always easy. In fact, it rarely is – it takes such dedication to this way of thinking that a whole form of therapy has risen up around it (mindfulness). It’s made especially hard on the occasions where the person you’re jealous of brings up their achievement or property like it’s nothing. “You bring this up so nonchalantly, but do you realize what I would do to have what you have? Achieve what you’ve achieved? Do you even realize how much of a standard I hold myself to based on what you have?”

Like so many other facets of life, for some reasons our brains often tell us that it’s easier to get bitter over these things, than it is to simply be grateful for another’s accomplishments. Scowl over smile, bitterness over contentment. It’s hard to pinpoint why this is, but there are a thousand different answers from a thousand different cultures, religions, and psychologists. Perhaps it stems from the competitive mindset of first-world countries, or maybe when Adam and Eve bit into the apple of knowledge, human sin came pre-packaged with jealousy.

I could go into the whole “this isn’t the right way to think,” and “comparison with others only leads to bad things” tangent, but I already have in some of my past posts. Make no mistake, I still very much believe in what I’ve said on that topic: comparison does only lead to destructive habits. To be the best us we can be, we needn’t hold ourselves to the standards of others. But I can talk and talk about why this isn’t the healthiest way of thinking, spouting factoids and studies supporting this hypothesis, but the fact of the matter is this: factoids and studies very rarely help us actually deal with these things. Comparison. Jealousy. Bitterness. Whilst it’s certainly important to understand why these feelings come about, in my opinion (and it’s just that), the world would be a better place if we actually focused on how to deal with these problems as opposed to just explaining their origins.

I’ve found myself getting overly jealous and bitter the past couple of weeks. I find myself around this entirely pleasant, enjoyable person, who has nothing but kind things to say to me. nine times out of 10, I find myself being pleasant back, but recently my depression has begun to take over and, instead of exchanging pleasantries both ways, the kindness seems to become one-sided. This individual will be kind to me, and I’m indifferent towards them. I’m passive-aggressively resentful, bitter, and simply angry. All of those negative emotions, simply because my mind tells me it’s somehow easier to resent this perfectly nice person for what they have, rather than be happy for them and realize everybody has different things at different times, as is life.

As I mentioned before, this jealousy overtakes me. I find my mind so occupied with this incredibly useless emotion that it’s difficult for me to think about much else. I’ve heard of some individuals using jealousy as a type of drive – motivation to get to a better place in their lives where they’re more content. As I feel jealousy coursing its way through me, however, I find it incredibly hard to think that some people could use this to motivate them, because for me it causes nothing but destructive thinking habits. Where one person may say, “I want what that person has, so I’m going to use this jealousy of them to push myself harder,” I generally say, “I want what that person has, but I’m not skilled or charming or innovative enough, otherwise I would have it by now.” You don’t need to tell me there are about 17 logical inconsistencies with this way of thinking – believe me, I know. But depression often overrides logic.

So, for those like me, where jealousy doesn’t motivate you, but instead breaks you, what do you do? What is the best way to deal with this poisonous mindset? Simply put, I don’t know. I practice mindfulness, and that helps to an extent, but I’m by no means a master at the craft – it takes months upon months of practice and dedication (it makes sense, though, you’re literally training your brain to subscribe to an entirely new way of thinking). For what good it does, there is one thing in particular I’ve been trying to tell myself in moments of jealousy:

Each and every person is unique. No two people accomplish the same things at the same time in the same way under the same circumstances. We all have different walks through life, regardless of how similar our circumstances may seem at first glance. In fact, I’m willing to bet someone in your own life is looking at you and saying “I wish I had that,” just as you may be with others. Do not take pride in this, but instead use it as a reminder that nobody is ever perfectly content with life – we all fall prey to wishing we have more than we already do. You aren’t alone in this.

How do you deal with jealousy? Do you have certain coping methods that help pull you through? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so comment or shoot me an email and I’d love to converse with you! All the best to you in whatever struggles you may face.

Stay strong.

  • Ryan