In a 2010 interview, Brene Brown discussed the idea that authenticity is a practice. It is not something that happens to us, but something we choose. It is a willingness to be open-hearted and vulnerable.
Over the years, my own connection to my authenticity has been transformative. Like many teenagers growing up in suburbia, I struggled with authenticity. I didn’t yet know who I was, and often tried to fit in by acting like others I saw around me. I sometimes felt sick inside when I wasn’t being true to myself and I didn’t always know it was OK to be me. I was afraid I wouldn’t belong, so I betrayed myself and my beliefs to try to be someone I wasn’t. I felt pretty miserable at times and longed to find out who I was.
Fast forward to my first career…the film business. I moved to Los Angeles at age 21. A place and an industry that often has little value for authenticity. Many are as genuine as their augmented physical appearances, and narcissism is often valued instead of shunned. After being cursed at by my first boss and fired, I knew I had to make a change. I was burned out at the tender age of 22. In order to try to succeed in the film industry, I was betraying myself and my authenticity.
Then I had a life changing event. As I was driving on a freeway, a ladder fell off a panel truck right across my lane. In the split second I had to swerve to avoid it, my car lost control and I spun out, miraculously avoiding another car but hitting the guard rail on an overpass. There were moments that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be catapulted over the railing to a freeway many feet below.
Miraculously, I did not fly over the guard rail, nor did I even break a bone. After the impact, I sat in a state of shock, looking at my car whose front end suddenly looked like an accordion. In those moments, I had a distinct thought. What things we have don’t matter, we don’t take them with us. What matters is who we are, how we treat each other, and how true we are to ourselves. I remember deciding then that the film business was not for me and I needed to find a career that somehow was in service of others, one that felt real.
So I returned to NYC and went on a soul-searching mission. It took years of talking to people, volunteering, and exploring graduate programs that I landed at social work school. It was a match made in heaven, I felt inspired and genuine and I flourished there.
After graduate school, I had a second encounter with authenticity when I discovered psychodrama. A profoundly life-changing therapeutic method set me on a path of self-discovery and professional development that has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. And through my personal and professional development, I have shed many layers that blocked me from my authenticity, such as people-pleasing and codependency. Sometimes I made mistakes and practiced authenticity with the wrong people and got hurt. Yet throughout this process, my life slowly blossomed into the authentic life I currently lead, one that is right for me. I am deeply grateful to now be a trainer and practitioner of psychodrama and share this healing method with clients and other clinicians. There were many bumps along the road to self-discovery, and I needed a lot of support to stay open and vulnerable. But I’ve learned that for me, vulnerability and authenticity are the birthplace of joy and creativity.
I haven’t looked back.
© 2018 Valerie Simon, LCSW, PAT