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What It Means to Be Authentic

I was having a bit of a crisis not too long ago.

You see, I’ve gone through a rather major life upheaval over the last year. Some long-held, long-cherished beliefs were cast into a new light, and cast aside. I’ve learned new things about human psychology and the… art of persuasion (to put it delicately)… and it’s been altogether upsetting and fascinating.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to be authentic and to live with integrity. If we can’t say and do and think what we genuinely want to say and do and think, then we’re hiding, aren’t we? People think they know us, but they don’t really. Right?

I don’t want to hold back. I want to be who I really am and let people think what they want. To me, that’s part of having integrity. There’s a lot of fear-quenching with such a life. Not always my strong suit.

Meanwhile, my blogging world split into two and I was trying to figure out what to do with the remnants left here on my author site.

Part of me… the Donna part of me, as opposed to the “Donna Cook Author” part of me… wanted to just lay everything on the line with this blog. If I thought it, I wanted to be able to write about it.

There’s a certain appeal to that. There are definitely people who do that and readers who love them for it. But, when I thought about a few particular subjects, something was holding me back.

I didn’t like feeling held back.

I talked to several people who are close to me and told them the kind of things I wasn’t sure if I should write about (not all the time, just as part of the overall conversation). Some told me to go for it. Some told me to remember that this blog is not only a public forum, but a professional forum. To remember that when I come on this blog, I’m coming here as “Donna Cook Author.” If I worked at an office, would I go into work and talk about all this stuff?

No. I wouldn’t. Not because there’s anything wrong with what I wanted to talk about, but because there are some things you don’t talk about at work (politics, religion, bodily functions of any sort, you get the idea).

But it’s also true that we writers bare our souls in a way you don’t always see from, say, the CEO of Nordstrom’s. It’s one of the things that makes our “business” unique. Because our business is so excruciatingly personal. This is the very reason why, when people talk about “branding,” authors tend to get confused.

As often as not, the brand tends to be the writer. As a person. As writers, we’re supposed to somehow understand and leverage all this as part of our platform.

Aside from feeling a little icky, there’s an additional complication. While writers often have an uncanny ability to portray the human world with razor-sharp insight, we also often fail to see ourselves with any sort of similar clarity.

How do other people really see me? I have no freaking idea.

Consider this question we’re supposed to ask ourselves when figuring out our branding: “Why do you write what you do?”

Why?

Because it’s freaking fun. Wizards and dragons and magic and adventure and danger and romance and mystery. Come on, what’s not to like? I LOVE writing this stuff!

So… how do I use that to “package” myself and come up with blog topics so I can find new readers? Beats the heck out of me.

I suppose I’ll have to figure it out eventually. That’s part of the job of the modern writer. So they tell me. (Not sure I’m buying it.)

But, as it turns out, I was really too busy trying to figure myself out. When you go through changes of a certain magnitude, you have to figure everything out all over again.

I feel like a kid in a 40-something body looking around at the world with new eyes thinking, “What’s all this about?”

I’ve had to look at myself the same way. Who am I really?

Not a good time to make decisions about the direction of a blog, but there you have it.

Why was this such a big deal to me? I think because I’d spent years censoring my thoughts in order to fit a mold approved by an outside source, and I was tired of doing that.

I didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t “allowed” to say or think something.

That’s a good thing. It really is. But I was having a hard time figuring out how to apply that, or not, here on this blog.

Here’s how it all worked out.

I went to an author blog I’d once bookmarked because I liked the way she’d set up the navigation on her website. (This was before I broke down and hired a fantastic consultant to tell me exactly what to do with my various websites–which I’ll talk about at some point, likely on the editor blog.)

Well, for some reason I went back to this author’s blog. She talks about anything and everything. I like that about her blog. I have lots of different interests and like the idea of talking about whatever random topic comes to me.

She had a “life lessons” sort of category, so I clicked on that. I wanted to see just how personal she was getting.

*insert deep breath here*

Apparently she was in the middle of some sort of friend purge. I was unclear if this was because people were cutting her out of their lives, or if she was the one doing it or what. But this particular post was about ex-friend number 5 or 6.

She started by talking about how good it is to remove people from your life who are toxic for you. I completely agree. She talked about her feelings about this, and at first I was scrolling and nodding my head. Good stuff, I thought.

Then things took a turn.

She started describing, in detail, the things this friend had done that she found annoying. She did this knowing her friend (ex-friend) reads her blog. She admitted that she just didn’t have the courage to tell this friend she was sick of her in person. Instead, she was purging everything right there on the blog.

On and on it went. It was honest, alright. It was also heartless and cruel. She went into such detail that this person would know it was about her, and probably everyone in their real-life circle would know too.

I. Was. Mortified.

That was when I realized something. Who we are isn’t only defined by what we say and do and think. It’s also defined by what we don’t say and do and think.

I would never trash someone like that. And that defines me as much as anything else does.

I’m telling you, reading this lady’s blog post completely cured me of the notion that I have to share everything I’ve ever thought right here on this blog.

And there’s nothing dishonest about that. It has nothing to do with lack of integrity or trying to put on a pretty face for the world or trying to fit a mold or anything like that.

You see, I am genuinely kind person. I like this about myself. And I’m not kind to others because I think I have to be or because I’m trying to score brownie points to get into heaven or because I’m trying to further a personal agenda (like selling books).

I just really like people. All sorts of people. People are freaking fascinating. And because I like them, it’s easy and natural to treat them with kindness and respect.

As for being open, I realized I do know how to do that. Better than I realized. Just because I choose who to share myself with and don’t walk around baring my soul to the grocery store clerk doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be open.

The things I thought I might want to write about may make it on my blog at some point. I’m not ruling it out. But I no longer feel I’m constraining myself just because I’m not turning this blog into a journal. I have a journal.

LOTS of them.IMG_7064

See? Aren’t they pretty?

So, while I still tend to talk about random subjects and be myself (which includes rambling a bit, sorry), I feel more peace and clarity about what it means to be real and open.

And more clarity about who I am. As it turns out, not so different from who I’ve always been.

2 thoughts on “What It Means to Be Authentic

    1. DonnaCookDonnaCook Post author

      Thanks Colleen. Marketing is such a tricky thing to navigate as a writer isn’t it? I can’t exactly ignore it, but it’s so important to me that I just be a regular person while I’m doing it. :)

      Reply

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