Are you “authentic”?


Climate change marchers in Montreal.


By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a word much used these days.

Being true to oneself.

Being yourself.

It’s an interesting challenge if you grew up in, or married, or married into, a family that’s heavily invested in a certain kind of person — and you’re not really that person at all.

I’ve seen this firsthand with several women I know and it’s extremely painful to hear and see the tremendous stress it creates. Worse, obviously, to be that person and be told constantly what a disappointment you are.

One chose to leave her faith, to the shock and dismay of her parents. Another is living a deeply conventional life, and is simply not that person.

One of my favorite songs, Once in a Lifetime, by one of my favorite bands, Talking Heads:


You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself
“My God! What have I done?”

We choose our lives from the best place we know how, at that time. So we sometimes choose the wrong partner, university, job, city or friendships. They feel right then, but as we grow and become more intimate with ourselves, we see how poorly these choices now fit, like a suit of armor that once (likely) protected us — and now constricts our movements in every way.

My first husband, a physician, was “perfect on paper”, a handsome, bright, musical, ambitious man. He was, at first, kind and funny. But he was someone unwilling or unable to do the work of marriage with me, and left me barely two years after we took vows, to remarry. I should have had the guts to not marry him, as I knew it wasn’t a good fit. I did, hoping and determined to “make it work.”

But my second marriage allows me to just be who I am: messy, creative, spontaneous.

In the U.S., the workplace is structured in many ways that insist on denying who we are, whether our sexuality, the fact we are pregnant or soon hope to be (again), the fact we have aging or ill parents or relatives or dear friends who need our caregiving. It’s a country predicated on, and dedicated to, profit and productivity — not human connection or kindness. Work til you drop, dammit!

So if your authentic self more deeply values connection, or creativity, or freedom, or less conventional options, you may find yourself — however authentic — isolated, alone and filled with self-doubt and recrimination.

If only I were…not myself.

Be yourself.


Be your blessed, unique self.

23 thoughts on “Are you “authentic”?

  1. Yeah, for me being anything other than myself is not an option. I love being me and doing what I love, and if someone wanted me to change, I don’t think I could. Someone even told me last night that I’m “the good kind of crazy; it helps you and makes you a fun and creative person.” I don’t see any reason to give that up.

    1. That’s just the way I’m seeing it, a long journey with a largely unwanted destination. It’s great that you have reached that self-actualized state, may your house stand firm.

  2. Margaret

    Sometimes you write things that challenge me deeply and I thank you for that. I don’t feel that I’m living an authentic life but I’m very unclear about what that would look like.
    That’s a little embarrassing for a woman in her sixties to admit.

    1. What a tremendous compliment…thank you!

      I’ve spent decades worrying about how I stack up against (sigh) other more successful writers…and am likely using the wrong yardstick, when so much of the rest of my life is what I do want it to be.

      I also have no relationship with my mother and a very difficult one with my father and none with 3 half sibs…so I have no one to “live up to” or try to please in that regard. That’s a huge burden lifted right there.

      1. Margaret

        I don’t really compare myself to others so I’m grateful for that. My issue is more that I feel I haven’t made the most of my life and I have no-one to blame but myself.
        My mother was my greatest supporter and I miss her very much. I’m sorry you haven’t had that experience with your mother.

      2. I think most of us feel that! I’m glad your mother was so kind to you…I’ve sought and gotten most support from friends and my work. My mother really wanted a successful writing career and is quite competitive, so that was an issue.

  3. I think a lot of people see authenticity as some kind of permanence. I guess it could be for someone who never leaves home or has an experience that changes their world view.
    People adapt and evolve, that’s authenticity in my book. Of course, if a person will not embrace the changes that come to us all, that stubbornness looks a lot like authenticity as well.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    1. Margaret

      I really like this idea. It’s a different way of thinking about authenticity. It’s not as though we work towards authenticity and then bingo, you’re authentic! It’s a constant challenge to maintain your sense of self and keep displaying that to the world.

  4. Roger that. These are the people who get bamboozled by life and become the objects of exploitation and manipulation at the hands of those who say “I knew you when” and “Don’t forget where you came from” They use your notion of authenticity to lock you into whatever identity they like. Take it from me, it’s hard to break out of that. Change your face like your socks if that’s what it takes to get to the one that suits you. If others can’t deal with how long it’s taking you to figure it out, oh well.

    1. I also think this might be more of a tight family (?) or small-town experience. I usually live in large and anonymous places like a big city. But I do admit I think I would not have taken the creative and other risks I have in NY had I stayed in Toronto where everyone “knew” me. It’s one reason I left and never went back except to visit friends.

  5. You got that right. I have nieces and nephews who live in an absolute cultural wasteland. They’re generally pretty smart but they have some really stupid friends and it rubs off. More than one has run into a bit of trouble. My advice to them is always the same: Go someplace where no one knows you and start over before you get up to your ass in debt or stuck in town because of your probation. In other words, run for your life.

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