I remember sitting at my desk at 10 or 11 years old, doing homework, and thinking about who I would become. I remember visualizing my Oscar acceptance speech (that was a regular recurring one for me, for a long time). I remember thinking about the memoir I would one day write, and realizing that I would need to experience a lot more of my life before I would have anything meaningful to say. And I remember distinctly the feeling of – “I am going to achieve greatness,” whatever that ends up being.
For the next 30 years (yes, I am now 41), and without even realizing it (until now), I defined who I was based on that thinking. I pretty much wrapped my entire identity around the dreams I was realizing, the passion pursuits, the goals, and the greatness I set out to achieve during whatever stage of my life I was in. First as an actress, then as a filmmaker, then lawyer, then wife and mom with a family, and most recently as an entrepreneur.
I also remember (not that hard as it was fairly recently) feeling like I was having a full on identity crisis. Feeling like I was losing my sense of self, and that for the first time in my life, I was questioning everything. My choices, my goals, my dreams, what I even wanted, and who I even was. My entire identity felt like it was being called into question. Not a good place to be and not a good feeling to have. I felt lost, I felt alone, and I felt uncertain. These are not feelings I was previously very familiar with, except maybe the alone part, and so even just feeling them felt very scary to me.
I think that’s because one of the biggest fears we can have as human beings is loosing our sense of self. I think that’s probably the greatest existential crisis one can go through. And I think it can too easily happen to so many of us, at some point or another and to some degree or another, because of this tendency or this false conception we have that what we do, or the roles we play, or the relationships we have, or the dreams and goals we strive to achieve in life, are somehow an exact mathematical and proportionate equation and representation of who we are.
That is SO NOT true. And that is SO NOT useful. (Those are two great filters by the way to ask yourself when confronted with any decision or challenge – (1) is it true?; and (2) is it useful? I borrowed that from Dani Shapiro who talks about it in this interview with Marie Forleo).
We all do this at some point or another and to some degree or another. We hang our identity on any one or set of things – our career, our relationships, our achievements or lack thereof, etc. And then one day, when that thing implodes or comes crashing down or fails or veers off course or just doesn’t live up to its ideal version of your dreams, what happens? Your entire identity feels like it comes crashing down with it, and like it’s being called into question. You feel like you don’t even know who you are anymore, what you want, who you’ve become, how you got here, or any other version of that you can relate to.
BUT, here’s what is true, and is useful. You are NOT defined by any one thing. You are not defined by what you do, and you’re definitely not defined by others (e.g., the roles you play in society, in your community, in your family, and in your relationships). This whole concept ties into the need we have for approval. Approval from others, approval from society, and even approval from ourselves. But what you need is to live your life and to be you, irrespective of anyone else’s (even your own) approval. The relationships, the roles, the career, etc. – they are all a part of you, an expression of you, and a piece of your integral whole. But not any one part of it defines who you are.
The only thing that can define who you are, is your own radical honesty. Being radically honesty about yourself and with yourself about your desires, your beliefs, your dreams, your values, your goals, and your passions. And part of that is allowing and giving yourself the permission (i.e., approval) to allow those values, and dreams, and beliefs, and passions to evolve and grow and change and shift over time, just as you yourself evolve, and grow, and change, and shift through life.
Allow yourself to be an archeologist, an architect, and an artist at the same time. And never stop. Allow yourself to continually search, discover, uncover, pursue, develop, build, create, express, manifest, and bring to life all that is inside of you – your passions, your dreams, your truth, and your Self – whatever stage you may be in.
That’s what true “authenticity” means: Knowing who you are (in a radically honest way), and being brave enough to live it. Even when (maybe even especially when) you don’t have the approval you think you so desperately need. And, like most worthwhile things in life, being that authentic, and courageous, and radically honest is much easier said than done. But no one said it was easy, right? (Oh wait, except all those people that sell their easy and simple and quick 5-step strategies to happiness and success. But besides them, no one said it was easy).
I used to think that Passion alone overcomes Fear. But I think it’s more accurate to say that Radical Honesty and living authentically and going after your dreams and pursuing your passions without regard for anyone else’s approval and without wrapping your entire identity on any one piece of it or any one passion pursuit or goal or dream, or failure for that matter – that is what actually overcomes fear.
Go after your dreams. Achieve your goals. Become the person you want to be. Do what you love. Pursue your passions.
But don’t hang your identity on it.
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