It’s that time of year. The time that we receive a deluge of holiday cards, end-of-year “my life is so fabulous!” brag letters, and social media posts that show how much fun, how perfect, and how amazing everyone else in our universe is.
The end-of-year brag letters are the worst. I had one friend who would send one that was typed single-spaced and covered multiple pages! Did she really expect me to read all of that? Doesn’t she know that the rest of the world has a shorter attention span than a fish? I would have more appreciated a one page all caps letter that said, “My life is AMAZING! Sorry yours sucks!” The sentiment is the same and it at least would avoid the eyestrain! People put a lot of time, effort, and money into producing and sending the perfect holiday card. They want us to see their families in the best light possible.
Unfortunately, what happens is that people project their own stories onto those photos, and generally assume that the photos represent the “truth” – that your life is perfect. Sadly, while these cards, posts, and letters are meant to bring us together, they often do the opposite. They drive a wedge between us. We feel we need to maintain this façade of perfection around others. When we pretend to be perfect, we never experience true connection. It’s through shared common experiences that we connect with others. To connect, we need to pull back the curtain and reveal the reality of our situation.
After I was divorced the second time, I threw away the mantle of perfection and embarked on a journey to find out who I really was – not who others wanted me to be. This transformation was quickly rejected by family and friends. They wanted me to go back to trying to “fit-in,” behaving, and fitting the story projected onto me. But once I had experienced vulnerability, intimacy, and living an authentic life, there was no going back. There is a reason why many of us love National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; it’s because we see ourselves in it – either the way that we actually are or would like to have the freedom to be.
Being Authentic Isn’t Easy: It’s Often Rejected
The thing about being authentic is that it reminds people of their own realities. And, particularly during the holidays, people may want to forget about their alcoholic spouse, cheating husband, overwhelming credit card debt, sick mother, fighting kids, and the other struggles that life serves up. But when we hide behind the mask of perfection, it makes us feel like we are going through life’s struggles alone, which can cause even greater harm.
Trust me, I know. I used to sit high and mighty on my pillar of perfection, passing judgment on others. But after my divorce, as more and more friends came to me and confided in me about their own struggles, I realized that people who are authentic don’t have to be perfect. People who are authentic own their flaws, struggles, and challenges, and offer grace to those who encounter similar circumstances. I had the epiphany: the more perfect the façade, the more likely there was some serious drama behind the scenes. I also realized that “perfect” people are often the most judgmental of others and themselves.
Drop the Facade, and Change Your Life
While it’s true that my divorce was the catalyst for me learning that authentic people don’t have to be perfect, it certainly doesn’t take the end of a marriage to learn how to drop the facade. The circumstances we collectively find ourselves in can do that, if we let them.
Think about it. One of the greatest gifts the pandemic has given us is the huge rise in Zoom calls. With those calls, we get a more complete picture of the lives of the people on the other end. We see more authentic versions of our colleagues, coworkers and friends. With this newfound window into people’s lives, we can see the truth, not just the story we make up in our heads.
There is an incredible gift in that. Suddenly, we have an unprecedented opportunity to shift our story about someone else to one that is far more accurate. If we see something that raises alarms, we can ask questions. We can hold space for people as they share their real stories, and we can deepen our connections by sharing our own.
For more advice on how to embrace authenticity and step into your power, you can find Blooming on Amazon.
Carrington Smith is a single mom, attorney, business owner, executive search professional, and author of Blooming. She has survived sexual assault, two divorces, piles of debt, abuse, religious mind games, the death of loved ones, and the loss of close friends. In her debut memoir, Carrington combines wit and wisdom to share her journey with a positive attitude and a shift of mindset, into a life bursting with joy, opportunity, and purpose. A graduate of UT Austin and Tulane Law School, Carrington resides in Austin with her two teenage boys. For more information, visit http://Carrington-Smith.com.