(Written by guest blogger Corey Anne Rottella)
“We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be”. One of my favorite quotes by my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut. It is a truth worth bearing in mind. We live in a society that thrives on comparing ourselves to others. We must keep up with the Joneses! We must achieve the “American dream”! Be skinny! Confident! Have a career and 2.5 kids! Be…perfect! If you aren’t “successful” according to societal norms, then you must be doing adulthood wrong. Not only does that path lead to madness but it also robs us of all authenticity. There is no truth to it.
How many masks does one have to wear? Work persona? Church persona? Family persona? A lifetime spent trying to live up to others perceived expectations is no life at all. It’s a self-imposed cage forged from comparing our insides with other people’s outsides. The truth is always deeper than the quick judgements we make based on our daily interactions with others. It’s impossible to know a person’s story based upon Facebook statuses or chit chat around the water cooler.
Most of us feel an intrinsic need to present our best face to the world; that false self which we hope will meet or exceed other people’s expectations. In and of itself that seems pretty harmless, but is it really? I spent the majority of my life hiding behind a smile and convincing myself that everything is fine. I did it so long and so well that I never dealt with any negative truths going on around me or inside myself. I smiled as my inner and outer world crumbled down, slowly eroding all that I held of value. I smiled as I compared my inner self with all the fabulously “normal” people. I smiled and said I was fine as I was slowly and painfully killing myself…the lies you tell others hurt, but the lies you tell yourself can kill you.
That was then and this is now. Today, through some effort and support, I am delightfully free. The key to my self-imposed cage was buried deep within me, but it was always there. I have learned to be honest with myself about who I am, how I feel and who I want to be. I no longer have time to worry about other people’s expectations. I am too busy defining my own. I am not skinny or rich. I don’t have a 401K and sometimes I pay my bills late. Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m angry or lonely or sad. I’m ok with all of that today. Those feelings pass. They don’t own me because I’m honest about them. Mostly, I’m happy and so very grateful to have the ability to be my imperfect, scattered, easily overwhelmed, passionate authentic self every day in every interaction. That is true freedom.
Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care