A few weeks ago, I was honored to be selected as one of 12 alumni (+12 collegians) to attend the Nancy Walton Laurie Leadership Institute with my sorority, Chi Omega in Memphis. They asked us to describe an authentic relationship within Chi Omega, and here is what I shared:
I can’t talk about authenticity without talking about my own struggle with authenticity. When I was in college, I dreamed of being a Broadway star. But I had discovered something about myself that I thought threatened to ruin that dream before it even began. Threatened to ruin all of my dreams, even the simple dream of belonging with my friends. So I kept that part of myself a secret. And I thought I was so special in this secret, I thought I was the only person who had this part of themselves they thought was unacceptable to share. But I later learned that isn’t true. We all have something about ourselves that we think, if others saw in us, they would reject us, they would go away. But I thought it was just me, so I suffered alone, isolated, terribly lonely. Because of this struggle with authenticity, I read everything I could about it, studied it, and eventually turned it into a career. But what I have learned about authenticity is that it is a journey, not a destination. A journey that requires 3 skills: 1) radical self-compassion, 2) really knowing yourself deeply, 3) releasing the fear of rejection so that you can really be seen. And at the point of that journey when I was in Chi Omega, my authentic relationship was with my roommate. And when I finally shared this secret with her, I took a huge step in my journey of authenticity. I came out to her, as gay. And while at that point along my journey, I couldn’t, SHE held the space of radical compassion for me, and SHE held the space of acceptance for me when I couldn’t accept myself. And for that, I am forever grateful. And supported me in my being able to give MYSELF compassion and acceptance, and be able to tell this story here today.
In the spirit of authenticity, I was so nervous to share this story. It was a new group of women, in the south no less, and I had no idea how they would react. My own defenses were in full swing. Trying to talk me out of it. But I couldn’t talk about authenticity authentically, without sharing this story. It was my first and most painful struggle with authenticity. Anything else would have been hiding and I knew it.
Sharing this story, repeatedly, has been a long time coming, and there have been so many words of wisdom along the way. But one stuck out at me, and it was actually from my interview with Amy Pearson (I am paraphrasing): “When you hide, you become INVISIBLE to your people. When you are willing to be seen, then you connect.”
And anyone who was uncomfortable is dealing with their own discomfort within themselves – their discomfort about me is just a projection.
So I am WILLING for people to be uncomfortable so that I can be seen by my tribe.
And guess what happened?
I was seen by my tribe.
TWO women in a group of 24 came up to me and told me they were gay/bisexual. I would NEVER in a million years have guessed that. That they were happy that I shared that when they were still somewhat (to varying degrees) afraid to. Others thanked me for my bravery and authenticity. I felt really connected instead of like an outsider. I chose to feel connected. I set the boundary in my own mind to accept myself. To connect with myself. And that was mirrored externally.
It isn’t always easy, but it is worth it. And if they had all rejected me, I was OK with that too. But they didn’t. Allow people to surprise you. We think our pain is special, but it really isn’t. Allow people to connect to you. And connect to them. Vulnerability is a risk. You don’t get to know the reaction before you do it. You don’t get to know. But you can know that you won’t connect without it.
Thank you Chi O for all your love.