Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Still Talking about Authenticity, At a Certain Age. . .

Before we went travelling, I wrote a post on Authenticity at a Certain Age, particularly as that authenticity pertained to friendship. Some of you question the word itself, "authenticity" being so elusive and/or problematic to establish, nigh impossible to test. But as I said in the post and in some of the comments, I used the word because I'd been struck by having had it pop up coincidentally in several conversations, and I was curious about its resonance, about the phenomenon of its repetition. .

And despite the reservations about the word itself, the concept seems to be something many can relate to, particularly in regards to friendship. As K.Line (who says she "call[s] it realness") comments, "it's the thing I value most about my friendships." I love her qualifier -- "everyone's authenticity is unique" -- and even more, her insistence that despite the different ways authenticity manifests, "you know it when you see it."

The entire thread is worth reading, I think. So many rich comments.

And some of those comments lead right into what I'd promised to talk about in a second post on the topic of Authenticity at a Certain Age (that second post being this one, right here, right now ;-) Comments such as Lisa's, for example, when she speaks about "relationships across generations", saying that when her "mother and stepfather first started really ailing, I realized I wanted to make all all my relationships more authentic now, because otherwise I would have to use capacity to keep up a front in my old age and I didn't want to waste it on that. Second, it is now my priority to make my relationships with my children as authentic as possible, because if I don't work to have them know me from an adult perspective it won't happen" . . . and (another) Frances's comment that as she thought about the authenticity she wanted in friendships, she questioned whether she was living up to that ideal herself.

Perhaps it's Suz's comment that best echoes the way that word "authentic" arose in the second conversation that struck me this past spring. Suz from Vancouver says that it's important we find time for ourselves so that our authentic selves can be revealed. It's this determination to be authentic that my friend Carol spoke of when we sat together over coffee back in March or so, even before I wrote here about her wonderful memoir of love and loss and grief. As you might have gathered from that post, I've never ever doubted Carol's authenticity, her willingness to be "real," to be as rigorous and honest in her thinking as a situation demands (her ability to discern a situation's demands is pretty stellar as well). I wasn't surprised, then, to hear her say that this authenticity is perhaps our most important task at this end of life, but I was a bit startled to have the word echoed so quickly after it had played a central part in my discussion with a friend just the day before. 

As well, I suppose, given the work that Carol had already been doing in writing her memoir, I might  be forgiven for taking her "authenticity" for granted, for assuming she didn't need to work at it. But as I continued to think about our conversation over the next few days, to wonder about why "that word" was cropping up, I thought of the many ways we are called to respond -- to people, to news, to retail advertising, to social media, to books, to film, etc. So many, many layers of stimuli,  always and everywhere -- more, surely, than our hard-wiring was ever designed to cope with. Would it be surprising if our own values and preferences and goals and hopes got buried or compromised or forgotten? What does it mean to be authentic to ourselves? And how then does that authenticity play out in the world?

You can see my friend Carol working at that in her new blog. She doesn't hesitate to examine social and political issues, but she does this in her particular, erudite, very personal -- I don't think she'll mind my saying "idiosyncratic -- way. 

And I'm trying to sort my own way to figuring out what's authentic to and for me. On this blog, yes, but also in my social relationships -- family and friends -- and in how I want to spend my time. What really matters to me now and how much of that am I going to be able to manage in the time I have left? How will I prioritize? Should I be saying "No" more often, or "Yes"? Do I really want to travel so much or am I being unduly influenced by a variety of factors? What do I most want to accomplish with my writing, and why, and for whom? How do I distinguish between the "shoulds" and the "musts," and then do I prioritize the latter or default to doing what I "should"?

 Perhaps you can see why I've procrastinated for so long on this post -- far more questions than answers, my thinking still inchoate on the topic. But I have been trying to clear more time for noticing what I like, trying to leave more space for discernment. The morning pages help, as does walking and looking, as does talking with an insightful friend. . . Simple observation and reflection. . . And I'm hoping that chatting with you might help as well.

Do you find any resonance at all in that call to explore or reveal or make room for your authentic self at this "certain age"? (I'm assuming the majority of my readers are nearing my level of maturity, shall we say, although I know there are also a number of you who are just observing, from over the fence). If you're retired, do you find that you're able to pay more attention to a congruence between your deepest values and the way you spend your days? If you're not yet retired, do you hope to be able to do so? And how much does awareness of mortality's nearing presence affect your efforts to "be authentic"? (If this term just doesn't work for you, feel free to suggest another that does.)

And one last question: my friend Carol, emphasizing the importance of authenticity at this stage of her life, and for her this stage is, as she subtitles her book, "the bereavement phase of my marriage." How much have changes in your relationship status affected your motivation or ability to be whatever you see as authentic to yourself? I find that the luxury of more free time together post retirement also brings some challenges in this regard -- acquiescences or compromises that didn't seem such a big deal when I had an entirely separate sphere to move in for so much of my time can grate when they threaten to form a dominating pattern I didn't necessarily vote for. . . And my quest to "be authentic" has to be balanced with my partner's happiness and the state of my marriage -- keeping in mind that said happiness and marriage will not last if they depend overly on my maintenance of an ill-fitting persona. 

Okay, that's enough for now -- feel free to add and answer any questions you think relevant.  




32 comments:

  1. I reread your post and the comments. It seems like a long time ago. There is so much in this post to think about. Is Carol's book available or is she still working on it? I like the term "bereavement phase of my marriage." I have released my expectations of my husband to be what I want him to be. I have no longer any illusions (delusions) about having a perfect soulmate. His authentic self is not here to complete my life. In releasing him from my expectations, I have freed myself. The roles of husband/wife, mother/father, grandma/grandpa that I watched my parents play are irrelevant to our relationship. A part of me grieves over this but a part of me knows that those roles are as ill-suited to me as they are to my husband. Wow!
    Do we think too much?

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    1. I went to Carol's blog and got the answer to my question about her book. Carol's loss of her husband, Mike, is a real loss. Her bereavement is not metaphorical. Perhaps we also mourn the loss of younger selves and of our illusions. You have made me think a lot this morning.

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    2. I’m glad you found the answers in her blog—I think I included a link to my earlier post offering an introduction and my response to her memoir. I’m
      Pretty sure the VPL has a copy

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  2. This is Heavy. Yes, with a capital H. This isn't authenticity as in not pretending to be happy/perfect/on top of things when one isn't, really. This is authentic authenticity. Authenticity squared, or maybe cubed, or even a bigger exponent.
    On one hand, it is great to be like my aunt was on our gigantic family trip to Italy, saying "why not!" to whatever was proposed. OTOH, it also is great to say NO to things you dread. It isn't as if we have to sign up for Team Yes or Team No. We get to switch back and forth, like alternating electrical current, which is pretty wonderful, right? I love to discover new things; at the same time, I have had my fill of certain things that I hate and really don't want to have to go through again, and I no longer feel like I have to pretend to not mind, just to make happy a bunch of other people who don't like those things either, but who do them for still other people. Somebody has to stop the charade!
    The bereavement stage of marriage: this deserves much reflection.
    Thank you for such a not-shallow blog. I wish you and your readers were in the vicinity, for a nice get-together of soul sisters.

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    1. So glad you found the post worthwhile -- and I agree, it's a relief to let go of the pretense.
      I share your wish for a "get-together of soul sisters"!

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  3. I loved the above comment - I think we do indeed "think too much." I know if my mother or grandmother were reading this, they would roll their eyes and say "just get on with things; don't overthink." But then, what about the quote "an unexamined life..." that goes back to Plato's time doesn't it (I had to look that up!), so our generation is not the only one prone to self analysis. Perhaps it is an age and stage thing. As far as authenticity goes, I think it's very difficult to define. As soon as we open our mouths, or even more so, put something down in writing, we're making a choice, presenting a certain persona to the world. I could write two entirely different responses here, but which one would be the authentic one? I still find that easier to judge in others than in myself. I'm going to have to come back to this after more thought! There is indeed much to ponder here.
    Frances in Sidney

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    1. Oh, I hear some version of that "over-thinking" comment regularly -- personally, I'm not sure it's either generationally or "age and stage" but part of my nature from the get-go. . .
      You're right about the persona(e?) we present to the world -- but as much as we can make choices about that persona (or those personae), do/can we make that persona congruent with some core values we're conscious of? All very contingent, yes. But perhaps worthwhile to ponder -- or overthink ;-)

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    2. I agree, Mater, that "over thinking" is likely part of your nature from the get go - as I'm the same way. I don't find that people become that way with age or when they're at a certain stage of life. I've always been that way and I continue to be so - if anything, and only in certain realms, possibly, I overthink a bit less than I once did.

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  4. We have had some major issues with depression in our family, which we recently found is at least partially due to a gene mutation. Who knows how many generations have silently suffered since we can track problem behaviors over at least three generations? Would it have made a difference if my grandmother had been able to really be herself and talk about her sadness? Are we being more authentic today by trying to seek solutions or should we just carry on? Lots of family discussions on this, and as Frances in Sidney notes, lots to ponder.

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    1. Big questions, Lynn L. Mental illness, especially with a genetic component, really complicates any consideration of the authentic self, of how much individual choice we really have. And does "being more authentic" necessarily preclude carrying on?

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  5. Thank you for quoting me, I'm honored. You are so uniquely thoughtful. This might be one of my favorite posts you've written, not to hear my own thoughts of course, but to hear you shine light on something I thought I'd already considered. I agree, authenticity does required revisiting, revalidating, one's core values. So I could have been open and straightforward about what I thought or felt, but if I had never then looked more carefully at the values that motivated me, my openness was not this kind of higher authenticity. And I do think this is what I aspire to, to get closer to a heartfelt moral truth - although it's quite possible I am not be up to the task.

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    1. Yes, I think it's this more careful look at our motivating values -- seems to me you raised this a few months ago in a post wondering about the foundational core of an individual's political leanings.
      I wonder if many of us shy away from this examination because of a fear we can't live up to those values after a lifetime of compromises. Absolutes and ideals are so tough -- maybe authenticity and compromise needn't be mutually exclusive?

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  6. Since I stepped off the merry-go-round that was my teaching life, three years ago, the ability to just be still, to ponder and to consider has been the greatest boon. Being able to see clearly because there is now plenty of time - it has been a life-changer. Not only do I see how and why I made errors or bad judgement calls, I now don't need to jump in with both feet. Metaphorically, I am sitting by the side of the pool and enjoying the experience instead of thrashing about in the deep end. And being able to decide Yes or No, without overthinking is a gift. So too is seeing things are they really are. Life without the luxury of unbroken thought and reasoning would be a life without meaning for me but there does have to come a time when you get up and put the kettle on (literally and metaphorically) and get on with things. Authenticity and honesty are key here and yes, being on the last third of life is a great driver. There is literally no time to be wasted in pretending things are not as they appear or continuing to deny your truth. All I would say to that is: sledgehammer to crack a nut is a big risk. Sometimes action is not necessary, but revelation itself is the goal. Which sounds very Buddhist and perhaps it is. Good post, Mater.

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    1. Interesting, here, the tension between the importance of the time to sit still and the "no time to be wasted" -- your Buddhist koan. . .

      I'm leery of the recourse to the sledgehammer/nut -- not at all sure that a consideration of authenticity warrants such counsel, and I wonder where the overall fear of overthinking comes from. Just saying . . .

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  7. I retired just six months ago which has finally allowed me the gift of time to think--to spend a morning with a cup of tea, reading, reflecting, writing--and to, coincidentally, find your blog. And how wonderful to find a place where one may ponder deeper questions of life and read thoughtful responses.

    Post-retirement is yet another journey of discovery. Who am I in this new, uncharted role now that I no longer work 12 hours days in a stressful job? How will it impact my relationship with my husband (who is not retired)? Are there subtle shifts in my relationship with my adult children? Lots of questions to be contemplated--in time.

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    1. So glad you had time to find the blog, Mary! Happy to have you here.
      And it's true -- just the time to be still, then to read, write, reflect -- such a luxury. But not an uncomplicated luxury. . .

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  8. Mary, I also retired six months ago and am finding the time I have to just "be' to sit and think and read and enjoy the simple pleasures of having lunch with my husband precious. I just spent time in England with all my brothers and their spouses and some of my nieces and nephews. I didn't do many touristy things, I spent time with my beloved family and saw the many changes they are going through and laughed and shared meals with them. Those are authentic relationships; they matter to me deeply. I also took two weeks away from the ceaseless chatter of the media obsessed with the monstrous "you know who." I came back knowing I had to step away from that noise and take time to clear my mind. My husband who lost a very good friend of his recently, has taken to spending ten minutes in the morning meditating on the trees outside our window and thinking that his friend would love each day. Brenda

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    1. Isn't it great, Brenda? Such a luxury, this post-retirement time, so healing. I do wish more of us could be granted small packages of it throughout a lifetime, quite honestly, although I wonder if we'd then appreciate it as much.
      Similar to D., I've been thinking recently of a friend who's gone, even glimpsing her occasionally (not really, but the illusion) and valuing my time differently (more) because of that.

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  9. "Authenticity is perhaps our most important task at this end of life..."-brilliant and so true. It is our last chance.
    Experience helps,retirement helps,the possibilities of choices help,time to ponder more than before helps...
    I agree with Mary,it has reminded me of the many questions "Who am I now,when I'm not a very important person any more?"
    "And, if I am pleased with myself,as I am,would I be pleased with me if other people don't think so, because I've become invisible and unimportant to them?"-The answer is "yes",if you are still curious :-)!
    "What my children and grandchildren-my rhetorical ones- will see and feel about me as only me (and did I know who I was at the moment?)?
    And from time to time,my authentic me has zero tolerance
    What a beautiful post and comments!
    Dottoressa
    P.S. Thank you a lot for the open and authentic football support!

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    1. "Yes, if you are still curious!" Well said! So important, isn't it?! Curiosity and/or engagement -- if it's authentic, I believe it's compelling enough to keep us "important" and "visible."
      You're very welcome -- your country's team (and president!) represented you so well!

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  10. Thank you very much for quoting me, like Lisa, I am so honoured. Your second post brings up lots of questions and again so many thoughtful comments.
    Since your first post , I have been thinking about the authenticity of my friendships. Some are very easy to see as the "real deal". And some - once I thought about them are really not genuine anymore. That recognition is a relief in a way. And I am surprised at how easy it was to realize that!
    Again, thank you for discussing this topic.
    Suz from Vancouver

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    1. This! That recognizing the not-genuine friendships is a kind of relief. It doesn't mean getting rid of them, necessarily, but the recognition lifts a kind of weight -- for me, at least. Thank you!

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  11. I am still feeling a bit uncomfortable about the term „authentic“, because it seems to suggest some kind of immutable essence (of a person, a group, a „culture“) wanting „authentic“ expression. Whereas I think that such essence does not exist. We are all changing all the time. But if I replace the term with “honest” or “true to” (myself, for example, as I feel myself to be at this given moment), I can relate to many of the comments above. A few years ago I caught myself increasingly beginning sentences with “I am too old to…” (waste my time on this or that, allow myself to be pushed around, drink bad wine ;)…). I do not want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I speak my mind more openly than I used to. As yet, this has not changed the relationship with any of my close friends.
    But right now it seems to me that speaking my mind is not enough, that I should do more when people are drowning in the Mediterranean and rescue crews are retained in port. So I am looking for a way to live up to my convictions. At the moment I feel that this is very important for me to be “true to myself” or, perhaps better, at peace with myself.

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    1. From a cursory scan of various sites using "authentic" as it's used in philosophy or in psychological counselling, I don't think it's meant to signal an immutable essence. My own sense of the self is that it is shifting, contingent, performative, contextual rather than autonomous, etc. BUT I also feel/think I want to be aware of the gap between inside and outside "Me"-- not see that shifting out of my control, if that makes any sense. So that when my friend spoke of working on her own authenticity, I knew what she meant and it resonated. . . .

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    2. This different unserstanding of the term may be a language thing - at least in great part. In German, "Authenticity" carries quite a load of Heideggerian(?)"Eigentlichkeit" which is pretty essentialist. This appears not be the case in the English speaking world.
      As regards friendships, I seem to have developed a more prosaic approach to some of them. I see more clearly than I used to what I value in my friends and which aspects I may not find so attractive. It had not occurred to me to take this shift in perspective as a form of "authenticity" or "honesty". I will have to think about that.

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  12. I guess it’s about the essence of ourselves inside the skin we inhabit and wether we are happy with that essence. Come sixty plus we’ve seen plenty of changes to how that essence feels. Hopefully we feel more comfortable with ourselves. It’s hopeless to expect everything to distill perfectly but it is good to feel happy at this age about where we are in relationships and living generally. Trying to be kind to ourselves and others is key I guess. The essence continues to change the older we get, certainly the skin does. B x

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    1. The skin certainly does. . . ;-)
      I think it's worth hoping we feel more comfortable with ourselves, but I can also imagine feeling less so, depending on how much choice we've felt able to exercise, how much agency we've felt, how we've used it, etc., with that big clock ticking somewhere off the horizon. . .

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  13. Oh my goodness, this is a timely post. I have been swimming in this pond for a bit myself. After a lifetime of meeting the needs of others it is difficult to articulate our truest self. I have even contemplated writing an autobiography, each chapter told from the point of view of a significant player in my life! I am startled to hear my daughter's perceptions of me at times, as they do not match up with my own. Is that because I am not authentic with them, or is it because they need or want to view me through the lens that makes them most comfortable? I find it easiest to express my raw self with my husband and closest friends. I guess that makes sense. Interesting to read others thoughts on this.

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    1. Such an interesting concept, that autobiographical structure.
      And those questions: why do our children see us differently than we perceive ourselves to be?
      I was surprised at how much my family resisted seeing my introvert self, but thinking about it, I had to channel my social side for all those school functions and kids' soccer games and the housefuls of teen friends. . . and I was happy and competent doing that. . . but exhausted ;-) And now I'm less motivated to play that role; I find it more taxing. And they finally see that side of me. My husband, as well, comes closest to knowing "my raw self" as you put it. As you say, that "lifetime of meeting the needs of others" makes it a challenge to "articulate our truest self" whatever that might be.

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    2. That IS the question- finding our truest self- at this stage of life, and then living accordingly. Having the luxury to read and ponder, have deep conversations, read thoughtful blogs, listen to thoughtful podcasts, knowing when to disengage. Unwrapping the many stored "boxes" I've tucked away, both physical and metaphorical. These are the tasks I hope to have the time to complete on my own journey.

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  14. These days, in the wake of new widowhood, my authenticity challenge is that I don't know who I am becoming right now.

    This maturational phase feels familiar because throughout my life my values, priorities, goals, even my personality have changed constantly. As a child, my family moved frequently, and every couple of years I had to fit myself into new communities and cultures and make connections with people who knew nothing of me or my history. This serial-immigrant perspective made me hyper-observant and hyper-adaptable, gifts that have been incredibly useful. These are the gifts I’m relying on to learn the lay of this new land.

    I’m not alone in trying to envision what is most important to me and what I might accomplish in the time I have left. At age 72, I am fortunate to have good friends of long association, although none of them live anywhere near me. Like me, they're also changing as they adjust to retirement, the loss of loved ones, and reduced physical vigor. I sense already that at this phase of life it is perhaps hardest to be currently authentic with those who are most familiar and comfortable with our earlier incarnations.

    For now, the most authentic self I can present to friends is that I'm in transition and unwilling to go on the record about much. Despite my grieving work, I don’t feel particularly depressed. But I am quieter and less opinionated than I once was. This could be temporary. I won't know for a while.

    Ann in Missouri

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    1. Such a thoughtful and important comment, Ann -- and perhaps most resonant in many ways with my friend's comment which was made in the context of her widowhood, "the final phase of her marriage."
      I didn't move as you did through my childhood, but I relate to the contingency you speak of, the shifting of your personality according to communities and cultures.
      So interesting and wise, I think, your sense that "at this phase of life it is perhaps hardest to be currently authentic with those who are most familiar and comfortable with our earlier incarnations."
      In fact, I'm stopping myself from commenting more on that, from extrapolating as I'm tempted to. I think it's a sentence that deserves to resonate as is.
      xo

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we?

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