Identity

Struggling with authenticity, in many different ways

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I’ve been reading The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason and have been dwelling on a passage from the 3rd chapter, “I Will Be Your Mockingjay”:  the Power and Paradox of Metaphor in the Hunger Games Trilogy:

“In perhaps less dramatic but no less significant ways, we all negotiate paradoxical metaphors, symbols, and roles every day of our lives.  We balance the expectations of friends, lovers, coworkers, and others, each of whom defines us in a different way:  mother, daughter, lover, boss.  For each of us, these roles are literal but metaphorical because we can’t be just one thing.  As human beings, we’re all webs of paradoxical interpretations.  Like Katniss, our job is to examine the ways we define ourselves and interpret our roles in ways that are powerful and authentic.”  (Jill Olthouse, 53-54)

At times, I struggle with the notion of authenticity.  I try to be all things to all people at times, both in my personality and in my adopted roles.  In my desire to learn new skills and broaden my horizons, I find myself altering my persona, depending on the people with whom I’m interacting.  I feel like a chameleon, acting differently based on changing circumstances.  Sometimes I’m the life of the party, other times a wallflower.  Some days, I wish to be among throngs of people, enjoying the crowds and feeding off their energy; other days, I can’t imaging talking to anyone else, craving solitude and quiet.

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I also worry that others will consider me single-minded; when I play poker, I talk to the other gamblers about bad beats and fib about wins and losses (all gambler lie about this).  When I attend sporting events, I discuss favorite teams and players with the other fans.  At the comic book store, we dissect our favorite characters and movies and board games.  But it’s difficult to share all these interests at once without dominating a conversation or sounding arrogant and brash.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen a few of my friends post about “impostor syndrome,” high achieving people who feared they would be exposed as frauds for not always feeling successful, especially in light of new and difficult situations.  I feel this at times:  people ask me difficult questions about sports, or technology, or religion.  I have a high degree of familiarity in all these arenas, but would never call myself an expert in any of them.  It’s hard to say “I don’t know” and admit a shortcoming in my knowledge base.

I definitely went through an “Impostor Stage” when I first took over day-to-day operations of the Store.  While I understood many of the tasks need to run a small business, I had never done my own marketing or accounting or staff hiring or inventory management (at least, not on my own).  I felt my parents made a terrible decision putting me in charge, a feeling that lasted several months until the Store’s numbers started improving.

Even now, as I’ve started to chronicle my thoughts and emotions, I sometimes feel like a fraud.  I get an intriguing idea, something that would look good on this blog.  Then two hours will go by, and I will be starting at my laptop, barely a few hundred words on the screen, perhaps a quarter of a draft, and a messy one at that.  The difficulty translating the concepts from my head through my fingers onto the website can be excruciating.  I don’t know how professional writers do it, publishing content on a regular basis, sometimes several times a day.  This is a skill that I would like to develop, but it’s like pulling teeth for me now.

Social media doesn’t help with the perception that we have it all together.  All our Instagram pictures should be pristine and well-lit.  Our LinkedIn profiles should highlight all our professional accolades, ready for the next would-be employer.  Our Twitter feeds should be witty (and brief), our Yelp accounts gloating over our check-ins at the best restaurants in town.  We use the internet to brand ourselves, showing off the best parts of our lives for our friends and followers to see, wishing they could be as cool as we project ourselves to be.

But as I read and re-read the chapter of this book earlier today, I’m realizing that the paradox of my life is not unique.  Humans are not static; instead, we are ever changing.  We can both the teacher and the student simultaneously, parent and child, master and servant, counselor and patient .  We can be both proficient and deficient at the same subject, always learning and adapting and changing.  I am not a fraud, I’m just engaging in the struggle of life.  And at the end of the day, I will never be a finished product.  It’s scary to admit that, but coming to this conclusion is the only way for me to be truly authentic.

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