The search for authenticity

Kendall McElhaney

KendallCollegian-23-EditIt’s that time of year where everything seems bigger than it truly is. Winter has made its final departure back to the seventh layer of hell where it belongs, finals are coming up faster than you can say #staystalwart, the constant stream of people moving in and out of your life seems stronger now more than ever and, just like the passion felt between characters in a Nicholas Sparks’ book, nothing seems real. You ask yourself: “What’s my next step? Am I proud of the choices I made this year? Did I live my truth?”

I know what you’re thinking: something along the lines of “Kendall, I am just trying to make it through this semester. Does everything have to lead to some kind of existential conversation between my ideal self and my actual self?” To which I would reply, “yes.”

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The harsh truth, my sweet angels, is that everything means something. If you are not having these hard conversations with yourself about who you are and what you want, then maybe you aren’t living your truth. Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the great Transcendentalist poets once said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you into something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Good old Ralph sure had a way with words, am I right?

The idea of living your truth is a phrase I picked up after hearing Ash Beckham speak last year.  Beckham, an advocate of equality for a large spectrum of subordinated identities, insisted that we find the courage to honor who we truly are, regardless of how others perceive us. During her speech, Beckham told all us eager activists that the most important thing you can do in this life is to “Give voice to your truth.” This phrase has stuck with me longer than anything I have read in a textbook or heard in a lecture hall. It’s simple. It’s five words. But those five words hold far more weight than you think.

I’m not going to lie to you — it is really easy to just give people what they want. So easy, in fact, that many of us can go our whole lives giving into others without even noticing. Some people are more comfortable living this way. For example, to avoid rocking the metaphorical boat, someone might defer voicing their needs to someone they consider to be a close friend. Complacency with others should not be the motive for maintaining a friendship. Standing up for yourself and making sure you are respected in a space should not be seen as rude or confrontational, when done correctly. I am urging you, just like Beckham urged all of us who heard her speak, to fight this. Be your own person. Stand on your own two feet and waver only when it suits you.

College is supposed to be a time for self-discovery and finding your voice — at least that’s what ABC Family taught me. We are supposed to bend and break and push our limits. It’s all part of the process. But what happens when the process stops being a journey of discovery and becomes a passage towards complacency and hushed voices? Ask anyone how often they wish people would just be “real” with them. Nine times out of 10, they will tell you they won’t put up with fake people. But if this is the case, why is the dialogue about being “real” even still present? If everyone wants everyone else to be real — at least as real as they claim to be — then why are there still people who put up fronts and wear social masks? Why is it so hard for everyone to live authentically?  

The answer: because it’s just too easy. There is a comfortableness that accompanies hiding all the dark and twisty parts of you.  But let me remind you that this is a time to explore those parts and create a better version of yourself. Maybe not a better version — a more genuine version. A version that is going to let yourself be seen in all your forms.  It’s going to be hard, I can pretty much guarantee that. But choose authenticity over approval. Do not accept anyone else’s definition of you. Define yourself. The search for authenticity is a hard-fought battle, but it is one that will undoubtedly pay off in your favor.

 Collegian Columnist Kendall McElhaney requests that all of her hate mail be sent to The Westboro Baptist Church. She can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @kendallaftrdark.