After my second divorce, I had a stunning revelation. As painful as the breakdown of my marriage was—and make no mistake, that is a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy—it was also an opportunity. Getting divorced meant I could redefine my life to be anything I wanted it to be. I had a completely clean slate, one that I could fill however I wanted.
It wasn’t long before I had another, equally powerful, realization, though: I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know what I liked or wanted. I had spent my entire life developing my identity in relation to others. I was less clear about my own self-identity.
So, I set out to learn who I was, and then purposefully create the life that I wanted. There were stumbles along the way, of course, but that was all part of the process. And in the end, those moments of reexamination and reevaluation led me not only to my authentic self, they also taught me that people who are authentic don’t have to be perfect.
Just as importantly, I learned to see through the facade of perfection that others put up. And when that facade crumbled, as it inevitably does, I could hold space for them as they learned to be their own authentic selves.
Authenticity is Often Rejected
After my divorce, I started questioning everything—religion, political affiliations, fashion, lifestyle choices. Who was I? What did I stand for? As I tried to figure these things out, I was like a wobbly fawn, careening into objects, often falling down.
As the first in my group of friends to get divorced, there was no one to comfort me through this process. In fact, as I started to figure out my own identity, many of my friends rejected what I was becoming. As painful as it was, I finally realized that what they were really rejecting was my newfound authenticity. Stepping into your true self is powerful; if others have not embraced their own authenticity, it can feel threatening to them.
I have been there too. I’ll admit I used to be very judgmental of others. But divorce ripped the scales from my eyes and allowed me to release my own facade of perfection.
It also gave me the ability to listen to other people without judgement. Because of my divorce and the journey it led me on, when the people in my life struggled with adversity—for example, when my friends went through their own divorces—I could offer them unconditional love and support. I had the tools and the wisdom to hold space for them and offer them the grace I had wished for.
Everyone Has a Story
The more I held space for the people in my life, the more my friends confided in me about their own troubles. As they did, I had an epiphany: the more perfect the facade, the more likely there was some serious drama behind the scenes. That’s when I realized, in my heart of hearts, that people who are authentic don’t have to be perfect.
It also became clear to me that “perfect” people are often the most judgmental. They look for the flaws in others to make themselves feel better. The more people hold up that banner of perfection, the greater the likelihood that there’s something completely different going on behind the scenes. In those instances, the facade of perfection is there to hide what’s really going on…until it can’t anymore.
People who are authentic, on the other hand, are open about their struggles. They don’t pretend that everything is perfect. They are willing to admit when they are struggling and to ask for support. What a gift that is—and what a gift it was when I learned how to do that myself.
As my friends began to confide in me some of their deepest, darkest secrets, I realized I loved them even more for being real with me. They taught me that everyone has a story. Most of the time, we have no idea what people have been through, what has shaped them. My capacity for empathy expanded exponentially.
Drop the Facade, and Change Your Life
While it’s true that my divorce was the catalyst for me learning that authentic people don’t have to be perfect, it certainly doesn’t take the end of a marriage to learn how to drop the facade. The circumstances we collectively find ourselves in can do that, if we let them.
Think about it. One of the greatest gifts the pandemic has given us is the huge rise in Zoom calls. With those calls, we get a more complete picture of the lives of the people on the other end. We see more authentic versions of our colleagues, coworkers and friends. With this newfound window into people’s lives, we can see the truth, not just the story we make up in our heads.
There is an incredible gift in that. Suddenly, we have an unprecedented opportunity to shift our story about someone else to one that is far more accurate. If we see something that raises alarms, we can ask questions. We can hold space for people as they share their real stories, and we can deepen our connections by sharing our own.
Make Authenticity a Priority
That is not the only gift the pandemic brought. COVID also highlighted the need for mental health care and self-care. As a result of everything that’s been happening, we are becoming more verbal about what we need.
In many ways, COVID gave us permission to bring our private personas, professional personas, and personal personas together. It became more socially acceptable to share what is really going on in life with other people, whether they are friends or colleagues.
The societal shifts that the pandemic brought about are opportunities to drop our need to appear perfect all the time. We are confronted on an almost-daily basis with people struggling, and if we let it, we can use that as an opportunity to develop the empathy we need to hold space for others and ourselves in our imperfections.
By learning to do that, we can learn to be authentic. We can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Ultimately, we can grow and bloom into our greatness, and support those around us to do the same.