I started writing on Medium because it is a more recognizable website name than my personal blog site. I was trying to gain more exposure, to introduce myself to more people, and maybe even grow a small readership. (Insert my perpetual internal struggle about “being someone” versus what others would simply call “trying” or “branding”.) But I’ve returned to my original blog site for this entry. It’s why I started this blog and started writing in the first place, so it seemed fitting to share this particular entry from this space.
I named this blog “Just Only Jenn” after a children’s book called Just Only John, by Jack Kent. It’s the story of a little boy who doesn’t want to be himself anymore, and after much pretending and after eating a special pill made by the neighborhood witch that turns him into various things, he realizes that being himself is the way to go and the best thing to be.
"You can't find out what it's like to be something by pretending," he said. "You only find
out what it's like to pretend to be something. It's not the same thing."
No, it’s not the same thing, and it’s very painful and it’s a tremendous waste of time and energy. I have spent most of my life pretending to be someone I’m not. As a child, I shut down my thoughts and feelings when I perceived from the adults around me that I was too emotional or felt things too strongly. As a teenager, I shut down everything I felt and believed to try to please my mother and become what I thought would be her “perfect daughter”. As an adult, I’ve spent the majority of my work life (so the majority of my adult life) actively denying my true thoughts, feelings and ambitions. I’ve stayed in a career longer than I ever expected or wanted to and stayed in some really abusive job situations waaay longer than I ever should have. I have spent a lifetime convincing myself I am “normal” or “happy” or “okay”, and that if I just try hard enough – if I can just figure out how to turn off my brain and my heart and my gut, that I will finally be “successful” like so many people around me. If I was unhappy, I told myself that I wasn’t or that I shouldn’t be. If I felt out of place or like I was pursuing the wrong thing, I convinced myself I just wasn’t trying hard enough or not doing the right things. I have unwittingly lived my life as if my mother was still telling me I wasn’t hungry when I was, and I wasn’t tired, I was just lazy. This perpetual personal deception has kept me from knowing and loving myself, and it’s kept me from truly connecting deeply with others.
There is a lot of talk about “authenticity” these days, and the internet is full of people trying to get you to “be authentic” but it feels to me like they are trying to get us to “be authentic” within the narrow confines of a lot of systems and structures that make true authenticity impossible. They tell us we need to make sure we don’t hide from ourselves and don’t try to kill ourselves striving for perfection, while staging their presentation on “authenticity” and “lack of perfection” from their perfectly remodeled kitchen. If they happen to do so while not wearing makeup, or with a few kids toys in the background, or with their sleeves rolled up revealing some tattoos, then we know they are authentic because they are just like us, am I right?
But I have to believe that there are other people out there who want to be authentic, and when they try, they hit up against barriers of “normal” or “polite” society. They want us to be “authentic” as long as our “authenticity” does not ultimately question or try to undermine the structures that perpetuate inequity. Like we should feel free to wear crazy socks and mismatching pocket squares at work to show a little bit of our personality, but if we say something like, “I am going to give you my best work during the hours that are actually in my job description, but I am not going to be available to you outside of those hours because I have a family or I have other interests, then I am somehow labeled a “trouble maker” or I am “lazy” or I am not a “team player”, and I am not worthy of advancement. Women and people of color – especially Black women, hit up against this barrier all the time.
There is something about the authenticity movement that seems a little, well, inauthentic to me. It all seems a little too contrived and performative. Maybe I see it that way because of all of the performing I have been doing my whole life? Or maybe I see through the bullshit because I know what performing is? Being your true self - really getting to know yourself is hard work. It really is. Stripping away all of the layers we learn to construct to hide ourselves from our parents and our siblings and our friends and our coworkers and our own children and ultimately ourselves is painful and terrifying. That’s why most people don’t do it.
We hide ourselves behind emotional walls and physical barriers. We live in a society that tells us to buy more to feel more and to feel more we have to buy more. But we only get one life to live as ourselves and to connect with one another as our true selves, and we waste so much time wrapped in fear of who we are, and because we don’t even know or trust ourselves, we can’t trust and love one another. We think other people are out to get us and “we have to watch out for number one” because “if we don’t think about ourselves no one else will”, and then we “lose”. We’re taught to mistrust one another because if “they” get something that means we don’t, and that’s not fair!
But what we lose is so much more than money and status. We lose a part of our humanity and we lose our community. We keep trying desperately to connect with one another, and we invent tool after tool that allows us to “instantly connect” and communicate literally every thought and feeling we have as soon as we have it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to hundreds, thousands and even millions of people at a time, and we’ve never been lonelier or more scared.
We spend so much time trying to be “perfect” and trying to be things we aren’t because we think that’s what other people want- it’s what our parents wanted and what we think our friends want. It’s what Instagram Influencers say we should want and what we are certain our bosses want. Everyone is running around trying to convey an image of whatever we have been taught “success” is: the “right job” and the “right house” in the “right neighborhood” with the “right cars” and the “right friends” and the “right family pictures” and the “right family vacations”, and we need to make as much money as possible to buy as many of the “right things” as possible which are supposed to make us happy and we are all wasting so much time and energy.
We spend so much time in meetings, on the phone and on email for our jobs to provide ourselves with a sense of importance, and it also means we have less time to think about who we really are or want to be, not to mention who the people in our lives are. How many people at the beginning of the pandemic learned how annoyed they were by how their spouse or children chewed, sneezed or typed? Yes, Misophonia is a real thing, and so is surviving, but you get my point.
Perpetuating perfection and creating these images damages our interpersonal relationships, and also upholds a culture of white supremacy. We can’t be in community with one another, and we can’t come to trust one another and be vulnerable with one another and uplift one another if we can’t be vulnerable ourselves.
So, that’s why I do this. That’s why I am telling my life story and sharing it with you all as I go because I hope and I pray that if I show you my process of getting to know myself, and I share that process with you - not the pretty, finished, perfect, successful “end product” so many people put out there, but the painful, ugly, naked process of ripping myself open and exposing myself to you, then maybe you might be less afraid to do it yourself, and then maybe we can be in true community with one another. And when we are in true community with one another, we can invite others to join, and on and on and we can stop wasting so much money, time and energy trying to be who we’re not, and we can stop perpetuating the systems of inequity that harm so many people and embrace and uphold one another and truly make this world a better place.
Sharing my thoughts in hopes of defining myself and connecting with you.