I love my counselor because we always end up talking nerdy. I walked into her office a while back and we started on social anxiety and ended with a discussion about authenticity, also covering several great books we've read recently. It was fantastic. Somewhere in the midst of asking me questions about why I'd rather hide under my bed than say, have a conversation at church, she asked me something like, "do you struggle to be authentic?" I paused for a moment until it hit me. I completely despise the modern notion of authenticity. Consider this really great quote from an article in the Harvard Business Journal by Herminia Ibarra on the paradox of authenticity in leadership:
Because going against our natural inclinations can make us feel like impostors, we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable. But few jobs allow us to do that for long. That’s doubly true when we advance in our careers or when demands or expectations change, as Cynthia, George, and countless other executives have discovered. In my research on leadership transitions, I have observed that career advances require all of us to move way beyond our comfort zones. At the same time, however, they trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities: When we are unsure of ourselves or our ability to perform well or measure up in a new setting, we often retreat to familiar behaviors and styles. But my research also demonstrates that the moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs. That takes courage, because learning, by definition, starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors that can make us feel calculating instead of genuine and spontaneous. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and ultimately become better leaders is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.The idea of authenticity as the genuine and spontaneous overflow of me into a conversation terrifies me because an overflow of me is not pretty. Neither of us want this sinful mess oozing into our discussion. Trust me. And it's not anxiety or fear of rejection or shame that freezes me in social situations. It's stupidity. I don't want to bring myself to the conversation. I want to bring Christ. I want to bring holiness, but that is so not authentic or genuine or easy or even comprehensible. So instead sometimes I just stare at people and think, "Lord have mercy, I have no idea what to do or say right now, can I please just run away?" Which, of course, is also not holy.
I love Ibarra's line, "we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable." How many times have I given in to self-indulgence or sloth or gossip or complaining under the noble guise of being authentic? How many times have I led others into sin because being holy felt inauthentic? I shudder to think of those answers. Ibarra goes on to describe authenticity in leadership as an evolving process. Her words felt so similar to sanctification that I thought it necessary to roll my eyes at the Holy Spirit. Clearly he knows how dense I am. Speak slowly and use small words and maybe she'll get it this time.
I'm out of the ocean and back on my couch tonight, but I still feel harassed by the longshore current ready to carry me off every time I lose my footing. After that lovely little bit in Hebrews 12 about fixing our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith comes a much longer passage about the Lord's discipline. There's the rub. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (vs 11) I'm still waiting for that harvest. I'm digging in my toes and bracing for the waves, but in the meantime there's wonderful beauty all around me and a certain invigorating joy to the fight.