Authenticity and the Complexity of Experience

I’m currently doing Ship 30 for 30, a cohort-based course known for its focus on producing 30 atomic essays or Twitter threads over a month.

In addition to writing, I’ve also been trying to read other essays to know others in the community better. In reading some of those essays, I noticed that one of the thoughts I had a few times was around the idea of the complexity of experience.

Usually, it’s pretty straightforward when I see people sharing their experiences.

I feel happy.

I support vaccination against Covid-19.

I want to go to Hawaii.

But experience isn’t always this simple. Here are a few examples I’ve encountered recently.

One of my coworkers retired last week. I was happy because I knew they’d been preparing for this for a long time. I was excited because they would have the opportunity to de-stress and spend more time on restorative activities. Yet, I was sad because they’ve been a fantastic co-worker and support at work, and the whole company will be feeling their absence.

Another example is a new project we’ve been working on at work. I’ve been disappointed with how certain pieces of the project came together. I felt confused and overwhelmed with this project because it isn’t in an area I’m very familiar with. At the same time, I know this project is important because I see the value it will provide our customers. I don’t want to complain about things–I want to focus on solutions. I want my team to be able to tackle this project successfully. And I don’t want to get hung up on these things that have been draining me emotionally as the project kicks off.

Finally, a more simple example. I had a box of oatmeal raisin cookies on the counter earlier this week. I didn’t want to eat the cookies because I wanted to be healthy, and I’m trying to lose weight. And I did want to eat the cookies because cookies are delicious, and I wanted something to make me feel better when I was feeling a bunch of anxiety with work and Ship 30 for 30. (Spoiler Alert: I ate the box in a single afternoon.)

So experience is complex.

What does this mean about authenticity?

There is one theme I seem to encounter in conversations about authenticity commonly. Your whole self. Your full experience. Being utterly true to you.

When I think about the moments where I see other people as being really authentic, I’m not usually hearing them juggling conflicting thoughts, feelings, or desires. Usually, they’re being very vulnerable about a specific experience they had. It’s cohesive and lacks that complexity.

When I think about that new project at work, I could focus on driving forward for a successful project. But to me, this wouldn’t feel very authentic. It would feel like I’m faking it.

I’m clearly still trying to figure this authenticity thing out. It doesn’t seem to be revealing your entire experience, nor does it seem to be revealing only part of your experience.

What the heck is authenticity? 🔍

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