On being authentic. Part 1

How many times have you “met” someone online, then been disappointed in person by the lack of similarities to their online personality? I don’t have many internet friends but as I dive head first into this wonderful world of tweeting and travel blogging, I’m having interactions with people from all over the world, some of whom I’d love to meet one day.

Online, it’s so easy to portray yourself as this person you’ve always dreamed of being. But what happens when you meet up with someone you met online and (because of the impression you gave) they’re expecting you to go on a 60 km bike ride followed by bungee jumping and a nice cold beer afterwards, but you’re a recovering alcoholic who’s afraid of heights and hasn’t been on a bike since it had training wheels on it! Dis-a-pointing!

I used to be shy. Like, very, VERY shy. I was the kid who was afraid to order french fries at McDonalds because I was scared to talk to the cashier. I used to go to bed before the babysitter got there, even if it were 2 hours before my bed time. I would do EVERYTHING in my power to avoid talking to people. Why? I really don’t know. I think I was born that way. My mom says that little old ladies would stop her on the street to come over to baby cuddle me and I would just glower at them to make them go away. From a very young age I loved to be alone. I’d be playing in my bedroom (I loved my little plastic animal collection) and my mom would come in to see how I was doing. Her account is that I would shoot her a look akin to f*ck off, I WANT to be alone! Say that last line like you were Greta Garbo… I VANT to be ALONE! Yes, that’s right! Luckily my mom was good enough to respect my need to be alone and not force me to be something I wasn’t. Social.

Greta wanted to be alone.

In pre-school and kindergarten I remember feeling lonely, but I did start to learn how to interact with other kids. Still, my favorite thing to do was put pieces of wood in a vice and hammer bottle caps into it. Alone. That might sound like a strange thing to do in pre-school but my teacher was very unconventional. She had the school in the basement of her house and had pets like an iguana, a de-scented skunk and for a while, a spider monkey (I think it bit someone and had to go away.) It was the perfect place for an artsy gal like myself to get an introduction on how to think outside the box.

Elementary school was OK, I had friends and got by but I didn’t really start to get over my shyness until early high school. I still felt like a freak (but what 13 year old doesn’t?) but I became aware of how I was being perceived and decided to make a concerted effort to be more outgoing and not so “weird.”

Fast forward to today. When I tell people that I’m shy (the feelings of shyness are still there) they don’t believe me. I have worked so hard over the years to put myself out there and not be as afraid of rejection or failure that even I would consider myself a gregarious and outgoing person, an extrovert, if you will. Does this make me any less authentic? Does this make me a phony? Or did I make a decision of who I wanted to be and train myself to become that?

And so do I… sometimes.

My natural instinct is still to hide away and be alone, but my curiosity about the world and it’s inhabitants have forced me out of my shell. Kind of fitting that I’m a Cancer, isn’t it? A little hermit crab happy hanging out in her shell. But hermit crabs continually outgrow their shells and need new ones. Ooh, that’s kind of a cool metaphor, isn’t it?

So, what does all of this have to do with being authentic? Well, should we ever meet, just know that I will enjoy getting to know you, I will ask you lots of questions and try really hard not to interrupt (I’m bad for that) but my authentic self will eventually need to have some quality time on her own, so don’t be offended if I squirrel away to my room to play with my plastic animals or hammer bottle caps into something. Or more likely, read a book.

Quotes on solitude…

A great reader seldom recognizes his solitude. Mason Cooley

Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.  ~Paul Johannes Tillich, The Eternal Now

Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.  ~Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun

Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up.  ~Pearl Buck

True solitude is a din of birdsong, seething leaves, whirling colors, or a clamor of tracks in the snow.  ~Edward Hoagland



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6 Responses to On being authentic. Part 1

  1. Anonymous June 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Great piece of writing and meditation on the “true self”! Also perfect for me to read today as I too thrive on travel, people, AND solitude. Thanks, Andrea. Betsy in CA

    • My name is Andrea June 30, 2012 at 12:55 am #

      It’s hard to find that balance sometimes, isn’t it? I fight with it all the time! I dread going out, then I have the best time. Every time!

  2. maryanne July 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    I have a very odd feeling that we are twins, even though we’re separated by about 3 years. Maybe gestational time travel was involved. I was very similar growing up. If I ever had friends over to play as a little kid, I used to reach the end of my tolerance for companionship pretty quickly and actually insisted that they leave NOW (even though we were in the middle of an intense dollhouse scenario). I’m still very shy and a bit distant but I’ve learned to hide it and to adapt my life around it.

    The online authenticity thing comes into play here too, as I’ve met quite a few people through blogging. I actually like it because I feel so much more comfortable writing than speaking so rather than being faced with a rather shy, private person from the get-go, these people have generally spent quite a while getting to know me quietly through my writing. That way things aren’t weird or awkward when we meet and I’m insufficiently bubbly to get things started. It’s quite liberating, actually. Do you feel the same?

    • My name is Andrea July 2, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      LOL Maryanne! Yeah, I definitely agree that you can really get to know someone well enough over the web to meet and feel like you’ve known each other a long time. I went and stayed with a friend in Norway who I’d been “internet friends” with for a few years and it was truly like we’d known each other forever, we didn’t stop talking for 4 days! I think if you’re honest about who we are online then you can’t go wrong. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Michele July 4, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    Hi Internet Friend! 🙂 I love this post, everything about it, especially the image of little you hammering bottle caps into pieces of wood in your basement preschool. If ever anyone asserted her artistic calling at an early age, you certainly did. Awesome. I also like the quotes (loneliness vs. solitude—brilliant) and your comparison of a shy person venturing outward with the hermit crab outgrowing its shell. So much to think about here.

    And, as the internet friend in Norway, I can assure you that you were everything I imagined you would be and more (in the best possible way!). I think I got very lucky meeting you during your solitary trip around Europe—you were hungry enough for companionship that our four days of constant togetherness didn’t drive you mad. 😉 That time was super special to me; I think we were both genuinely shocked by how well we got on. Awwww, I miss you, Andrea!! I’ve got to get over to the west coast to visit you (and meet your mom!). xxoo

  4. My name is Andrea July 10, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Yes yes yes! You must come! There is a spare room with your name on it!
    I agree, it’s a damned good thing see DID get along so well! How awful would that have been if we were like, Ew… don’t like HER!

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