January 1, 2021

A 2020 Life Lesson: Living as Your Authentic Self

Who are you?

This is the question that I found myself coming back to in 2020 as the world around me seemed to spiral out of control, challenging everything I thought I knew about my community, my circle, and my own identity. We as a collective entered prolonged quarantines that threatened our financial, parental, mental, and social well being, trying to fight off an unknown virus that seemed to pick and choose victims at will, killing some and leaving others unscathed. It appeared we were in a race against time, trying to figure out how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe in a world of conflicting information.

As the stress of the pandemic mounted, the country sparked months of prolonged social and racial unrest. Unrest that saw warriors on each side fighting to have the humanity and worth of their people be recognized and appreciated by the other side. They appeared to be fighting an almost losing battle as people chose sides and dug their heels in, criminalizing the "other" as the months passed.

The stress of the pandemic and the devaluing of humanity culminated in a presidential election where ideologies clashed and both sides fought hard to save the "soul of the country". The fight that continues today as many claim fraud in the process, essentially disenfranchising people who voted according to the laws of their state.

And during all of this, individuals just tried to survive. Tried to keep a shelter over their heads, provide food for their families, tried to be seen and heard and appreciated for who they are in a world that steamrolled ahead in their own perceptions of right and wrong.

During this, I tried to survive as my trauma triggered with each passing crises.

The External Chaos Becomes Internal

As the year progressed, my mind could not fathom how we got here. Now, don't get me wrong. On a base level, I understood exactly how we got here. I understood our racial history very well as I have been engaged in racial equity work for a while. I understood our base need for power and our propensity for greed in this country. I understood our societal emphasis on individuality and protecting our close family members above all others. I get it.

But those are not MY personal values.

I could not fathom why when times were tough, we had to rigidly define who and what was American and then cast out all that did not fit the mold. I could not fathom why we could not sacrifice just a little, or find the compromise, so our society could move forward together. I could not fathom why we withheld resources from those that needed it the most or tied them up in so much bureaucracy that people could not actually access them. Our true American values were displayed. This was truly who we are.

Month after month, every attack, every argument, every piece of broken legislation, every criticism began to cut me like a knife. They became personal attacks as the storm of the chaos outside turned into chaos and criticism in my inner circle.......until it finally became chaos and criticism from within me.

At this point, the trauma triggers took over and the person I had fought to become turned back into the child I had overcome.

My Authentic Self Emerges

"You’ll never know who you are unless you shed who you pretend to be.”

~ Vironika Tugaleva

They always say that the best thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only place you can go is up. 2020 was my rock bottom. As the chaos overwhelmed me and I reverted back to my unproductive behaviors, I did the only thing I could do. I withdrew. I withdrew into my self and began the process of self-reflection. Who was I outside of the chaos and the expectations others were unfairly placing on me as the world crumbled? Was the way I was reacting matching the values that I hold? As I pulled on every tool in my arsenal to help me figure it out, the answers became crystal clear. My authentic self is not the person I thought I was before March 2020.....and that is why I got lost along the way. Also, I was not living up to the values I hold most dear.

Let me say, these were hard answers to admit! But necessary to live a more authentic and powerful life moving forward. And for that, I am actually grateful for 2020. I am grateful for the hard lessons it taught me and I am grateful that it stripped away all the noise in my life and forced me to focus on me. Something that I have been doing my whole life, by not in the way I needed to.

Who is my authentic self?

I say that I was not living as my authentic self before March 2020. That is because I was still trying to please those around me. Constantly seeking feedback for what I could do better personally, or how to make other people's lives more comfortable. These are not bad in and of themselves, but it served as my only life pursuit. See, I was still subconsciously shaping my identity and actions from what others wanted me to be. It was not who truly am as Krysta. To understand who you are, how you operate, and what makes you happy, you have to seek the answers internally, not externally.

So, who is Krysta? I am at the core a creative. I look at the world, and at others, and see endless possibilities and opportunities for beauty, connection, acceptance, community, and re-design for the higher good. To stay in this mind frame, I must practice self care. For me, self care is writing, painting, program design, or any other form of artistic expression or creation. If I do not have opportunities for creating something new, my stress and trauma triggers mount and send me spiraling into negativity.

I enjoy daydreaming and looking at the world with rose colored glasses because it is my motivation to speak up for, and create, change. The way I look at it is, this world was imagined by someone else, so why not imagine a new world that works better? Negativity and mental barriers to change are frustrating and stifling, sending me to the nearest exit door. I do this because 1. I have high ideals (may not be good) and 2. I easily absorb negativity from others. Finally, my strengths lie in the big picture, connecting the dots, empathy, leadership development, and program design, but not necessarily in the minuscule details. And that is okay.

As I finally embrace my authentic self, it will be easier to move through the world at my pace, set boundaries, and involve myself in projects that are right for me. As a bonus, I also came to a few realizations that will be helpful along the way. I will share those here in the hopes that it will also help you in some way.

Moving Through the World in Authenticity

As I mentioned, to uncover my authentic self, I utilized an arsenal of tools that helped me dig deep. This work for some will not be easy. But in the end, it will be worth it.

From the moment we are born, we are conditioned to be who we are by others through expectations and "rules" they placed on us. The expectations and "rules" may have been placed on THEM by others who had the same expectations and "rules" placed on them. As you can see, we can go on and on......generations and generations back. For this reason, you can find studies and literature on generational trauma, trauma cycles, cycle of poverty, etc.

Some of us had the luxury of growing up and being nurtured to be who we truly are. Others, like me, were pressure cooked to be shells of acceptable forms. I did this painting recently to symbolize me shedding the burdens of the past. As she sheds her robe of fear, trauma, low-self worth, judgement, she steps into the ocean of love, light, acceptance, power and more. A new day is coming and she can finally live authentically.

flower in bloom

By doing the hard work of uncovering who you are authentically, without these shackles, you can finally stand in your power and create the life you desire.

How does living as your authentic self help?

How does this help you stand in your power? How does this help you create the life you desire?

  • By living authentically, you will be confident in using your voice to advocate for yourself and others. As an adult, I never truly new what I needed to be successful because I did not understand who I was at the core. Many times I was told to take a break as I got stressed or practice self care.....maybe start exercising. Or that I needed to see the world for what it is and stop pretending that obstacles do not exist. But in knowing who I truly am, I can confidently advocate for myself. I can filter what is helpful vs just what will make others more comfortable when they are around me. I have realized that self care for me is actually doing art and I need to actively create time for it. I understand now that I have to vocally advocate for myself and say that I recognize there are real obstacles but I have to focus on opportunities to not get lost. With confidence and assertiveness, my voice is powerful.
  • Your values and priorities become clear, making it easier to say yes or no to potential projects and collaborations. Now that I know what type of environment I thrive in, what opportunities I need, and the importance of creation in my life, it is going to be easier to say yes or no to projects. Are the people on the committee I am asked to be on fixed in the system as it is or are the open to change? Does the organization talk in terms of "black" and "white" or is it inclusive? Is this project in the creation phase or implementation phase? For me and my authentic self, it is less about accolades and more about where my value is being added.
  • You will finally find your sense of self-value and self-worth. If we do not value ourselves, we will probably search out external validation.......trying to prove that we have worth in this world. However, the feeling from all the accolades, trophies, accomplishments, degrees, and awards last only a short time. To achieve a long term sense of value, you have to love and embrace your true yourself. I had to once and for all decide in 2020 that I was no longer going to play the role that society and my trauma defined for me. I was going to be who I truly am for the first time in my life. Unflinchingly.
  • By knowing who you are, what others think of you no longer matters. You become free. You know your worth, you know your value, you know how to advocate for yourself, and you know your strengths and weaknesses. So the loud, negative voices of others begin to soften until they no longer matter. As they realize they have no impact, they will either accept you for who you are or they will fade away. However, as you move forward in life, make sure you surround yourself with others who embrace your authentic self, lovingly challenge you to grow into your best self, and that provide support in the way you need.

2021 and Beyond

2021 marks the first year of living as I always should have. I have finally found out who I am and I can bring her into the spaces I choose to walk into with confidence. I am looking forward to seeing what changes ensue.

I know that there will be times that I will slip up and my triggers will activate. However, in those moments, I must return to the practice of self reflection and my authentic self. Is the person I am right now in alignment with my authentic self? If not, what steps can I take to bridge the gap? Am I acting out of my values and priorities? If not, what do I need to step away from graciously? We do not have to spiral just to meet some societal or familial expectations. We just have to reflect, remember who we are, re-align, and center ourselves once again in the chaos.

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