Homo Erectus: The Evolution of Us

By : Dr. Steve Yacovelli
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Imagine: you’re sitting down to that Thanksgiving meal with the extended family, yet you’re not fully out to everyone; you’re not able to be your true, authentic self. How does that make you feel?

I know for me it was awkward. Since understanding my authentic self around the wee ol’ age of 24, I’ve been out to all of my family, with the exception of my grandparents. Back in the day (circa 1999), my Mom asked that I not share my sexual orientation with my grandparents (especially my Grandmom, or “Mommom” as we called her), as she would worry and not really get it. While this bothered me, at the time I honored my Mom’s request (I mean, she birthed me, right?). So, it’s Thanksgiving, and I brought home my boyfriend (who I’m happy to say is now my husband) for this big meal for the first time. All of the extended family sitting around the table knew who Rich was in my life, except for Mommom. As she tried to strike up a conversation with me and my “roommate,” she asked in her very loud, hearing-aid-wasn’t-quite-working-well voice: “So Steven, who’s keepin’ who straight down there in Florida?” My Depression-era Mommom was asking a very simple question about staying out of trouble, but to us “in the know” it had a whoooole other meaning.

What do we mean by “authenticity” and why does it matter?

While the situation above definitely broke the remaining awkward ice at that particular Thanksgiving table, it reminds me of situations when you aren’t being your true authentic self. Especially in front of family, friends and colleagues during the holidays.

Think about a time when you weren’t being your true self. How did (or does) it feel? You’re constantly spinning your energy to make sure others don’t discover your truth. You may need to lie or use “fake news” in order to keep the facade up. The management of pronouns, dodging the question of who you spent the holidays with, wrangling that beard to take to the company holiday party, or hell, maybe just avoiding the whole situation all together; never seizing the opportunity to engage in these moments. All this hiding your authenticity is exhausting!

That’s my point: I see how much time and energy it takes for people to hide their authenticity. I remember how much energy it took me, just to hide my true self from my Mommom. People living their authentic lives can channel their energy and focus on living in that moment, building relationships, instilling trust with those around them, instead of hiding in whatever closet they’ve built. Being authentic means you’re fully present in the now and being open to the experience.

OK: this might be easy for me to say as an out, white, cisgender, gay dude in his 40s, and I get that. And I respect that there are many reasons people don’t share their authentic selves at home or work and stay in the closet. Whether you self identify as a gay, bisexual, lesbian or trans, there’s a myriad of stories I’ve heard why people don’t share who they authentically are with their family, friends or colleagues. Maybe that’s the last thing you want to deal with around the holidays, by doing so you not only waste your own energy, but you also deny those around you from knowing and seeing the real you.

Even the most “out” and authentic person can further develop their authenticity. So how do you develop or deepen it? While there are heaps of ways to develop this, here are five ideas that may help you do a deep dive into yourself* (*therapist not included):
• Really understand your “outness” … Ask yourself, “why did I share my authentic self with those around me” or “why haven’t I shared it?”
• Explore your past … Reflect on this: “how did I get to where I am now?” or “what were some of the key milestones that have shaped who I am today?”
• Reflect on immediate actions and practices … It’s one thing to think about the major milestones of the past that have impacted who you are, but it’s another to think about what happened to you today, and what you can learn from it.
• Ask those around you for open and honest feedback … We all have our own blind spots and unconscious biases. But we can ask those around us that we trust to help us see them. Be sure you are actively listening when you receive the feedback from your trusted advisors. It’s good to remember that feedback isn’t just giving the words, it’s also listening and receiving it.
• Know your own personal value system … Being authentic is knowing what drives you to do the things that you do. We all have a values system and we act through this “values lens.” Be mindful of what your top values are and how often you are feeding these values with the actions, behaviors and work that you do.
So during this holiday season, give thanks that you are you, embrace the love you have around you and give those you encounter at home, at work and at those holiday gatherings the gift of seeing the authentic you.

And happy holidays from my pack to yours!

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