“I think I need to Purel my tush.”
So said Alicia, another teenager on a volunteer trip to Bolivia, where expeditions to the bathroom were a multi-step process:
- Stuff your pockets with as much toilet paper as necessary, since it doesn’t come free in the stalls
- Dig out your headlamp, since the bathroom complex didn’t have electric lighting
- Find a buddy to keep you company on the walk across the dark field to the bathroom complex
- With a narrow beam of light for guidance, leap across a stagnant puddle to the rotting log sitting in front of the toilet seat, so your feet could be out of water while you did your business
- Purel everything
The reflection staring back at me in the mirror that night wasn’t “me.” This girl was streaked with mud, hadn’t washed her hair in days, and had pit stains down to her waist.
I don’t know exactly how this happened, but at 17 I determined I was spoiled rotten and should volunteer in a developing country to get a bigger perspective on life. (I also couldn’t tell you how my parents decided to go along with this whim, sending me off to Bolivia for a month with a highly dysfunctional national service organization I found online.)
Four months later, I found out what happens when you drop a perky prom queen with a love for platform sandals and hygiene into the Bolivian Amazon with no air conditioning, billions of bugs, and a single bathroom to share between 13 teenagers.
Her identity grows.
Until this experience, I would have told you that the “authentic” version of me was poised and put together. Being a teenager, I demonstrated this through fashion: Handbags coordinated with the rest of my attire and perfectly manicured fingernails. Quite quickly, I realized that being "put together" was of no value when aggressively scrubbing spider larvae off of cement walls.
Early on in that month I determined to push through the homesickness and sense of disorientation that came from not knowing how to be successful in a strange new environment and culture. By end of the month I could add another word to that list of "authentic" traits: Adaptable.
As a teenager, I hit on an insight that Herminia Ibarra calls the "authenticity trap." This is the idea that we tend to use "authenticity" as an excuse to keep doing what's familiar, rather than push into the great unknown. In her words, “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.”
The way out of the authenticity trap is by taking action, putting yourself into new situations that draw out your potential.
These experiences aren't about reinforcing who you already are, but about discovering who you could become next.
Action is your superpower. It transforms you.
Are there any ways that you're letting "authenticity" bind your powers?
- If you catch yourself saying "That's not my thing," could it be?
- If you decide not to pursue an idea or interest because "I'm not really that type,"...are you sure?
- If you turn down an opportunity because "I couldn't do that,"...have you tried?
This week, why not take one new action and see what happens? If you take this challenge, please drop me a line at Laurah@betterbetter.co with a brief note on what you learned or gained. I'd love to send you a special gift in return.