**Author’s Note: I wrote this from my perspective as a cis-gendered woman, but these exercises in uncovering our authenticity can be applied to any person who is on the road to self-discovery.
We all play the comparison game.
We have forever sought to see how we measure up to others—yes, even before the time of Instagram.
Well, to hell with that. I’m convinced that what we all want, more than anything, isn’t to be someone else but to be more of our authentic selves.
Today, I enter my first day as a 35-year-old woman (holy crap! I’m five years away from 40!).
I am a “young” 35—a late bloomer, as they call them.
I’ve done a little thinking about a lot of things that I feel make me that young-for-her-age person in both the so-called good and bad ways—those areas where I’ve succeeded in self-excavation, and the areas in which I still have more digging to do.
Here is a list of things that every woman should do to help sculpt her authentic self:
1. Figure out if you want (really want) the status quo.
I was going to boil this down into making a decision. I was going to say that deciding not to make decisions and to let life take you where it does is a decision. But at the base of that is deciding whether or not you want the status quo—whatever it is you have grown yourself to think is “how it’s done.”
How the hell do I do that, Marisa?
2. Look at the women you admire.
All of them.
Not the girls; the women. There’s a distinction. I mention it because you’ll know yours when you see it. And that distinction will help direct you in this next step:
Ask yourself what it is that makes that person a woman? What makes them so bomb-ass that you are happy to place them in a list branded with the word, “admire?”
Write those things down. And write down your “why.”
>> Why is this a signature trait of an admirable woman?
>> Why are you drawn to that quality?
3. Learn to strip.
A dear friend wrote about being a borrowed woman. I think we all are.
But the thing about being borrowed is that we can continue to borrow and we can also continue to give away—to shed.
I think the true issue is not that we are borrowed, but that we hoard. We think we might make good use of this trait or that habit at some point in time. We carry it around despite it no longer fitting us. That load, over time, gets heavy.
Remember that girl versus woman distinction? Find where you feel like a girl and see if you can find some societal idea that you borrowed but no longer fits who you are.
Take it off. One little piece at a time.
4. Try other women on.
But isn’t that the problem? Borrowing the traits of other women and trying to fit ourselves into their image?
The problem is when we blindly try other women on—when we blindly place ourselves in a restrictive box labeled “what womanhood is” because society tells us that’s where we belong.
When we consciously try on other women, we start to piece together our authentic self.
Take a look at that list of traits that you created when looking at the women you admire. Since you came up with the why of those traits, it’ll be easier to think about small steps you can take to emulate those little aspects of womanhood if you so desire.
>> Book rec: Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. This helps me uncover bits and pieces of myself no matter how many times I’ve failed to read it in its entirety.
5. Discover your Vision, Values, and Mission.
I was in my last semester of college when I took a personal PR and branding course taught by Jess Wiener at USC. The class was full-blown focused on authenticity and being real and true to ourselves. A huge part of that authenticity was based on one of our first assignments in the class: to find our vision, values, and mission, and put it down in writing.
6. Fine-tune your vision: Your 10k view. Look at this as if you were looking at a map where X marks the spot.
What does life look like there? Don’t worry about the nitty-gritty, but write out that fantasy life.
It’s kind of like playing that game, MASH, as a kid. Mansion, apartment, shack (tiny house, anyone?), or house? What kind of person do you want to marry (if you marry at all)? Kids? Career? Play? Write your future out and get creative.
More importantly, remember what you found when looking at point number one: do you really want the status quo?
7. Define your values: You should have three of these. No more than five.
Knowing your vision will help to find your values. This will take some digging. The tool you’ll use to do this will be your “why” tool. Keep asking that question.
For me, adventure is a value. I found it by knowing that I wanted a life that involved a lot of travel and writing. I asked why I wanted both things. Both helped me to learn and create, but on a deeper level, it wasn’t travel alone.
Travel meant adventure. It meant interacting with natural spaces. It meant getting out of my comfort zone to take that knowledge into my core and understand it rather than just see it. Adventure took knowledge (which I initially thought was a value of mine) to an even deeper level.
When I asked myself why I wanted adventure, it kept leading to everything I wanted in love and career; it was everything I was and wanted to embody. That’s how you know you’ve found a value.
8. Mission: Knowing where you want to go in life and why paired with your values.
It can be a few sentences and can be used to fuel yourself through life or as an elevator pitch for networking or career advancement. A mission helps you keep making steps toward your authentic self or life in general. It’s like a short mantra we can keep with ourselves to remind us who we are and where we’re going.
9. Discover your essence.
I started working with a life coach in 2018 and one of the first exercises he had me do was one where I uncovered my essence. Your essence is the best of yourself—your core; your soul. Strangers see it. The people who know you best see it.
While I can’t offer you the exact verbiage of the questions given to me, I can give you the gist. You can ask these two questions to anyone, but you need to record the answers of at least 12 people:
>> What shows up when I do?
>> What do I bring into a room?
Ignore if anyone says negative things. Negative responses are your survival mechanisms showing up in that relationship for whatever reason. If these come up, gently remind someone to think of you when at your best.
You’ll be surprised as to what people see in you. The themes or words that keep coming up are your essence and come to make up your essence name. (It’s more complicated than that, but I’d need to connect ya to my former coach for that part).
Everyone should be gifted the opportunity to see themselves through others’ eyes, and to see how skewed their self-vision can be at times.
10. Get out of your comfort zone.
The year that I started working with my life coach, we chose three projects that seemed impossible to me, but that some people seemed to think were easy; after all, others did them all the time.
Some of these were things I’d wanted to do since I was a child, others were things I’d come in recent years to desire but think I wasn’t “enough” to do.
Ask yourself these questions:
>> What are some things that are within my comfort zone that might be outside of someone else’s?
>> What are some things that are outside of my comfort zone that might be inside someone else’s?
Some things formerly outside of my comfort zone? Writing for Elephant Journal, going vegetarian for a year, and running a marathon. I’ve done them all now. And I’ve grown tremendously from the challenge of stretching myself beyond my former limits of comfort.
11. Choose your words wisely.
I read Danielle La Porte’s The Desire Map the year I graduated from college and the year before my life coaching began. The basic premise of her book (which I highly recommend) encourages us not to look at the things we want to do in a given period, but the feelings that are behind us wanting to do them.
In doing things this way, we can look at how to help ourselves to feel the way we want to feel in life every day versus waiting for (and often failing to bring about) the fruition of those big dreams.
Here’s a process for ya:
>> Separate a piece of paper into five categories: Livelihood & Lifestyle, Relationships & Society, Creativity and Learning, Body & Wellness, and Essence & Spirituality.
>> List things you’d like to do in each of those categories.
>> Get down into the base of how you’d like to feel when doing those things. Get a dictionary out and choose only the words that really get to your soul.
>> If you’re feeling inspired and creative, make a vision board to depict these feelings and the activities supposed by them.
For more of the process and increased efficacy, you’d definitely want to get the book.
There’s something powerful about each of these processes that can show us where we are and are not keeping true to our authenticity—where we’ve strayed to fit into a community that isn’t quite in line with who we are at our core.
It’s a difficult process, but one that is akin to climbing a peak. The views along the way are spectacular, and the accomplishment once reaching the summit is well worth all the footwork.