When I landed my first job at the school district level, my mentor told me, “Mandy, you wear your emotions all over your face. Because you’re my friend, I never want you to change that authentic reaction to situations because it’s one of my favorite things about you. As a leader, you gotta get it under control.” While this is the kindest way I’ve ever been delivered this message, this is the state of disequilibrium I’ve lived in with both my authenticity and my vulnerability my whole adult life. Be authentic, but not so authentic that you make someone else uncomfortable. Be vulnerable, but don’t say things that make people think about their own vulnerability. The irony of placing a limit on authenticity is truly funny. How real can I be — or wait, not be?
“You’re a lot to take.”
Being a people-pleaser and adept at adjusting myself to others, in the past, this was been a source of serious anxiety. Where can I show my personality and where should I keep it under wraps? We speak so much about carefully choosing to say what we believe just in case we make another person angry. How about all the personality traits we carry, maybe even secretly love about ourselves, but don’t share? All of our quirks, our secret thoughts, the way that we hide our weirdness to fit in. This used to keep me up at night. How can I both be me and not me? And when I was a younger woman, I started to change myself to fit other people until the point that I lost myself entirely. I forgot who I was because I was so busy trying to be someone else for everyone else but me.
“You’re certainly not quiet.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that people who can’t take all of me need to go. I’ve developed these things called boundaries that people who think you’re too much tend to dislike. Basically, if you’re not familiar with boundaries, they mean, “I don’t need to give a shit about if you think I’m too much.” Part of the issue is that you can’t cut out some people because you need to work with them. You need to be related to them. You need to live next to them.
“You need to tone it down.”
Add on the additional irony that I speak about mental health that requires an amount of vulnerability and realness that many people can’t conjure, and it’s an added bonus. Sometimes, when I tell people that I live with passive suicidal ideation, their reaction is, “You need to work on that quicker.” Like I’m just being sensitive. I’m being over-emotional. And I’m doing it all on purpose to make other people uncomfortable instead of showing a side of me that can be sad, hurtful, and embarrassing so other people don’t feel alone like I often do. But again, I’m a lot. For them.
“Get your emotions under control.”
For those of you in which I’m too much…good. Because if I’m a lot to handle it’s keeping you on your toes. If I’m vulnerable and making you uncomfortable, then you’re learning and growing. If I’m emotional you’ll be able to clearly see what affects me and what I care about the most. And honestly, I’d rather be sensitive than numb because apathy is a terrible space to visit — let alone live. Don’t drag me into your gray spaces because my authenticity makes your inauthenticity uncomfortable.
“My, you’re direct.”
Damn right I am.