Walt Whitman, the poet, humorist and guy from Brooklyn, once wrote, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
To me, it sounds like Whitman was talking about authenticity. And I like talking about authenticity, because I think we’ve gotten off track with that concept. Conventional wisdom says that in order to find happiness, in order to succeed in life and work, we have to find “our true self.” We have to be authentic; we have to be the “real me.”
But what if there is no “real me”?
I don’t think I’m being unduly philosophical when I point out that the world is constantly changing, and that we human beings are in, of, and a part of that world. So doesn’t constant change play a role in who we are? In an always-changing world, what’s “real” about ourselves is also always changing, always evolving.
So to me, what is means to be authentic is to be more connected to the world and how it works. The world is both constant (the sky is blue and the trains [mostly] run), and it’s endlessly changing — at the same time. And it’s no different for us humans. We are constant and we are ever changing. We are both who we are and who we are not yet. We are who we’re becoming. (We are large; we contain multitudes.)
In order to grow, to be happy, to live life fully, I think we need to embrace this idea. We need to act on it, and I mean that literally: we can be both who we are and who we are not yet by performing and improvising new versions of ourselves, our relationships, and our workplaces. They’re ours to be discovered and created.
Cathy Rose Salit is a performer and the founder of Performance of a Lifetime. Her book, Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work (Hachette Books) is on sale everywhere books are sold.