An hilarious article by British comedian Frank Skinner in The Times about the joys of turning 50 got me thinking last week. In it he described how he was enjoying not having to prove quite so much as he felt he had to when he was younger. As we get older we certainly get to know ourselves better, and maybe we start to come to terms with our vulnerabilities, to the point that we can be more open about them. I think openness is a key part of being Authentic (This link takes you to my best read of the year 2008, Robert Goffee’s “Who should anyone be led by you?”). I for one have noticed how I put less energy into my “Facade” – the bit of me that I don’t want people to see – than I used to.
The example Frank Skinner used to illustrate his point was a guy he observed eating alone in a dimly lit restaurant, who upon receipt of the menu promptly whipped out a Maglite torch and proceed to study the menu under his own personal spotlight without apparently a second thought about what anyone else might make of this procedure.
It appeared to be a well worn routine, and the gentleman was clearly comfortable with whatever impression it might make on others.
I can certainly relate to the problem he was solving. After nearly 50 years of perfect vision, I now need glasses for reading, but I hate having to take them out with me. Short of a strap to hang them off round my neck, or maybe a satchel type arrangement, I find the easiest arrangement is to do without or ask someone else to read items for me. This guy’s solution seems better: pocket sized torch, permanently to hand in top right pocket. Neat. Impression created? Quirky, but who cares? Would I have done this if my eyesight required it in my 20’s or 30’s? I doubt it. Why? Vanity, pure and simple. Worrying about how you look is vanity, and it lies at the root of our Façades, or “bluff ‘n custard” as my great friend Spencer Holmes would say. Human vanity explains the existence of Fashion, and my theory is that it diminishes with Time.
If I fast forward 40 or so years and take my line of thinking further, my Father springs to mind. Jim has just turned 90, and in many ways seems physically the same man I remember 20 years ago. Except for one main difference. He appears to be even more at ease with who he is than ever, to the point of what sometimes feels like a childlike degree of openness. When he finds something disagreeable in his situation, he says so. Very clearly and directly.
This was a good one: “So Dad, isn’t it great to have the whole family here for New Year’s Eve?” “No, I would far rather be down the pub.” Roars of laughter from all involved. As a lifelong Introvert, he has become much more open. He talks about his experiences as a Japanese POW in the war, and works much harder at relationships with outsiders than he ever used to. He has become much more open, interesting and, I would argue, Authentic with the passing of the years.
I often ask people at the beginning of my training courses whether it’s OK with we all take a metaphorical Honesty Tablet for the day. We only have the day together, so why not let’s be real with each other, honest with our feedback and our responses. No such thing as Truth, just food for thought, you decide whether it works for you. I suppose I am in a way asking them to be 50 plus for the day. Reduce the size of your Façade and give and receive some real communication. People seem to find it liberating to say things straight. It makes me wonder why we don’t all do it all the time. Mind you, imagine if we were to articulate EVERY thought that came into our head? Now that would be embarrassing (speaking here purely for myself, you understand!). “So Michael, how do you find working with this group today?” “I think I’d rather be down the pub!” End of contract….
Maybe we just need to age ourselves a little bit, mentally. Think and respond more like someone with lots of grey hair and who needs help reading the menu. Remember, Vanity comes from worrying about how you look. Start worrying about the other person for a change and you’ll find your Vanity and thus your nerves and sense of insecurity will diminish: a great reward for taking a bit more risk.
Oh, and for those of you wondering what on earth the photo at the start of this Blog has to do with the subject in hand, it was taken on Christmas Day 2009, and shows yours truly in his snazziest bathing couture, minutes after surviving the annual Christmas Day Swim for Bude Lifesavers. Now there’s an Authentic event if ever I saw one!