On Authenticity

I’m writing these words from my chaise in my small home office.  Outside my window, leaves are falling.  There’s a chill in the air.  This morning we were awakened by our dog barking at two deer who came so close to the house it seemed they wanted to come in for breakfast.  Autumn has always been my favorite season – all that back-to-school energy in the air – and since moving to New England it has only become more so.

I’m just back from an intense stint of teaching two back-to-back workshops — one large, one small.  On the first evening of the large workshop, I was jittery, not exactly nervous — I’ve done this many times, after all — but on edge.  This is a familiar feeling.  I’m getting up in front of a crowd of people, all of whom have different hopes, dreams, expectations, fears, desires for their time with me.  Some of them have ideas about me.  About what I might be like, who I really am.  They may have read some of my books, stories, essays.  They may have seen me talking with Oprah.  I don’t want to disappoint them.  But I also don’t want to play a part or act in a role.  And so that jittery feeling is one in which I am gathering all the parts of myself and pulling them within me, inside my own outline.  I want to be me…only sharper, smarter, more lucid…better.  Probably much like a professional athlete, or dancer, or musician, I psych myself up to be my best self.

Self being the operative word.  The concept of authenticity is much over-hyped these days, and it seems to me a sad state of affairs that it’s something we need to cultivate — as if being authentic is just another act.  A few weeks ago, I came across a term online that stopped me in my tracks: identity fatigue.  We are getting tired, it seems, of creating and fashioning our personas in a world filled with personas.  We’re confusing persona with personal life.  If I check Instagram and Twitter and Facebook in the morning (and I try not to do this first thing) I see images of perfection.  Just this morning (okay, I checked) I saw photographs of friends in Tuscany, Singapore, Copenhagen, and Hawaii.  I saw kids on horses, people giving speeches, doing yoga, writing by lamplight at dawn.  I read clever tweets and click on links to smart responses to the day’s news. All before coffee!  It’s no wonder that just about everyone I know is plagued by the feeling that other people, elsewhere, are having a better time, or a more meaningful life.

I do the same thing, don’t get me wrong.  I post pictures of pretty places and on the rare occasion I have something clever to say I say it.  There is a thin but very real layer that separates the me that performs publicly from the me that wakes up in the morning with all my usual vulnerabilities, weaknesses, worries.  I suppose I would liken it to one of the differences between writing fiction and memoir.  When we write, we know when we’re inclining ourselves in the direction of imagination — and when we’re hewing to memory.  The feeling is unmistakable.  So when it comes to that overused word authenticity – and the sad concept of identity fatigue — I’d rather err in the direction of being too much myself, rather than too little.  Is that a little scary?  Sometimes it is.  But the alternative feels deadening and untenable.


  • Jessie Braun

    Thank you for this, Dani. I loved this line: “We’re confusing persona with personal life.” So true. I recently took a break from Facebook when I noticed my thoughts immediately morphing into mental status updates. Identity fatigue! I love that I have a name for it now, thank you;)

    • Danishapiro

      You’re welcome, Jessie. Glad this resonated.

  • Katrina Woznicki

    Thanks for sharing this. Identity fatigue perfectly captures the carefully-curated selves we create/post/share. I’ve been spending less time online because of this, and more time trying to do my own thing without worrying whether I look attractive online doing it.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Katrina:)))

  • Amen… I also think we no longer actually touch each other, as in literally touching someone’s skin with our own. We are “touched” by posts; we write comments such as “Sending you all my love!!”—I’ve wondered what that means, if the love we send is boxed inside a social media platform. Erring in the direction of being too much myself means I make time to put my arms around those I love and look into their eyes. I’ve resisted calling it “authenticity”; like you, I call it being me… and in private.

    • Danishapiro

      I’ve had the same thought about the phrase “sending love…” Thanks.

  • Ayala

    Yes! Always be your beautiful self.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, and you too, Ayala!!

  • Like never thinking to change my Rhode Island accent, although I really wish I had because everyone comments on it, I also don’t think I ever mastered being anyone but myself. Of course there are limits to what I share and in my books I always write fiction, sprinkled with true anecdotes that happened somewhere else to a different person but I’ve recast it in a fictional setting and another context. When blogging I sometimes don’t tell the whole story but I try to stay true to the reason why I am sharing this particular, personal story. It is a little scary, how much to share and when to remain guarded but you’re right, the alternative is deadening and meaningless. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that out there, or its opposite, known as too much information. It’s a very fine line we walk.

    • Danishapiro

      So true, Sheila. And nice to run into you the other day in Brattleboro!

  • “Image is everything darling” “You have to sell yourself” Some people may have taken these kind of phrases too seriously and now like the cosmetically enhanced are feeling the effects of burn out.

    • Danishapiro


  • Amen, Sister! Often, we get so caught up the persona we can’t find our Self. So many voices coming at us, expecting to find…whom? I think it happens to all of us in one way or another. Be this at work, be that at school, any, yet again, be whomever we want you to be. Too easy to get lost. Thanks for this post. It’s a great thought-provoker.

    • Danishapiro

      You’re so welcome:))

  • jansand

    I have spent a longer than average life attempting various occupations and disciplines with rather frustrating results. One never likes to admit to some basic stupidity or a fundamental inability to accept what is considered normal and believable. This current world seems to be rushing towards all sorts of calamities with only the most feeble and ineffective efforts to remedy total catastrophe. This self which you are so sure of within you has never made any appearance to me in my life. The several simulations I have tried to simulate in order to slip into acceptable behavior have never proved satisfactory to either myself or society in general. Humanity seems to me to be overwhelmed with people trying to convince each other of a veracity which is poorly simulated or non-existent. I can only congratulate you in discovering within yourself that which has eluded me totally.

    • Danishapiro

      Keep at it!! Sounds like you’re being very honest with yourself, and perhaps too hard on yourself? Good luck!

      • jansand

        Thanks for the thumbs up, but I turned 90 last February and my integration into whatever this civilization is attempting has never solidified. I am no better at at understanding people than I was as five years old. Although I had very modest success at various enterprises from technical drafting to industrial design to poetry to comic book art to abstract painting I never developed the burning passion in any direction to impel the embedment if my entirety which fosters real success. I could manage the elemental skills but real personal quality requires deep subjugation into the effort and that never blossomed. The furious dynamics of current civilization to subjugate and dominate people seemed to me always a kind of insanity which attracted me not at all. I feel more at one with birds and dogs and cats and even the occasional insect that invades my one room apartment than this insane monkey species I somehow got born into.

  • Maria Valles

    I just finished talking with a friend and we shared so many dimensions of our lives, and how they’ve affected us. As we reminisced, I realized for decades I’d always tried to ‘fit’ in an never give the true ‘self’ of me be. Today I am grateful that the identity fatigue you so wonderfully described hasn’t crippled me to the point where I lose the opportunity to just be me.

    • Danishapiro


  • Sharon Van Epps

    Nothing clever to say, except another great post that I know I’ll be thinking about all day…thank you, Dani

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Sharon!!

  • [email protected]

    I love what you have to say here. The concept of identity fatigue really hit home, along with the thoughts on social media and how people choose to portray themselves. I honestly think you nailed it with the word fatigue. How exhausting to maintain the persona of perfection, and it can be so off-putting that I think the deep relationships we as humans crave don’t happen because we are not being our true selves. We can be left feeling empty and hollow. When I am brave enough to be who I am and admit my struggles, the real connections are made. There is a genuine connection that happens, and it can even be something as simple as “I’m so glad you said that…” Thank you for bringing this to the forefront.

    • Danishapiro

      You’re welcome! Glad it resonated.

  • boringbug

    “The concept of authenticity is much over-hyped these days, and it seems to me a sad state of affairs that it’s something we need to cultivate — as if being authentic is just another act.” This is so apt. Amazing blog.

    • Danishapiro


  • The Whiskey Cowboy

    I believe that the problem for many is twofold. The first is they on one hand profess to not be trying to foster an image for the world, but then put up twitter, FaceBook, Google+, Instagram, and other accounts… which are designed to put you in the face of the world.

    The second is trying to compete on some level with others in their peer group in regards to the first issue. It becomes a measuring stick, and even sets the standard for personal competition. No wonder so many are not happy with themselves. They buy into the hype others throw out there, and don’t guy the hype they themselves are tossing.

    This is not a condemnation though, only an observation. And it has always existed. We just live in an age that the visual seen by people is far greater, and those we see as well as see US is also far greater.

    I believe the key to it is being honest with ourselves and why we may put ourselves out there as we do, and also why we look at others out there as we do. Perspective is important. And so is becoming happy with ourselves. Sure, we can always strive to be better in one way or another, but being UNHAPPY is the thing to avoid. And yes, this can often be a huge struggle. It is also why I feel limiting our online interactions can be very pivotal in our own self-image.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

  • Roxanne Farillas

    The concept of identity fatigue is very much real. Maybe that’s what I’ve been experiencing right now. I’ve been thinking a lot of times to stay away from social media so I can bring out my truest self. Accepting our imperfections is the key. Thanks for the ideas. Your blog is worth reading. ❤️

    • Danishapiro


  • Bill Hill

    I think everyone is authentic in how they present themselves to others – authentically real or false – depending on who they’re with at the moment. I’ve only met a very few who consistantly present themselves the same to everyone, and eventually I find them to be either boring or irritating, and unsure if the person is hiding behind the mask, afraid. Most of us wear many different masks; the face we present at work, the one we show to friends or acquaintances, another to close and loved ones (who see through it nonetheless.) We all want to be accepted and valued. We all fear being judged and found lacking. It is the human condition. And that’s okay. It’s a game we play, hoping that we might yet discover by our many characters who – and what – we really are. But that usually doesn’t happen until we’re quite old, and don’t care anymore what others think.

    • Danishapiro

      I’ve heard this referred to as “organizing the inner crowd.” Thanks for this comment.

  • gebbysmith

    I am so happy that I found your blog. I often feel tired and wrung out when I have had to be “up” for guests, students, or family. My persona is “the entertainer,” but at my center is a very well-formed introvert. Yes, it is quite scary to think about being myself when so many have become dependent on my tireless efforts to make sure everyone is happy. This is sad for the two obvious reasons I will now acknowledge. One, “everyone” is not happy because of my eager “performance”, and two, I wouldn’t have the power to make them happy, even if I were Dame Margaret Natalie “Maggie” Smith. I plan to read your posts regularly and hope I will be able to move away from my imaginary role as hostess and director and move toward being who I truly am.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks for this lovely response, Gabby!