Authenticity, writing, and regret

Regret has been my go-to emotion these days.
The times in my life I most regret are the times when I have succumbed to inauthenticity. When I have not been my authentic self. When I have turned away from myself in order to turn towards something else, and then that something else ended up being really bad.
I can’t go back to any of those times and wake myself up. I can’t enter those key moments and decide to listen to myself, decide to take myself more seriously, decide that I am worth facing challenges for.
I can’t go back. That’s the whole point. That’s the one rule in all of this. I only have now and in the future.
This recent wave of regret has been triggered by something that feels rather silly in the context of all this existential reflection. But still, it is real and it matters and it’s bringing up some really strong feelings for me. It’s that Feministing contest.
Many of you were so overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic when I made it into the final round of the “So You Think You Can Blog” contest. I got the email on a Tuesday afternoon at work—I had arrived at work late after spending the morning presenting a lecture on adolescent sexuality at a Boston College class on Positive Youth Development and then getting lunch with the professor (at Inna’s Kitchen!). I was totally amped about the lecture and discussion and the prospect of more teaching about sex and sexuality.
Then I got the email that I was selected as a finalist, and I couldn’t stop shaking in disbelief. In fact, I didn’t stop shaking until I got the email three weeks later that I wasn’t selected as a winner.
And I just think—I can’t help but feel—my understanding of my own situation is that it was that very disbelief, that very shaking, that very frozen-in-time, this-can’t-be-happening feeling that pulled me out of myself and threw me into a state of inauthenticity bordering on emotional paralysis—and now remembering that state of being is at the core of my current regret. I regret that I didn’t slow down enough in order to enter the last round of the contest as myself. From the minute I got the email, I was thinking about how to fit into their club—how to write the way they wanted me to write and write about the topics they wanted me to write about—I wasn’t thinking about how to be myself and be true to myself. I ended up writing blog posts that I thought were smart and well-written, but I personally wasn’t anywhere in those posts. They could have been written by anyone.
My biggest challenge was the one instruction they gave us—to be timely. When I blog, it’s always timely, but to me, to my timeline. I’m blogging about the one thing that I’ve been stuck on recently, the one piece of my life, past or present, that is eating away at me and that I want to come to understand by communicating it to others. I don’t tend to discuss current events or pop culture, and I’d never written a post on-demand before. And instead of slowing down and considering how I would proceed were I to actually win the contest and become a more scheduled, more public blogger, I plowed forward without reflection. I was plowing forward without myself, because I wasn’t giving myself time to catch up.
I don’t know if any of this is making sense to you. I can only get it to make sense to me part of the time. But it’s really at the core of what I’ve been feeling and thinking about these days, and it seemed to be more honest and authentic than the “why I hate competitions” or the “what does this mean about my professional identity and career goals” posts that I was considering writing as another form of reflection on the Feministing contest. Maybe those will be important posts for me to write at some point in the future, but today I needed to write about regret. Because noticing this regret about the times when I haven’t slowed down to address myself, to try to be true to myself, to attend to my own feelings and boundaries and goals—noticing all of that regret regarding the blog posts I wrote made me notice all the other regrets I have, too: regrets about times when I turned away from myself in ways that had much worse consequences than losing a contest.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator

2 thoughts on “Authenticity, writing, and regret”

  1. Natalie says:

    This writing feels honest and authentic to me; I can hear you in there for sure. It's raw and true and spoken in your voice. Your clear-sighted pursuit of authenticity is stunning. Your insight that straying from authenticity reliably creates a mess is inspiring and rings true for me too. You are definitely making sense.

    About the regret part: I respect it. And, I'm not feeling regret about you that you plowed forward without yourself – I'm feeling compassion for what caused you to need to do that. When we turn away from ourselves, I believe we do it for good reasons, that we come by it honestly. As I see it, staying in ourselves through turbulence is not simple or default – it's musculature we have to build with continued commitment – commitment you very obviously have. I respect and honor the regret you feel and so bravely and poignantly express here, and I also hope that you have (or come to find) compassion for the turning away that we sometimes need to do. It can have high costs, can make a mess, can cause regret, as it clearly did here – and it's also a way that we try to love and protect ourselves until the authenticity feels truly inhabitable. I honor and respect the turning away/plowing forward too, though I wish you (and myself) to never need it again.

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