The balancing act.

Nine years ago I shared this quote on my Facebook wall,

“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”

I read this quote today and realized how much these words still mean to me. At times I struggle to house both my personal and professional identities in the same day. What I mean to say is, I believe so whole-heartedly in being authentic that I am okay with the consequences that I may earn for being myself.

The other day someone at work told me I was a good public speaker and that’s my call: to be a public figure. I immediately began shaking my head and mumbling, “No, no, no.” If you only knew how foreign all of that feels for me– there is no way that’s my calling.

To be a counselor in higher education is a serious challenge. It’s one of those “practice what you preach” type of scenarios. My mission is to guide students towards lives and careers of meaning and purpose. In layman’s terms, I teach students how to be their authentic selves. It sure would be awfully destructive to my therapeutic relationships if I, the person telling them to be authentic, was not living an authentic and meaningful life. My students would eat me alive if they sensed any in-congruence with my counseling style and identity.

So I lead a pretty darn awesome and authentic life. Seriously. Hands down I am probably the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. But that happiness does not come void of survived traumas or bumps along the way.

I live in constant paradox. Some days I arrive to work buttoned down and in leather pumps. My students tell me things like, “I hope to be like you someday”, “You always look so professional”. But then I leave work, throw on a vintage tee (either from a trash bag of clothes my father tried to donate to Salvation Army, or literally a tee purchased from Salvation Army), turn on my XM radio stations 45-47 (which are of the heaviest rap genres), and tune into being 100% authentic Clarissa. And authentic Clarissa is a loser who has few friends and does way too much social media because of her near non-existent social life in the friend dessert known as rural Pennsylvania.

I curse. I make messes. I sometimes lose my cool on my husband (babe– if you’re reading this I’m sorry). I cry when I watch the news. I try to keep all of my laundry washed, folded and neatly hung or pressed– but sometimes that shit piles up! My son isn’t allowed to drink juice or eat foods with dye in them. Half of my family thinks I’m a crunchy nut job. But my husband somehow tolerates all of my requests and sees that they come from a place of ultimate concern for our child.

The masks we wear in life sometimes make this whole thing feel like a bit of a tragedy. How can in one moment my students revere me, but simultaneously, not know that I probably have some of the same quirks and flaws as they do?

Like when I walk up to a microphone to give a speech, I am running about 3 different teleprompters in my own mind:

One is running the speech that I am holding in my hand, in case I forget where I’m about to go.

Another is running the improv piece of my speech that I allow for in my written speech so as to carve out a “real moment.”

The other one is giving my cues:

  • Speak slowly.
  • Relax your face.
  • Look up and out.
  • Smile, and laugh if you’ve got it in ya.

I spoke earlier this week at an event with just under 100 people in the room. As I returned to my seat from the podium, I clenched my hands together. They were vibrating with fear. My face felt hot, like back when I was in Drama Club under the stage lights. Except, there were no stage lights.

I remind myself often, that I am not on a stage being judged in some “How professional are you?” pageant. I make choices everyday that nix me a few points on “professionalism.” However, most of these do not occur at work. But I do this so as not to lose sight of the person I am when I am not at work. I challenge myself to be the same person I am in all spheres.

But if you’re curious as to what I mean by losing some points here and there, I’ll be fully transparent:

I pick at leftovers without sitting down and making a plate. In fact, 98% of the time I eat at home– I’m on my feet.

On occasion when things get too heavy, I start to cry and ask my spouse for a hug. I can’t be tough as nails all of the time!

I say the word “FUCK” entirely too much. I joke about it, but seriously, it is way too much. You guys, I’m really trying.

I don’t have time to get my nails done or keep them painted myself. So yes, I’m that professional with naked nails.

I have a pea coat that has been missing a button for like 8 years.

If one is trying to be one person, the same person, at all times it is absolutely impossible to not have blurred lines between the person they are at work and the person they are outside of work.

I don’t think this bothers everyone, but this notion bothers me. I am constantly trying to figure out what my “How professional are you?” budget will allow me to nix before I’m disqualified from the category altogether.

One day I walked into a Country Fair in my 90 degree 7/8 Spandex leggings, Nike slides, sunglasses and a hoodie. As I walked up to the cashier I noticed that they were one of my students.

The student’s jaw dropped.

“I just realized who you are. I am not going to lie, this is so weird for me.” I smiled and said, “We all have personal lives. I’m a human.”

I’m a Mom.

I’m a [really successful] farmer’s wife.

I once paid my bills by wearing a tool belt, jeans and work boots everyday. And if I’m being honest, I’m still looking for ways to make this my only gig.

I’m an athlete.

I ‘m still young at heart.

Who I am is not defined by my job.

X.

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