A Lesson in Authenticity, Vulnerability, Contests, and Belonging

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So recently, I entered a contest on Audible, and yes if you like the video I would like you to vote for it but that is not the purpose here.   What I’m more interested in sharing what I learned about vulnerability, authenticity, and belonging from a new book, having lunch with a friend and submitting my entry to a contest.

So here is the deal, to all those people who get out there and put themselves fully, and authentically, into the world, you are AMAZING!! You have no idea how special you are!

Let’s be honest, there is a reason authenticity is currently a buzz word. So, few of us are really completely authentic. The fact is, most of us conform or minimize who we really are in order to fit in or belong. And the irony is holding back who we are in order to belong, is actually preventing us from really belonging.  Not to mention, doesn’t it kind of kill your soul to minimize yourself? I know it does mine.

You know I’d honestly never really thought about how not being our authentic selves impacts belonging, nor was it even on my radar to think about it, until I recently read Brene Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness. When I saw Brene Brown had a new book coming out, I went ahead and ordered it because, well it was Brene Brown and she is awesome. I honestly didn’t even know what it was about, but I listened and learned.

So fast forward a week or so later, at lunch with a friend. We were talking about her Authenticity Vulnerability Contest Pindaughter and school and life in general. Let me tell you about her daughter, she is amazing. She is an amazing artist, has an amazing voice, she is so smart and so wise beyond her years. This girl has more talent in her little finger than many of us have in our whole bodies. And I’ve always been so blown away by how unafraid she seemed to stand out, she doesn’t seem to care if she fit in or not. And for a middle school kid, now high school kid, that blows my mind. She sings in the talent competitions, she goes all in on costumes for any dress up day. She has her own style and has never been afraid to own it.  She has always been what I would describe as authentic.

So back to lunch, during lunch, her mom was telling me how awesome it is that her daughter is so happy this year because she found her place and the best part is, it’s by being herself. I said something along the lines of, “Wait, I thought she was always was herself? She is the most authentic kid, and maybe even the most authentic person I’ve ever met.”  That is when she went on to tell me about how her daughter often had to force herself to do a lot of those things in the past. But now it’s effortless.  So really in order to become her true authentic self, that kid had to be vulnerable, and brave.  And let’s be honest here, it is extra brave to be vulnerable and brave in middle school when kids really can be brutal. And what else! That kid just proved what I recently learned in Braving the Wilderness, you have to belong to you before you ever really belong.

Now that takes me to this whole contest thing. I bet you are wondering how in the world does that fit in. Well, if you have read some of my earlier posts one thing you know how I feel about eyes on me. I NEVER do things that will allow people to really see me. Or really put myself out there, or at least I haven’t for the last several years. However, there are two things driving me to fix that. The first is, my daughter.  The second is, I miss me.

My daughter is currently eight. And I know one of the things I want for my child is for her to be brave enough to be herself. I want her to be brave enough to go against the grain, to own who she is and be proud of who she is. I don’t want her to live in fear and self-doubt. I don’t want her to spend her time worrying about what would “they say.” She is so much more than that, we all are.  And let’s face it monkey see, monkey do. We can tell kids whatever we want, but they see us. They see what we do. They recognize when what we say is out of alignment with what we do and they think, “Liar!” So how can I teach my child to be all these things if she isn’t seeing me be those things?

That leads me to my second item, missing me. I’ve varied in where I stand in my own authenticity over the year. Somehow last several years I’ve become less and less like the me I worked so hard to love. I have no doubt it’s the culmination of several things from becoming a mother to moving back to Alabama, where I can tend to have different views from the majority, in addition to a few other things. But I really miss that kick-ass girl. I still remember one of my friend saying, “You used to be balls to the wall, what happened?” She probably doesn’t even remember saying that, it was a few years ago, but it’s stuck with me because I agree!!! Where is that Tonya! I want her back too! Thus, here I am trying to set an example, and relearn to be “balls to the wall.”

Well, this contest is for Audible and requires you do a thirty-second video on why you love Audible. Anyone who knows me knows I really do love Audible. I am always listening to something and torturing my friends with my latest learning, such as what I learned in Braving the Wilderness for example. Ha! But there is another reason Audible is special to me and that I love it dearly and it has to do with my number one reason for wanting to get back to authentic from above. I’d like for you to watch the thirty-second video to see what it is. Follow the link, if the video doesn’t automatically open, scroll down, and search Tonya, Alabama. And vote, if you liked it or vote just because you think I’m awesome (because I am and so are you! We all are, in our own ways)

So now, now you have not only heard me, but you also know a little more about my family and why I wanted to do the contest. It’s an avenue for me to thank Audible and share my story, my family’s story and maybe even educate someone on something that is important to me. So, I did it and I had to be vulnerable to do it. Who knew!

I had no idea, how vulnerable I was going to feel making and submitting that video. I’ve never made a video, other than by pushing record on my iPhone. And then to be open about something so personal, it was harder than I thought.  Literally, I know this will sound silly, but I was shaking while pushing the submit button. And then, are you ready for this, it took me like an hour calm down.  I joined my family in the Livingroom after and I was just thinking to myself, how silly am I! I mean let’s be real how many people are really going to see it? Probably none. Heck, half my friends will probably just push the vote button, if they go to the site at all. All I could think was about the critics in the arena.

You want to know the next thought, “Oh shit! This is what it feels like to be vulnerable.” I mean, think about this…I just put my truth out there to be judged and even worse, my voice, my silly creation, my silly drawing, my daughter! And next thought, “Oh crap, you have to be vulnerable over and over again in order to get to being authentic, to get to a point of belonging to you.” Needless to say, after that I went and opened a bottle of wine. And then I thought, “Dang.  Now I’m self-numbing, trying not to feel the emotions. Be in the moment. Brene Brown get out of my head! Ugh! I can’t drink my wine now.”

And so, I let my wine sit in its glass for like an hour, luckily it was red wine. And until, I let myself sit, process and figure out what and why I was feeling all those weird emotions I didn’t drink my wine. But the moment I was done, you better believe I drank the damn wine.

So, think about it. What I did was one seriously small act. And honestly was nothing compared to getting in front of an auditorium of people and speaking my truth or singing, like my friend’s daughter does. It was big for me because I seldom speak my truth, I’m so frequently minimizing. I have a select group who know me and I definitely speak open to them, but that is it. Everywhere else I minimize.

Think about how brave, how many emotions my friend’s daughter had to absorb at such a young age learning to be brave enough to be herself. And think about how many times we have to do this! How many acts of bravery it takes to get to that point. It’s kind of scary, but there is another side too.

After each act, you really do become braver and braver. Yes, vulnerability is hard, but wow how freeing to be yourself. Even after my super small act, I feel like I gave myself back a tiny piece of me. A piece I had taken away from myself by minimizing and hiding. So, for those of us who are working on our authentic selves, keep at it. It is hard and requires bravery and vulnerability, but the rewards are tremendous.

What are your thoughts on belonging, authenticity, and vulnerability? Have you had any challenges in this area recently?


Thanks for reading,



    1. Thanks for commenting! Blogging really is a great way to show the world our authentic selves, isn’t it? 🙂

  1. This is great and thought provoking. I feel the same as you, like my authentic self has been pushed down over the last few years. I really feel that starting a blog has started a great process for me, putting myself out there and being more vulnerable. I expect it to be a huge positive in my life as time goes on. 🙂

    1. It’s a challenging journey, but it’s worth it. We will get our authentic selves back, one piece at a time. 😉 Your blog is great by the way and I love the name.

  2. OMG its amazing how all of us struggle from the same things in one form or the other. I had a quite embarrassing meltdown in front of a friend yesterday about being tired of not fitting in. Its a conflicting emotion, I love that my experiences have given me a wider world view than my peers, it’s what fuels my writing and I’m proud of that but sometimes it is just easier to fit in. You are right we have to be vulnerable again and again to become an authentic version of ourselves! Sharing 🙂

    1. Thank you! You have to read Braving the Wilderness. Seriously! Based on your comment, I think you will love it. If you read it, I’d also love to hear your thoughts on it after.

  3. Love this! Proud of you for recognizing and fighting through those vulnerable feelings – AK is lucky to have you as her example.

    1. Thank you friend. 😊 I still drank the wine 🍷! 🙂 If I’m lucky, maybe AK will turn out to be her own version of awesome, like my friends daughter.

  4. This is such an amazing, honest and pure post! I can totally relate! Until I started blogfing and sharing my story, I didn’t understand how unauthentic I really was- I was forced to be vulnerable in order to understand who I truly was before embracing it and sharing it with the world. “You have to belong to you before you can belong” is such a true statement! Love it! Thank you for sharing 💙

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. 🙂 It’s amazing isn’t it, how different we all are, yet how we all have the same struggles. 🙂

  5. This definitely resonates. I, too, worry about my kids not being comfortable with themselves. Hopefully, even though I’m still working on it, they will feel inspired to be themselves.

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