Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Integrity is a Relief

Lindsey SmallwoodComment

Somewhere as I've entered the Middle Place between youth and old age, I've learned that I can't be whole unless I'm fully myself, wherever I go.  It's called integrity - and it's a relief. 

I've been a lot of Lindseys. 

There have been Lindsey's of various jobs and activities, including but not limited to:
Lindsey, the competitive soccer player,
the dinosaur aficionado,
the circus arts instructor,
the law clerk,
the barista/dishwasher,
the half-marathoner...

There have been Lindsey's of many relationships, like
Lindsey, the mentor,
the daughter-in-law, 
the long-distance-girlfriend,
the bridesmaid,
the roommate,
the wife, 
the mother...

These sorts of distinctions, based on roles or titles, are a normal and useful part of being a person. It's good to have a variety of interests and to engage in many kind of relationships. 

There's another kind of multiplicity of self that's less healthy, taking on different, inauthentic personas in a quest to find friendship and acceptance. I've done that too.

Sometimes this happens in small, perhaps insignificant ways, like how if I spend more than 5 minutes with anyone who lives south of the Mason-Dixon line, I start saying “y’all” and “bless it”. Or when I speak in short, clipped sentences with my Chinese neighbor who is learning English.

Sometimes it becomes a funny story to look back on, like the time I tried out for the dance team because I wanted to hang with the cool dance-girl crowd, even though I am not a dancer AT ALL. My home-made routine showcased fist pumps and pelvic thrusts for 2 minutes until the team leader mercifully turned off the music.

It’s quirky to take on someone’s accent and (maybe) brave to do something out of your comfort zone, but it can be damaging to try to be someone you’re not for very long. More times than I care to remember, I’ve found myself telling a half-truth or nodding along to something I’m not sure I agree with in an effort to be perceived as a certain kind of person.

Being both Lindsey the teacher and Lindsey the lover of all things turquoise at the same time is fine. It’s not fine to be Lindsey who tells people how much she loves to cook and Lindsey who dies a thousand little deaths every time she needs to get dinner on the table. It’s tedious to pretend that I know what’s happening in pop culture when I actually use my free time to nap and read novels. I feel like a fraud when I smile as someone shares a belief that differs from mine, knowing it’s easier to be perceived as agreeing than go round and round on theological points of difference.

At some point, a few years ago, I made the connection that not being authentic was contributing to my feelings of insecurity. Since I was putting on false attitudes and opinions in an effort to liked, I never knew if people actually enjoyed me for who I really was. And it became difficult to remember which version of myself I was trying to present at a particular moment.

Since then, I’ve attempted to regroup all those parts of myself, being authentic across the various contexts of my life. This doesn’t mean I have to spout my opinions anytime I hear an idea that’s different from my own. But I also don’t feign agreement where I don’t agree. I’m trying to live with integrity, to be the same person no matter where I am.

Can I let you in on a secret? Scary as it can be, integrity is a relief.

The Lindsey you meet at Bible study will be the same one you meet at happy hour. I don’t have to put on something I’m not for different people in a different setting. Living as the same person all the time, in public and private, owning my own life and my choices means I’m free from the burden of trying to shape what other people think of me.

Choosing integrity is living in a wholeness which keeps your true self intact. In this wholeness you’re free to be known and loved for who you are. You can give without needing to please. You can engage without conforming.

After long years as a people pleaser, pursuing integrity is a fresh breath of new life. More than ever before, all my Lindseys, from the closet crafter to the overeager grocery shopper, are one whole person.