Billy Joel’s lyrics really struck me yesterday and I literally cannot stop turning them over and over: “Honesty, is such a lonely word/Everyone is so untrue/Honesty is hardly ever heard”.
Initially, I considered the words as an acute observation – how many of us are truly honest? But since then I have been thinking a lot about ‘honesty’ and what it means to us all. The lack of honesty, the power of honesty, confusing celebrations of worth with dishonesty, the cumulative effect of half-truths and little white lies, hiding behind honesty…
Where to begin?!
Let’s first consider the dangers of ‘dishonesty’.
Much is written about the damaging effect of Facebook and Instagram, with the snapshots of perfect lives, filtering flaws and erasing the ugly and the humdrum. Given our inbuilt desire to strive, to be as good as or better than our neighbours, this can often leave us feeling lacking. As if we are nowhere near the unassailable bars set by these moments of perfection, shared so confidently and willingly. Yet how many of these images are true and honest?
And in real life? That unreadable colleague you ae competing with for the next promotion? Your icy boss who never falters? That glossy haired mum on the school run with her Colgate smile? The friend who never raises her voice?
It is so easy to be critical of ourselves and again to compare. But really, do you think that colleague hasn’t messed up? Isn’t as scared of failure as you? Your boss – could it be that he/she also goes home and cries? That he/she has a secret red wine habit too? That mum might have been on her knees only an hour ago and could be masking a whole boatload of heartache? Your friend – well she will let rip as soon as she closes the front door….
And how many people are completely honest with themselves? There are so many stories about people living lives as lawyers, doctors, merchant bankers, corporate hotshots who crash and burn because they were not living their own lives, but someone else’s, because somewhere along the line they were not completely honest with themselves and made choices not driven by their own desires but by a need to please, to comply, to do what they thought was expected of them.
I put myself in this category.
Even recently, in my struggles to find a role outside of mum, I was growing my own business, but my heart was not quite there. But it wasn’t just the clash between the role of mum and other Kerry: I was being encouraged to think like a business person, like a consultant and not like just Kerry, mum and friend. So I couldn’t say I was unable to make a meeting because I had to do the school run…I had to tell a white lie. I couldn’t say I was unable to do a call that day because it was a Mummy and daughter day – another white lie. I couldn’t ask a colleague to come back to me on their requirements such that I could set up appropriate childcare – yet another white lie.
Yes, I was working flexibly, but on the basis of not quite truths. I was a mum with so many options, but only if I didn’t tell the clients about it. But my word! Doesn’t that perpetuate the whole problem? How is that any different from when I worked for one of the best law firms, on the partnership track and was told to “reel myself in, not be so friendly with the juniors and the support staff…to start playing the game”. Does professional life, by definition mean we have to lie? When will we be able to say – client, you are important to me, I will do a good job, but if you like me and trust me, you also need to know, I pick my kids up after school and am with them for 5 hours. You also need to know that I am balancing your work with my other very important role of homemaker. I will only work Wednesdays if it is absolutely essential as this is my cleaning and jobs day!”.
I find it really difficult to be someone I am not. And the suggestion is, if I am completely myself and completely open and honest, then actually, I am not a business person, not a decent consultant and not a professional. But if we fill our days with little white lies or half-truths, well it’s not good for the soul – not only will your work life balance feel out of control, but you won’t feel good about yourself at the most basic level.
This really struck me today: my battle isn’t just about work/kids, it’s about something bigger. About my ability to be completely myself.
But then let’s consider if a lack of openness is really the crux of the problem and if honesty is all it is cracked up to be…
In terms of social media, a shared moment of joy is not a wilful form of deceit. Who are we to deny people the right to celebrate and share golden moments? To congratulate themselves on success? You don’t need to put a footnote on every treasured photo or success to say who cried that morning, that you swore in-front of the kids, that they are having chicken nuggets for tea, that you haven’t had sex for 6 weeks, that your husband had to recycle his boxer shorts that morning. Just go for it. Celebrate, rejoice, be grateful for your happy memories.
Isn’t a significant part of the issue too that we need to get better at being happy for others? Comfortable in our own skin such that we don’t use others achievements as another way to criticize ourselves, as another way to bemoan our own shortcomings. Don’t we need to love harder, more purely, so that our congratulations and well wishes are made unconditionally, without reservations and without resentment or jealousy?
And do we always need to know everyone’s inner torment? Isn’t it your right to only share your deepest fears and insecurities with those you trust? Don’t we all practise putting on a brave face? Imagine the world if we never did, imagine if we all wailed and moaned outside those classroom doors?! Isn’t one of the reasons offices can become toxic, that one too many colleagues sit there being negative, slating colleagues, standing in the way of new ideas, belittling deals done, wins scored. Every. Single. Day.
We all have that friend, who barely has a glad word to say, who constantly tells you how hard life is, about the bad hand dealt to them in our relatively plentiful and blessed world – and we all know that to protect our own wellbeing from the damage done by the constant stream of negativity, we need some distance, to limit our exposure to toxic thoughts. Even if you are not always full of joy, at the most basic level, you need not fill your thoughts with bleak darkness. It’s basic self-care. That’s why gratitude journals and the like are so often applauded.
And in my own battle between Kerry the mum and Kerry as something else? Well I sometimes wonder if I use honesty as an excuse.
I put the brakes on growing my own business for a while because the balance felt wrong and because I find it hard to be two different people. Because I felt the need to be home more.
It is true, that my strongest pull is towards home. My core desire, my true values, whatever you call them, revolve around being the best role model to the girls I can be. So I paused on my journey as an entrepreneur and call Kerry at home, the honest, most authentic version of me.
Last week I had lunch with 3 amazing colleagues, and I felt excited, intrigued by the possibilities. A few weeks ago, I did a simple task of advising on personal guarantees in Manchester as part of a larger refinancing and loved putting on a work dress, whizzing off to another city. I miss spending time with one of my friends who I refer to in this blog as my mentor, I miss the way she challenges me. I love writing this blog and I do it at the expense of housework and often at the expense of bath and bedtime. I loved (and hated at the same time!) organising a circus for the school’s PTA. There are other things, that excite me.
So at the moment, as a mum predominantly not working, am I completely honest?
If I am not honest, then am I wilfully dishonest or just confused? Or am I simply hiding from questions too difficult to answer?
Is reverting to Kerry at home who I wholly, fully completely am or is it just the easy option?
Could it all be just timing? I am hanging on to the notion that September (when all three girls will be at school) will mark a whole new dawn, shedding light on what I often call my mini mid-life crisis. Sharpened pencils and sharpened dreams.
So many questions from a Billy Joel lyric –who knew?!
Ps – warning: I heard Billy Joel watching an episode of Glee dedicated to him; I fear we could have a Billy Joel themed blog week!!
Ps – thanks to Pinterest for the image.