At the end of a recent blog post in which I shared that I’d been feeling anxious, had been sobbing in the bath and was carrying an unopened box of anti-depressants around in my handbag, I added a footnote.
In a short, italicised postscript, I questioned whether I’d taken my honesty too far, whether I should have kept some of my inner ramblings to myself and whether I’d ever be employed again.
But despite my trepidation about my future career prospects – a girl’s got to eat – I concluded that if I couldn’t be employed as my authentic self, then what was the point?
A few days later, I was stood before a room of 100+ women (and a few men) being just that – my authentic self.
I was delivering a workshop on blogging, describing how I launched myself into the blogosphere and the very personal topics I write about, along with some less personal tips on how to increase visibility and monetise a blog.
My blogging career began in March 2011, on the eve of Lent and in the throes of anger.
I’d been attending a seminar on women, eating disorders and body image and I was furious – primarily with myself. I was angry that despite a good degree of recovery from my own eating disorder and the fact my body was finally what I deemed to be an acceptable size and shape, I still hated the way I looked.
Determined to find some freedom from the daily mental beatings, I decided to abstain for 40 days from negative thoughts about my body, appearance and, for good measure, my achievements – and to blog about my progress every day.
The result was my first concerted attempt at authenticity in print: Just As I Am, An Experiment In Self-Acceptance. Then, as Lent drew to a close and my 40th birthday passed, I launched my current blog, From Forty With Love.
I’d been writing for many years, working as a journalist for international news agencies, flying with the prime minister into war zones and reporting on politics, economics, natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
But my authentic self was absent from those stories. Any opinion was backed up by expert quotes and the style and tone were dictated from above.
My writing wasn’t the only place where I’d camouflaged the real me. Beneath the confident, competent exterior, behind the smart trouser suit and the lipstick, I was a vulnerable woman who didn’t feel good enough and who relied on a crutch.
None of my former work colleagues knew that I was bingeing on chocolate, sweets and bread in those beautiful hotel suites in Hong Kong, Seoul or Beijing as the prime minister dined downstairs. Nobody was aware that I ate constantly to survive those gruelling, global trips.
I had two faces – a public and a private persona. Only a privileged few saw both.
It’s been four years since I left my post as a political correspondent, gave up my desk in parliament and began the slow process of taking off the mask – four years of trying to align the real me with what I write about as a freelance journalist.
On blogs, authenticity has come easy but in the world of newspapers and magazines, where I have to ‘sell’ my stories and ask to be paid, it hasn’t been a straightforward path. I’ve discovered that it’s scary to be me. Rejection hurts more when it’s the real you who’s being rejected and not some invented self. We wear masks for a reason – they soften the blow.
Without the mask, one big question inevitably surfaces: is the real me good enough?
At the end of my blogging workshop, I got my answer. And it was an overwhelming ‘Yes’. I received words of praise and encouragement, invites to lunch and tentative offers of work.
But while I ended that day on a high, it didn’t take long for my doubts to resurface: is the real me really good enough? Can I make a living being my authentic self? Will my stories sell? And will the book I’m working on ever be good enough to make it into print?
My conclusion, though, is simple. I don’t have a choice. I’ve tried the other way. I’ve tried pretending to be someone I’m not. It was painful and it didn’t work.
So my only option is authenticity. The only way forward is to be true to myself.
Katherine Baldwin is a journalist, writer and blogger who has written for national and international publications including The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Psychologies Magazine and Time Magazine, following a nine-year career as a Reuters correspondent. She is working on her first book on women and life choices around careers and motherhood and blogs regularly at From Forty With Love.
Katherine is an inspiring speaker on topics ranging from eating disorders and addictions to authenticity and career change. She also works as a journalism trainer, writing coach and media consultant.