Finding My Core and Being Authentic

One of my joys – and one of my struggles – is learning into being a small business owner. Having worked in Corporate America for over 20 years, I’m now trying something totally out of my comfort zone – being my own boss. It’s exciting and scary.

It’s a joy because I’m pursuing things that I enjoy and am pretty good at – photography and web design. Part of that joy and excitement comes from being my own boss. I’m not at the whim and mercy of a corporation. I don’t have to put in work for primarily someone else’s gain.

It’s a struggle and sometimes scary because one has to wear about 26 hats, as they say. I’m my own boss, but at least for now, I’m also the only employee! I used to say that Corporate America encourages mediocrity and efficiency. There’s also so much redundancy, overlap and “shared responsibility” – which is a nice way of saying a lack of accountability and ownership. Now, the buck stops here!

As part of my startup growth, I’ve joined the Professional Photographers of America. Among one of the many benefits has been their Business Challenge – a 12-month online cohort where we study the business and operational side of being a professional photographer. So, we’ve learned and worked on our business model – everything from product strategy, to pricing, sales, marketing, managerial accounting, social media, etc. We have regular webinars and online discussions with mentors in the field – studio owners and photographers who graciously share their knowledge and experience.  The Q&A is where I learn a lot – but the real life experience and various perspectives has been invaluable.

One of our exercises was around “Finding our Core and Being Authentic.” We did a powerful exercise with Jonathan Main, a business coach and entrepreneur who has helped a lot of people and businesses reach their goals.  Our focus was on better understanding our core belief systems – “finding clarity and an understanding of your core as you develop your authentic self.”

Personally, I got a lot our of the exercise because it mirrored what I’m working through for myself, including this blog series on “This I Believe.” I’ve come to realize that as I solidify my brand as a photographer, I want to make sure it’s consistent with who I am as a person –my personal brand. In fact, for me to be as authentic as I can be, there is really just one brand – Todd Fuqua. How I act, react, and interact in the world should be the same, whether its for work, family, friends or community. This is especially true because I’ve often felt like I had to “become something else” in order to be successful in Corporate America. So, I’ve vowed never to do that again – never to have one “work persona” and “home persona.” I am who I am, I believe what I believe – and to be the best, most authentic me, I must shine out in all aspects of my life. I won’t go back into the closet again…on any level!

In this exercise, we did some pre-work, including writing down those beliefs we hold about life. So, I thought I’d create a placeholder post, where I capture these short expressions of belief.  It’s like my online vision board! As I grow and learn, I can keep this updated or add other insights. So with that introduction, here’s where I’ve started:

Traits I Admire in Myself and Others: 

  • Empathetic listener – in doing so, creates connections, community and healing
  • Lives authentically – has found their own voice & stays true to that in life, and encourages others to do the same
  • Fights for the oppressed – social justice minded, particularly for those upon whom society looks down
  • Trustworthy – they do what they say, and are willing to own up to their mistakes or shortcomings
  • Playful – knows the value of downtime, play, creativity, family & friends and taking time for self
  • Generous – shares time, talents and things with others as gifts, to be given freely without obligation

My beliefs about life

  • There are always three sides to every story
  • There is power in a question
  • People are inherently good
  • Presume goodwill
  • Seek to understand
  • Know when to observe without judgement
  • Each of us is doing the best we can
  • Check assumptions and hidden biases
  • That which bothers me in others is usually foremost my own personality trait
  • Never do for others what they can do themselves
  • I can’t fix, manage or control others
  • The serenity prayer works
  • It’s better to have a good memory than a bad picture – stay in the moment
  • I can choose to be right, or I can choose to be happy.
  • People change
  • Community is messy
  • It ain’t over until it’s over
  • Mother Nature is a bitch
  • We have some control over our lives, We can learn from failure, We matter as human beings, We all have real strengths to rely on and share (from Option B)
  • Don’t yuck on somebody’s yum
  • Strive for curiosity, courage, compassion and connection



Feeling the pain I caused others

I’m an intellectual, analytical sort of guy by nature. So regardless of my addiction – or perhaps in addition to my addiction – I don’t connect well with my feelings. I can analyze a situation, describe the feelings I am, was or should be feeling…but I haven’t always connected with the emotions involved. I think it’s part of my coping mechanism for life. Coping with isn’t the same as living, just like tolerating someone isn’t the same as loving them.

I want to experience life – live life – love others…not just cope and tolerate.

I’m learning how to these days in recovery with a lot of tools and help.

This week, I realized how strong that coping mechanism has been.  About a month ago, a friend told me stuff I never knew that was going on around me and about me while I was in my last years of active addiction. In my selfish, self-centered world, I didn’t think anyone knew about my using — nor cared. Secretly, there were times I remember hoping someone would care, would say something — but I also know that most attempts to “help me” would have just driven me further away, strengthening my denial and the grip drugs had on me.

This friend told me about how people very close to me were aware of my using, sometimes in surprisingly graphic and real detail. But, these same folks knew that in most cases, the best thing to do is to let go, and let someone’s Higher Power guide events. Knowing and yet not being able to help was painful for them.  The helplessness, the despair, the concern, the fear.  And, I was oblivious to it all.

But, my analytical mind had really only processed this on one very intellectual level until this week. I filed the “news” away in my memory – didn’t talk about it with anyone really – but it would surface from time to time. Yesterday, I was talking with my sponsor and told him about this realization of the world around me – of the pain and worry I caused for some of the closest people in my life. Even then, I honestly felt little – it was a story, seemingly someone else’s.

Last night, I had some dreams that brought this awareness to light. I awoke and lay in bed thinking about what I shared the day before.  I saw the people involved in my mind, and started to cry – sobbing heavily as a greater sense of guilt, regret and sadness came over me. It finally all hit me — and I simply allowed myself to feel the pain and sadness.

I know the outcome is amazing – we’ve survived this and they continue to be in my life. I will make amends when the time is right.  But, the self-awareness from this is a great gift of recovery. The fact that these two folks courageously faced this situation with appropriate “detached love” and continue to be in my life is an even greater gift.

But perhaps the greatest gift was the reconnection between my intellect and my emotion. I understand better how important it is to live more authentically with the union of heart and mind, living through and experiencing the feelings of joy, sadness, fear that come with the events in life.  For now, for me, this takes conscious awareness and an effort to remain open to possibilities, to new world views, and to a maturing capacity to feel. The “lag” between events and feeling them is growing shorter, but it’s still there. My ability to detach is so strongly rooted in my way of living that it will take time to grow.

But, baby steps.

Today, I can see it for how it should really be.

Today, I feel the pain I cause others.  And for now, that is a wonderful gift.

To be continued….

Pray until I’m blue in the face…or…let go!

For most of my early recovery, I’ve “carried a torch” for some close friends and family. I think I’ve shared before in my blog how I’ve carried the burden to pray for them every morning and during every moment of silence. Four are using buddies from my past or from my relapses for whom I carry a particular burden – admittedly, probably a burden of guilt for my part in their relapse or addictive behavior. But, I figured that it was still a good thing to do.  But, I’m coming to realize it might be the right thing, but not for the right reasons.

Last night, I had this dream about one of the friends I pray for who is going through some difficult events in his life, albeit without drinking or drugging.  At the end of the dream, he committed suicide and “seeing” the act of him slitting his wrists woke me up.

I woke up very sad and very scared, in tears.

I started praying for my friend.  That’s all I know how to do.  I realized I’m so helpless.

As I laid in bed pondering the dream, I thought about the topic at tonight’s meeting: surrender. It’s not a sign of weakness like general society would lead me to believe, and like I chose to believe for most of my life. The paradox is we get power when we surrender.

I still wrestle with how I best help a friend in need – a newcomer to recovery – a member of my home group who is struggling. How do I reach out the hand of Recovery without being pushy or co-dependent, working someone else’s program? I’m afraid to get it wrong and hurt someone in the end.

I reflected more on some recent events where my attempts to reach out blew up in my face, causing someone to get angry with me and resentful. As I work through my feelings that come with this rejection, I realize I’m sad at losing a friendship and angry for being misunderstood. But I also realize that at the heart of my reaction is a fear of rejection – a concern or worry about what people think of me.  Which also means that the corollary must be true — I was on some level seeking acceptance, hoping my actions would be appreciated by others and “win me favor” with them.

That tells me my ego is still in the way, still present in my prayers or my actions.  I still think somehow that it’s me…my actions…my words that will make the difference — that I’ll save them!  It’s similar to taking pride in the results of my recovery, somehow thinking that it’s my strength or actions that are getting me through the tough times.

That’s not how this works.

It’s not me.

Sobriety is a gift.

As long as I think it’s me, my ego gets in the way — and yea, I should be afraid! Left to my own devices, I won’t know what to do – I will hurt others – I will make bad decisions for myself because of my illness and addictive mind.

And yet, the true beauty in my recovery is in surrendering.  Letting go.  I’m not responsible for the outcomes — just doing the next right thing for the right reasons.  I’m not responsible for other people’s success or failure — in recovery or anything else for that matter.

I can pray until I’m blue in the face and ask for my Higher Power to help someone find freedom.  But, really in doing so, I’m implying somehow that their Higher Power isn’t already looking out for them and that somehow, my prayers – or my actions – are going to “tip the scales” and make the difference between success and failure, life and death.

So are the prayers for them – or are they really for me?  Am I somehow motivated by guilt because of my part in their story? Or, perhaps by a desire to be in control — to “play God?”

As I prayed and meditated after the dream, I came to a new understanding.  I don’t need to pray for these 6 people by name EVERY day, at EVERY meeting – as I have done, with some (self-centered) (egotistical) pride if I’m completely honest!  In fact, that’s working against what I need – which is to surrender them, to let go — and then to know that my Higher Power is in control.  In that, I can know peace.

It doesn’t mean that prayer doesn’t work or have value.  And it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t reach out the hand of recover when asked. But, as I pray for them today, the motivation is still very self-centered.  If I can learn to let go and surrender, that is where the true power is.

At the heart of this realization is a more profound understanding of surrender and what it means. And, in that growth, I believe I’ve been given permission to turn them over to His care. So with that, I will cease praying for them ’til I’m blue in the face…and let go.

Sobriety is a gift.  It’s not the result of my actions, or my prayers — for me or for anyone else.

What I’m responsible for is doing the next right thing for the right reasons — and letting go of the outcomes. I’m responsible for working on my spiritual condition – my relationship with my Higher Power.  The rest is up to, and because of, Him.