Authentic life for authentic happiness
How to be authentic?
Authenticity is one of the most precious values in my life. It definitely makes it to the top three of my own private 'important' list. I have given it much thought and energy. I have spent years designing strategies on how to be more authentic and how to increase personal integrity through authenticity.
Let me tell you - search for an authentic life is not always a piece of cake. I have often felt lonely and invisible in my struggle, and even my victories seemed insignificant without support of like-minded people. One day I've made an important discovery - more than two million people search for a phrase 'how to be authentic' every single month! What a revelation! Desire to live an authentic life is NOT a lonely quest. This discovery has turned my world upside down. Instead of fighting a frustrated battle with the whole hypocritical humanity, I have embarked on a quest of finding, supporting and inspiring people whose hunger for authenticity equals mine.
If you would like to learn how to be authentic, why it is extremely important and what steps you take towards a more authentic life, please read on. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I've learned plenty through my own search for authenticity and I'm happy to share.
Photos come from this source, unless specifically marked otherwise.
Do you live an authentic life?
Authenticity equals happiness
Do you remember those moments in your life when you braved to be authentic, when you showed enough courage to express your real feelings and to act upon them? I am sure there is plenty to recollect. It could have been finally quitting that job that you were stuck in for ages. It could have been refusing to go to an event you had absolutely no wish to attend even if it made some people upset. It could have been telling the truth when no one else had courage to speak up. It could have been moving to a place where you always dreamed to live even if your whole family repeatedly told you that you're nuts to want to live in such a dump. You know your life best, so it's up to you to supply more examples.
Now, let's me ask you one simple question:
Didn't it feel absolutely great?
I could bet a lot of money on you answering - yes, fantastic! To me, moments of pure authenticity, especially those when I (felt as if I) defied the whole wide world in order to follow my gut are the most precious moments of my life. The happiest moments. The most vividly remembered ones, the most inspiring and strength-giving ones.
Being truly yourself is the very best thing that can happen to you. Authentic living equals authentic relationships, authentic money-earning, authentic self-expression. More authenticity equals more trust, more honesty, more warmth. It improves your connection with fellow human beings (if only because you choose who to connect with).
Amazingly, it also means more authenticity coming your way. What you give is what you get, remember?
I think all those things are well worth striving for. Yes, striving. Because...
...it is not easy to live an authentic life
Being authentic requires authentic effort
There are two main reasons why living an authentic life is not always the easiest choice:
1. Our world (culture, society, call it what you may) does not support authenticity.
Think - advertising. Think - ever-present pressure to be successful. Think - political correctness. Think - your last job interview.
Our culture conditions us to pretend we are better than we are. It teaches us that only a perfect body can bring you love. It says you don't deserve to be called 'a good parent' if your house is less-than-perfect and your child's schedule not filled to the brim. It teaches us that you won't be liked if you aren't 'nice': if you say 'no' when someone asks for a favour, if you criticize, if you refuse to do what people expect you to do. Being conventional is safe, because conventional people are easier to manage. Authenticity is not valued by people who want to take advantage of you or control your choices - whether we're talking money, power or social relations.
2. Authenticity requires admitting that you're not perfect.
More than that, if you want to live a truly authentic life, you need to find and befriend your vulnerability. I don't mean the conventional lines you have prepared long ago for pub small talk/job interview situations. I mean facing your deepest fears, consciously digging into your soul to stare on your ugliest, weakest, most painful features, without anaesthetic. It takes a hell lot of courage. Let me repeat - seeing yourself as you truly are, without beautifying or self-explanation takes a lot of guts. To make matters harder, the picture is rarely clear at the first sight so one quick peek is seldom enough - usually repetitive, painful and time-consuming soul search is necessary.
Nine times out of ten I end up in tears during this process, more, I end up sobbing, scared, self-pitying mess. It is hard to acknowledge one's weaknesses, but if you want to live an authentic life, you have to see yourself as you truly are. Once you accept your own imperfection, once you learn to love yourself when you are vulnerable, it will be easier to show the authentic you to other people.
Remember, there are no perfect people in the world. If someone appears or claims to be perfect - well, they are just perfect liars (not so beatiful anymore, huh?). The imperfect, the vulnerable you is the authentic you.
A Word of Warning
If you're looking for tips on how to APPEAR authentic - be gone and never come back!
Pretending authenticity in order to manipulate people is one of the ugliest tricks in human portfolio.
Please, don't do this.
Authenticity requires vulnerability
Brene Brown delivered one of the most inspiring talks on vulnerability I have ever come across. Have a look.
Authenticity tip #1
Lies and authenticity do not dwell in the same house
Don't lie. Simple, eh? If only it was so...
It is usually easy enough to refrain from direct lies (especially if they are obvious and nobody believes you anyway). But what about the 'white lies'? The 'polite lies'? The 'political lies'? You know the lies I'm talking about.
1. 'Yes, this tight dress looks great on you' [nevermind you being seriously overweight and red not really being your colour]
2. 'Happiness of our citizens is our highest priority' [it's cool to have a private chopper, too]
3. 'This product will transform your life' [yes, you wouldn't believe what a toilet brush can do for you]
4. 'Oh, I'm having wonderful time at this party' [I hate every single person in the room and the food is terrible...]
We usually tell those things for the best of reasons. We don't want to offend people. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. We don't want to be rejected for being less-than-perfect. We prefer to pretend - to pretend that we like what we see, to pretend we (or our products!) are better than we truly are. We also think it is ok to lie for the good reasons. More than that - telling a 'white lie' has no social stigma attached to it, while telling an impolite truth inevitably causes social outrage. Choosing between truth and lie seems rather difficult if you think that you'll get punished for not lying. I have some good news here:
It is possible to tell an inconvenient truth without hurting anyone's feelings.
Kindness is the keyword here. Nobody expects you to like everything you see or agree with everything you hear (well, at least no one in their right mind should...). It's perfectly ok to say 'I don't agree with you but I respect your opinion - as long as it applies to your life'. Or - 'Thank you for your advice, but I prefer to make my own choices'.
'I think you could pick a better dress'.
'I'm not in the mood for a party, I appreciate your invitation all the same'.
'We're doing our best to make a wonderful product. We're so hoping you'll like it and buy it so that we can make more!'
'Vote for me! I'll get a private chopper and you'll get just laws!' [No, I don't really believe in this one. Politicians are a lost case by definition :) ]
Would you rather:
If it's not authentic, it's worthless!
Authenticity tip #2
Be authentic in your life choices
It's funny how often we make the important life decisions based on 'shoulds', fears or other people's opinions. Predictably, we often end up in energy-consuming, long-lasting nightmares that leave us unhappy, frustrated and depressed. It is extremely difficult to be authentic if you're stuck in a situation that you hate. A job. A relationship. A social circle. Living arrangement. I'm sure you can come up with more examples.
There are a few things worth remembering when you make the Big Decisions:
1. Nobody has the ability or the right to tell you how to live your life.
They may think they know best. They may wish you the best. They may have the experience, the knowledge, the authority - but they are not you. You are the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions. You and only you know what truly makes you happy, excited, satisfied. In the end - it's your life and it's not a good idea to waste it in order to live up to somebody else's expectations.
2. Life guided by authentic passion is better than life guided by fear.
Only fools don't feel fear, but allowing the fear to dictate your life choices is a recipe for an unhappy life. If you follow your authentic desires in spite of the fear you may fail, or you may win. If you don't even try, you are guaranteed not to live the life you want. As simple as that.
3. A wrong choice is not a life sentence.
If you have made the wrong decision, it doesn't mean you have to stick with it forever. Instead of complaining of your situation, change it. I know it's not easy. But it's doable and it's so, so worth it.
Frank Sinatra knew a thing or two about authenticity...
Authenticity tip #3
Respect authenticity in yourself and in others
Remember, different doesn't automatically mean bad. It only means, well, different.
It's ok to decide you do not like something or somebody. It's not ok to claim that because something does not work for you, it's wrong. Solution x can be unacceptable for you, but it can be useful to someone else.
The same holds true the other way round - your solutions/ideas/actions do not become 'wrong' only because they would not suit another person.
We are not machines, manufactured to one matrix. We are a world of individuals, each with different taste, temperament, passions. It would be terribly boring otherwise!
It means that pleasing everybody is absolutely impossible.
It also means that more likely than not, somewhere in the world there are people ready to share your opinions and support you.
Instead of opposing those who differ, focus your energies on finding those who think alike.
Authenticity tip #4
Surround yourself with people who support the authentic you
It's funny how often we maintain social ties with people who don't accept us as we are. You know the kind of people I'm talking about. People who always tell you how to 'fix' your life (there's nothing wrong with your life unless you decide so!). People who smile to your face and b%#ch about you as soon as your back is turned. People who don't really care about you, but keep in touch with you because they think they 'should' (careful! It works the other way round, too - how often do you spend time with people not because you enjoy it, but because it is 'proper'?). You know what I mean.
I have a proposition for you: gently invite those people out of your life.
We live in times when socialising appears compulsory. Our planet is crowded! We are pressured to like everybody, to spend time with other people because it is 'normal', 'cool' etc.
Unfortunately, people can also be a tremendous energy drain. Can I tell you a little secret?
It's ok not to spend time with people who make you unhappy!
I used to be a part of a wide social circle, until I realised that very, very few of those 'friends' liked me for who I am, not for a flashy personality I was pretending to possess for their benefit. I drank more than I should to appear 'cool'. I pretended I'm not hurt by cruel words or hurtful behaviour. I pretended to be tough and invulnerable. I ended up with damaged liver and 'friends' disappearing as soon as I stopped putting on a show. Lucky for me, I also ended up with a little handful of individuals who accept me as I am, who love or like me with all my imperfections, with whom I don't need to pretend. It felt like being re-born.
The only thing I regret is that it took me so long to make that change.
Authentic vs. sociable
Would you restrict your social circle for the sake of authenticity?
Authenticity tip #5
Be kind to yourself on your quest for authenticity
Please remember that nobody becomes perfectly authentic overnight. In fact, I suspect no one can claim to be 100% authentic, at all times, in all situations. Authenticity is not some trophy to be won and put on a shelf. It's a sum of choices that we make, again and again, day after day. Some days are better, some worse. Sometimes we're feeling more courageous and sometimes we just want to hide and stop being bothered.
Guess what - it's fine.
Living an authentic life can feel like a terrible struggle sometimes. At times it feels lonely, or frustrating. Rejection hurts twice as much when it is the authentic you who gets rejected. That's why it is very important to be kind to yourself. Hey, you're doing the best you can!
Remember, being authentic does not mean being totally zen and above all negative feelings! If you feel anger, despair, sadness - acknowledge it. Recognise it. Please, do not pretend the 'ugly' feelings don't exist. They do. Negatives are part of life. Ignored, they sooner or later blow and usually wreak havoc in the process.
You can actually make your 'weaknesses' work for you. Here are a few examples of articles I wrote in a totally anguished state of mind: there's one about jobseeking, one about advertising or one about greedy charity organisations. I wasn't happy or carefree when writing them. I was furious. Yet, instead of breaking crockery, I sat down at my computer and used the anger to write.
The trick is to use the negative emotions, not to ignore them.
Photo by Tiggered
My work for authenticity
This article is the first chapter in my online authenticity adventure. I have decided to invest some time and effort into creating a collection of resources for authenticity seekers. The project has totally fired me up, zillion ideas a minute fly through my head, the only thing left is to actually put the hours in.
If you could use some inspiration and more tips on how to be authentic, please come back once in a while - I'll be adding to this site as my work progresses.
If you simply cannot wait and need the encouragement right now, why don't you send me an email? You can contact me through my lensmaster's bio page.