Have you ever heard the phrase about ‘being true to yourself’ or ‘acting authentically’? When I was younger, I was confused by the idea of acting authentically. I didn’t really understand the meaning, let alone know whether I was someone who acted authentically.
As time has passed, I’ve come to understand the phrase and, more importantly, its importance to our personal sense of wellbeing. However, living up to the condition of being my authentic self is still something which often eludes me. And I think it’s fair to say that consistently acting authentically is something that a lot of people struggle to achieve.
Strictly speaking, living authentically would mean that we would behave exactly in line with the beliefs and values we hold. But, in actuality, this probably isn’t possible if we want to live a life where we can be accepted within a group whose beliefs and values might be slightly different to our own. As we know, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but sometimes, when that opinion is different to those around us, we keep quiet in order to maintain the peace and remain part of the group. In this situation, I guess being part of the group means more to us than venting an unwelcome opinion.
But could a lack of authenticity in such a situation be perceived as dishonesty? It’s a difficult question. To some, it would appear to be dishonest to withhold your true opinion in favour of acceptance, but could it also be conceived as maintaining the greater good? I.e., the stability of the group?
I don’t know of any easy answer to this question, but I know from experience and from observation that it’s the way of the world that we learn from a very young age to ‘fit in’ and in doing so, we are not living our authentic life. Obviously from a social point of view, this is desirable. Most people are very uncomfortable living in isolation, and indeed, those that do are either viewed with pity (no one loves him) or derision (she’s strange or weird).
And so, we learn to and prefer to be part of the crowd. But, it can be difficult to keep parts of our personality a secret from others as ultimately we want to live as the person we really are. As I’ve already mentioned, keeping secrets implies that we aren’t acting authentically and this can be a burden that can make us unhappy, or, at the very least, frustrated.
This unhappiness or frustration, of course, is the price we pay for our conformity, our middle-of-the-road behaviour which keeps us in a less than fulfilling job (we wanted to be a dancer, but instead we work in insurance claims because it’s secure and steady), an unhappy relationship, bored with our so-called hobbies or just generally restless with no real idea of what the problem is. If we’re not prepared to step out into the unknown and try something new and/or different then the only alternative is to continue with our average but unsatisfactory circumstances.
But why don’t we step out of our comfort zones and away from the herd? I love this quote from May Sarton which, I believe, gives us a little clue about why we’re so attached to out current circumstances:
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
The first point is a given, I believe. Being frightened of change is a normal human reaction and something we observe over and over again, but the second point about being strange is interesting and of course comes back to the idea of fitting in.
No one wants to be labelled as ‘strange’, but the reality is, when you rise above the limits of the crowd, then, technically you will be different…or strange, compared to others! I guess whilst we’re on the path to achieving our goals, then ‘strange’ could be an apt description. However, once we reach our goals, then the description of ‘strange’ is likely to change to ‘successful’, which is not only socially acceptable but also revered!
As I watch the Winter Olympics in Sochi, I’m struck about the amount of life these athletes have had to dedicate to achieve the pinnacle in their sport. They have moved away from the behaviours of the crowd and set themselves apart. I watched Lizzy Yarnold take the gold in the Skeleton and then heard the back story of the ‘different’ life she’s had to live over the last 4 or 5 years to achieve her success. This is life lived authentically!
But we don’t need to be making grand or magnificent goals in order to live our authentic life. A long time ago, at the commencement of this website, I wrote a post about the importance of living for and striving for the goals which are important to you. Indeed, the strap line for my blog is ‘Live your life your way’! This means living authentically and being the person you really are, rather than trying to fit into someone else’s view of who you should be.
So how can you live an authentic life?
Well, we all need to be in tune with our feelings throughout the day. Quite often, rather than knowing that we’re not being authentic, we tend to feel it. It’s that feeling you get when someone pushes in front of you in a queue, but you say nothing and then simmer resentfully for the rest of the day not only for the injustice you felt, but also because you didn’t feel empowered to stand up for yourself. It’s the feeling you get when your partner suggests you go to the cinema but you’d rather go out for a meal, but you go along with their suggestion because you don’t want to appear unappreciative, or maybe it’s giving up or delaying an important personal goal because you lack the self-confidence to walk away from the crowd….
How do you feel in these situations? If something feels amiss, then your authentic self is calling out to you to take action. And perhaps it is time to listen, because as Eckhart Tolle tells us…
“Only the truth of who you are, if realised, will set you free.”
Is the real you being crowded out by other (non-authentic) commitments and obligations? Do you smother his/her voice and ignore the call? Or, when have you listened and reaped the rewards of being authentic? I’d love to hear your stories!