What does authentic living look like to you? Some might say it’s not being ‘fake’. Others would say it’s being balanced. But what looks ‘fake’ to one is a way to avoid skin cancer to another. What is unbalanced to one is an inner drive to another.
Some would say authenticity, as in a real man, means sporting a beard (to them I say shame on you! and Movember is over, you fuzzy Neanderthal.)
If we can’t even figure out what authentic living is, how can we do it for the sake of happiness? And what does authenticity have to do with happiness anyway?
To me, being authentic means ‘Living your Life On Purpose’ (borrowed from a quote I love)
Being authentic is letting your true self be seen – by yourself and by others, and to stop spending your life chasing someone else’s dreams.
Having things, and things to put things in, and things to look at things, and things to take better care of things, and things to make our things even more ‘thingy’ – we are a little thing obsessed, aren’t we? Because we believe the lie that things will make us happy – things will make our dreams come true.
While things can certainly assist in helping us sharpen our dreams, it does not create our dreams, and it does not guarantee those dreams become a reality. But things are still important, so how do we not get lost?
It’s so easy to think, ‘If I just had that, then I would be happy’. It’s a constant highway of traffic in my own head at times, and can be really difficult to silence, conduct and filter. If I just lost 10kg’s. If I just published a book. If I just bought those shoes. If I just made friends with her. If I just went to that place. If I just pass this exam. If I just catch that fish. If I could just find the perfect pair of skinny jeans or roast the perfect chicken. (Seriously – how hard could it be?! Full on Martha Stewart mental block here!)
All these things, while not terrible pursuits on their own, do not hold the key to happiness because happiness is not something that can be bargained for, earned or bought. It is not something that happens from the outside in, but is rather something that is learnt from the inside out, from your place of authenticity.
In order to live a happy, rainbow-up-the-&$*% life, you kinda have to know how to make the rain work for you. Once you have the disposition to be happy in place, it is very difficult for the hard times to get you down.
I read a lovely analogy somewhere: Heat will melt chocolate, but harden egg – it’s not your outside circumstances that count, it’s what you are made of.
Being authentic is simply being who we are, but finding out who we are and what we are made of is no easy task.
to be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting. – e e cummings
The world is constantly telling us who we should be. We must be thin, fit, successful, rich, well traveled, popular, well liked, ridiculously good looking etc. Similarly to having all the things, while an aspiration to be fit, make a better living or get to see the Pyramids before we die is not a bad thing in itself, we have to stop and ask ourselves why we want it in the first place? If we only want it because we are regurgitating the societal pressures we have been conditioned with, then it’s time to take a time out and re-evaluate. We need not rebel and rage in the opposite direction (because quite frankly that is childish and helps no one) but it’s time we became more mindful of our motivations and pursuits. And more specifically, whom we are trying to please.
As children, we are taught to be a certain way by our parents. We get told what is right, what is wrong and how things should be. It’s not a perfect system, but a vitally important one (or we would have a Lord Of The Flies situation on our hands every time someone procreates). Babies are given to parents for a reason – to be raised by them.
However, some of us get so used to being told what to do, how to behave and even how to think as children that we never fully let go of that as adults. The reverse of that are those who were so sick of being told what to do that they push in the opposite direction without a second thought as to if they are really anti-classical music, or if it just reminds them of a time they felt trapped and wanted to blast as much death metal as possible to drown out the sounds of parental control. If you are still rebelling late into your 20’s and 30’s, it’s time to stop and think why, and possibly direct your energies elsewhere.
I was listening to an audio tape my parents made of my family when we were all children, and it struck me how much we parroted their beliefs for the sake of their approval. We were having something we called ‘Family Prayers’ – an event that took place every night where my mother would read from the bible, my folks would pray and then each one of us kids would get a turn to pray out loud for the whole family to hear. It was like listening to a broken record. Mom and Dad had said something specific in their prayer, and so the eldest started off by repeating that in her prayer. It then filtered down, sometimes word for word, other times in our own jumbled broken child-like speech, but the same thought was prayed by 5 children, all in a row. (my baby sister had not been born yet)
I realized the power of parents in that moment, listening to that tape. So much of my childhood was a parrot fashion living out of what they wanted me to be.
While many of their teachings stuck with me (and I believe them to have been the very best parents on this earth for me) I had to eventually contradict them in order to be true to myself. It is not easy contradicting someone you have utmost respect for, and it is never easy contradicting something we have been conditioned into believing, but when it comes to authenticity, it is absolutely necessary.
Just like being raised conditions us, being alive and interactive in the modern world is a constant conditioning that we need to be aware of. Advertising bombards us with images of what we should look like, feel like, dress like and act like. It’s the job of ‘good’ marketers to get us to believe that using their product will make us better, more worthy human beings, and so they have to convince us that the picture they are selling is the most attractive one there is. No one is immune to this constant brainwashing – NO ONE.
If being authentic means being the you you are, not the you you think you are meant to be, then we each have quite a task ahead of us every day of our lives. We have to practice being authentic on a daily basis, and in any given situation in life we get to choose. From getting dressed in the morning to hosting the dinner parties you feel you need to do to impress all those mean mommies you hate.
Choosing to live authentically is doing things that are good for you, and not doing things that are not good for you. It is knowing the difference between the two, so that you can stop wasting time pursuing the things that don’t benefit the authentic you and start investing in the things that do. It’s stopping rebelling against distant conditions and starting to focus on your life right here and now.
When lacing up your Reeboks, ask yourself, why am I doing this? Then choose the life you want, and live it on purpose.
When skipping meals and starving your body, ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ Then choose the life you want, and live it on purpose.
When instagraming, ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ Then choose the life you want, and live it on purpose.
When hosting an event for people you don’t like who only ever reward you with ungratefulness and a strong desire to drink heavily, ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ Then choose the life you want, and live it on purpose.
When signing up to study part time so you can further your career prospects, ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ Then choose the life you want, and live it on purpose.
No one is perfect, but in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss,
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.
Till next week (the final part of the Rainbow series) just be You.
More in the Rainbow Series: