Many of you may remember my first article on authenticity from September 2008. I wrote that particular article because I had grown frustrated with how easily people were bantering the ‘authenticity’ word around, and my sincere concern that this potent and powerful concept was being diluted by overuse and misuse. Let’s face it; we live in a world of Botox, hair color, self-enhancing drugs, steroids, and all sorts of ways to augment our appearance and performance in the world. Many of my clients have lost who they really are ….all in the name of who they think they should be, as defined by someone or something else.
This reality is a tsunami in our culture.
From my experiences, the most disengaged, unhappy, empty, and dissatisfied individuals are those that truly don’t know who they are, and are metaphorically trying to wear clothes that simply don’t fit or are not their style. Subsequently, if they do have a desire to reveal their ‘true selves’ they are paralyzed by fear of what they may mean to their lives to date and changes they may need to make. It seems almost easier to leave well enough alone! This conundrum can be true for CEO’s, business executives, ministers, physicians, teachers … the reality does not pardon any individual caught in the web of masks and images.
Carl Jung believes the first step to becoming fully individuated (his descriptive word for owning your true self) in his book, The Undiscovered Self, is to embrace the whole you, including your shadow, the things that are the ‘dark side’ of you. That means we have to look at the things that don’t always fit nicely into the image we have created for ourselves. We accept our contradictions, our faults, and our failures. When this is accomplished, it is a liberating experience on many levels. It is as if we are giving ourselves permission to just ‘be’ who we are. Wow isn’t that cool? When we reframe our perceived failures or wrong turns into learning experiences and part of overall journey as determined by our choices; we then embrace all things as part of the overall experience. This can be the first step toward really becoming comfortable in our own skin.
Many of my business clients have asked me for suggestions on how to start moving toward greater alignment and authenticity of ‘who they really are’ and how to integrate this into their lives and careers. There is no magic pill. However, there are baby steps we can take to help gain clarity on who we are and what we really want. A few to consider:
- Observe when we are really ‘in the zone.’ You know what I mean: when we are fulfilled, happy, and energized. When our heart is singing. We are in the zone and ‘in the flow.’ Pay attention to these moments. They are whispers revealing the ‘real me.’
- Be alone. There is nothing like quiet time and solitude to shut out the noise of our day to day lives. Often, when we are searching for ‘something to fill a void,’ we surround ourselves with people, things, and activities. We over schedule and over program our lives. This ‘busyness’ clutters the air waves. Stop. Be at home. Feed the birds. Read a novel. Watch a movie. Be with YOU … just like with others, the more time we spend with ourselves, the better we will get to know ourselves.
- Stay connected. This may appear contradictory to being alone; yet, it is not. We are all connected. We are all part of the same energy of this world. To really define ourselves and get to know ourselves, we do this in relation to others. As the cliché says: “if you really want to know yourself and all your idiosyncrasies – be in a relationship!” How true this is. So, yes, we need both solitude and community to truly enlarge and embrace our sense of self.
- Trust your gut and have courage to follow it. Choices are the right and left turns on our lives’ highway. If we truly listen to our ‘gut’ and our intuition they seldom lead us astray. Our challenge is to have the courage to listen to our gut. We often rationalize, justify, and ‘sell’ ourselves on what we think we need to do. Sure, there is a balance – this is called judgment. However, I will offer that in my life every single time I have not listened to my inner voice – my intuition – the decision has been far less than optimal for supporting my true and authentic self.
- Finally, be willing to play hard and possibly fall hard. Whether this is engaging in a yoga class, a lacrosse match or taking a monthly art class, we need to ‘do stuff’ we really love. This is our essence. We need to go for it with all the gusto we can muster. If we stumble or fall – that’s ok. We are living life without fear of failure. Whew, what a concept. If only we could truly embrace the cliché: ‘what would you do if you knew you could not fail’ in every moment of every day.
Many spiritual traditions invite this practice of ‘self study’ and becoming ‘self aware.’ As many of you know, I am a huge believer of this practice. Equally, we need to grasp all the possibility within ourselves, and then act in a disciplined, concentrated and focused way. Whether we are leaders in our organizations, mothers and fathers raising our children, or simply making our way in the world, as Hawthorne offers: “No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.”
Once we find ‘the true, one face,’ we reveal and embrace our fullest potential with simply ‘the real me.’ Therein lies the power of the authentic self.