Whilst this visual has been mounted upon my wall for some time now, there I was one Sunday morning, having just woken up, groggy and pondering life, when I found my gaze landing on this simple yet powerful statement.
As I continued to stare at it, PING- that’s when it hit me.
Until recently, the meaning I had always assigned to this was: in order to create a bold and colourful life, you need to be willing to take risks.
But then I realised. At the very root of this life philosophy is something much deeper, and much more profound. Something that underlies the foundation of humanity, and the very core of who we are as humans. Authenticity.
What it means to be authentic
The thing about authenticity, is that sometimes we have to risk the unusual to live in accordance with the truth of what is important to us. And that’s not always easy. Because, living an authentic life, is about stepping outside of the arbitrary man-made structures of society. It’s about risking the ‘unusual.’ It’s about risking being ‘different.’
When you think about it, nothing amazing ever came from conforming to the norm. Amazing comes from recognising your values and stepping into those – independent of others’ world views and judgements.
Living life in THIS way, is what makes you shine as a human. And just as importantly, living life in THIS way, leads the way for others to do the same.
What actually tends to happen, is we spend more of our time putting our trust into those external structures imposed by society. It’s as if, by ‘ticking the boxes’ laid out by other human beings, we can rest safe in the knowledge that we are ‘good, decent human beings.’ Essentially, we use these structures to tell us that if we conform we are ‘good’ people.
But what if that’s not true?
What if, rather than looking outside for guidance and validation, doing the right thing was based on looking inside? Standing up for what you believe in, rather than bowing down to the labels and structures imposed by society?
Take relationships for example; working, romantic, peer, family – any kind of relationship. You can’t tick the boxes of being a good partner, just by performing the actions that someone else (partner, society or otherwise), expects you to make. Being a good partner, is about being authentic to your values and needs whilst respecting theirs.
It’s about having the courage to show up in a way that says ‘Here I am; this is me, and I trust you to accept me, for who I am, and what I do, in the same way that I accept you.” Ultimately, it’s about being bold enough to share your values, and what is important to you, without any fear of judgement or repercussion. Knowing that whatever happens, you are living in alignment with your truth.
And when you think about it, isn’t that just what you would want for your nearest and dearest? In being authentically you, no matter how ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ that may be, you are living in a way that is congruent with what you would want for, and from, others. And in living that true and authentic life, you inspire others to do the same.
When new values and beliefs lead to new identities
So what happens then, if what is important to you, and what you believe in, doesn’t fit with who you feel you can be? What do you do then?
The question is, what are you resisting? When something new comes along, it’s almost always going to involve a paradigm shift. I’m afraid, or perhaps happy, to say there is no going back. And that’s the beauty of humanity, right? It’s a constant process of discovery, growth and evolution.
“We must be committed to holding onto nothing but the truth… Because once we feel, know, and dare to imagine more for ourselves, we cannot unfeel, unknow or un-imagine. There is no going back. We are launched into the abyss – the space between the not-true-enough life we’re living and the truer one that exists only inside us.”
When things happen in our lives that bring about a paradigm shift in this way, it often means reshaping how we see ourselves. It means redefining our identity. Unfortunately, relying on the external structures of society, or life as we know it, is not going to help us in these times.
‘Good enough’ or ‘true enough’?
Nevertheless, we try and do just that. We have an idea in our mind, of what other people’s versions of ‘good’ and ‘right’ are, and we try to shape and fit ourselves into this seemingly small and confined mould.
“…we say, ‘It’s safer to just stay here. Even if it’s not true enough, maybe it’s good enough.’ But good enough is what makes people drink too much and snark too much and become bitter and sick and live in quiet desperation until they lie on their deathbed and wonder: What kind of life/relationship/family/world might I have created if I had been braver?”
And this is where it comes back to my opening quote. Being willing to risk the unusual. Being brave in choosing the path less travelled. When we shy away from the things that are important to us; when we live in denial of the things that make us ‘spark’, we dilute the very essence of who we are.
Surrendering to what is
The reality is, we will never know what other people’s versions of reality are. So, when you find yourself resisting what is true and authentic to you, the only answer is to surrender. Surrender and embrace…
“The building of the true and beautiful, means the destruction of the good enough… If we are truly alive, we are constantly losing who we just were, what we just built, what we just believed, what we just knew to be true…”
Of course, it’s not always easy. And it can take time. Sometimes, we don’t realise what is important until it’s suddenly right in front of our very eyes. But that’s where being willing to risk the unusual, and take courage comes in.
A lightbulb moment
For me, stepping into my authentic self has meant a lot of things, both personally and professionally. In my career, it has meant redefining the way I see myself, in the context of what is important to me, and the way I project this to the world. It has meant not being afraid to stand up for what I believe in, regardless of whether others ‘get it’ or feel the same.
For a long time, I resisted talking about illness in the workplace and I could feel the resistance of talking about chronic health- both physical and mental – full stop. It’s not cheery, and people don’t want to know. That’s what I told myself.
But after one life-changing conversation, and a huge lightbulb moment, I realised that nothing amazing ever came from conforming to what others want to hear. The truly amazing things in this life, come from making that decision to be bold and speak your truth. To shout about what matters to you, and to act in accordance with that.
Scrapping the shoulds
On a personal level, being authentic means not being afraid to show up as who you are, and with what or who you hold dear. Embracing all of your own quirks and idiosyncrasies, embracing the life choices you make, and being strong in your convictions. Trusting yourself enough to know that you can be led by your own inner knowing – rather than the shoulds, and oughts of society.
As a human living within a wider society, we are conditioned to believe adhering to a specific set of principles and standards is what makes us a ‘good’ person. And if we don’t fit into those ‘moulds’ then we must cover those parts of ourselves up and pretend to be someone we are not.
In her own journey, Glennon Doyle, (quoted throughout), gives a classic example of how the ‘memos’ and structures of society aren’t always ‘right’:
“I burned the memo insisting that the way a family avoids brokenness is to keep its structure by any means necessary… I decided that a family’s wholeness or brokenness has little to do with its structure. A broken family is a family in which any member must break herself into pieces to fit in. A whole family is one in which each member can bring her full self to the table knowing she will always be held and free.”
Internal values beat external structures
The truth is, that so many of us live our lives in a way that is defined by these external structures – rather than the internal values and bonds that bring us together. Whether it’s friendship, romantic relationships, family ties or anything else for that matter, we spend our lives trying to fit the mould of what society has imposed on us, rather than asking ourselves what is true and dear. Rather than recognising that the value, the love, and the authenticity comes from with-in, not with-out.
To truly be in alignment with yourself, is to truly epitomise authenticity, integrity and self-respect. And when others see that, it shines through in a way that cannot be matched by any other way of being.
In fact, when you truly step into a life of authenticity, and you choose to surround yourself with the things that matter to you, the world becomes a much warmer, more welcoming place. People engage with you in a way that they didn’t before; because there is only truth, sincerity and genuity.
And no, it’s not always easy. Sometimes, you have to be prepared to stand up for what you believe in when others don’t. Sometimes, you have to risk the unusual, and move forward with strength in your convictions- convictions that only you seem to hold.
But when all is said and done, there is nothing to regret. Because you have lived in a way that was true. And what can be so wrong about that?
Putting it into practice
Think about what is going on in your life right now. Consider it. Where do you feel comfortable? Where do you not? Are there any areas where you feel like you are not being true to what you want from your life or the values you hold? Notice this.
Now ask yourself, (courtesy of Glennon Doyle) what is the truest, most beautiful version of this story that I could imagine?
[NOTE: ‘Imagine’ is the key word here. You need to get out of your rational, thinking brain to really open up, the opportunity for change. No great change ever came from sitting within the realms of sensibility.]
When you have the truest most beautiful story, write it all down. Every, beautiful detail.
Now it’s time to really get serious. What is the first small step you could take to make this a reality? When you’ve done that, what would be the next small step?
Keep connecting with this vision, this dream in the making, every morning when you wake up and every evening before you go to bed… and stay strong in your convictions. There is only one person in this life that you can really trust, and that person… is you.
I shall leave you with this final, beautiful excerpt from Glennon Doyle’s book ‘Untamed’:
“I am a human being meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself.”
Credits: All quotes in this piece are taken from Glennon Doyle’s book ‘Untamed: stop pleasing, start living.”