When you’re a child, being authentic comes naturally. You don’t know how to be any other way. But as we grow, we are shaped by our experiences and by the ideals and expectations placed upon us. As we try our best to conform and appease, we lose sight of who we truly are. Sometimes, we forget altogether.
I grew up in a home where excellent grades were the expectation. I was smart and my father studied with me every night, so I had no innate problems in meeting that expectation. But somewhere along the line, I developed the formula that being smart and accomplished was the only way to be “right” in the world. As a teenager, I rebelled against that notion, in part because it felt inauthentic to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be smart or accomplished, but rather that it was being forced on me by my father. The free spirit, anti-authoritarian in me wanted to be different from my dad and from my siblings. I wanted to find my own way.
I was a troubled student in high school, as I navigated my way through self-discovery. I resisted the expectation of me to be smart and accomplished by making stupid decisions and being assigned to regular afternoon detention. But that path wasn’t leading me any closer to happiness. I felt lost and lonely, like no one knew the real me, including myself.
As I grew into adulthood, I searched even further for me authentic self. I traveled, I wrote music and poetry, and, for awhile, I felt free. I felt connected to my inner voice. I felt free. But it wasn’t long before the pressures and expectations of life crept in again. What was I going to do with my life? I should choose a career, find a husband, settle down. All of those societal and religious standards began to shift me away from self-expression and back into a place where I felt imprisoned, suffocated. It was no longer ME making decisions for my life, but the concern about disappointing people, judgement, or looking bad. I went to college, got married and had a child. I started a business. I did all of the things that were expected of me. Only still, I wasn’t happy.
I love my child more than anything in the world. He has been my one constant, my light and my hope in all things. But even my role as a mother was dictated by guilt, fear and image. I wasn’t free to be who I really was, even with my son.
I was in the business of sales and recruiting, which you can imagine, requires one to project a constant image of desirability. I had to eat a certain way, look a certain way, act a certain way and portray a certain life at all times, in order to attract new clientele and build a team of coaches. It became such a constant compulsion that, once again, I found myself completely disconnected from the voice within. I couldn’t even remember who I was beneath the unceasing demand to maintain such an image. In the midst of growing success, wealth and freedom, I was anything but free.
Eventually I shut down. I rebelled, like I had back in high school. I left my marriage, I checked out of my business and I isolated myself from friends. I needed to take time to rediscover who I was and who I wanted to become. And I did.
I spent the majority of the past year getting present to who I truly am and who I want to be, apart from the expectations imposed on me by anyone else or by society as a whole. And in doing that, I’ve found that my life has become so much more workable, fulfilling and free. It hasn’t been an easy journey. I’ve been forced to really confront myself and discover all of the ways I’ve been living without authenticity. It’s been overwhelming and scary, at times, but what was there for me on the other side is freedom and power, and true happiness.
If you’re seeking a more fulfilling and free life, I invite you to take the following steps toward living empowered by authenticity.
- Challenge yourself to face your fears. Fear isn’t real. It’s a concept that exists only in our minds. Yet it holds us back from living the life we truly want. It keeps us from following our heart and pursuing our passions. Acknowledge that fear is an illusion and do whatever it is you’re afraid of. Let go of your reasons, excuses and validations and just do it.
- Forgive yourself. You are human. Welcome to the world’s least exclusive club where membership requires imperfection. We all fall short, make mistakes, hurt people, cause harm. We don’t mean to. We are simply survivalists who often slip into a self-obsessed existence. We all do. So whatever guilt or shame you’re carrying around, know that you’re not alone. You aren’t wrong or bad or awful in any way. You’re human. So forgive yourself, truly, and move forward freely.
- Forgive others. Playing the blame game or being the victim can feel powerful. We get to be right and make someone else wrong. The reality is, however, that holding onto to resentment against others is actually an incredibly powerless approach to life. We are essentially saying, in our victimhood, that we have no control over what happens. False. We may not have been able to control what happened, but it’s over. It doesn’t exist anymore, except in our thoughts. You’ve spent enough time allowing someone else’s actions dictate your effectiveness and happiness. Forgive, forget and be free.
- Spend time with yourself, alone. One of the most harrowing things my coach challenged me to do was to spend five minutes a day looking at myself in the mirror. Not to put on makeup or do my hair, but simply to be with myself. Initially, it was difficult. I saw flaws, imperfections in my skin, grey hairs, tired and unfamiliar eyes. But as the days went on, I began to see myself as a beautiful, powerful, unique individual. I challenge you to spend this kind of time getting to know, or create, yourself.
- Create hope. We live in a world that often feels hopeless. We are surrounded by bitterness, hatred and violence. We experience disappointment constantly. What there is to get is that hope is something that exists within us and independent of the external world. Just as we have the power to dissolve fear, we also have the power to create hope. Our minds are ours to do with what we please. Despite whatever hardships you’ve faced, and despite whatever you’re up against now, there is endless possibility for new and good things for your life. Create it. Believe in it.
For a more personalized approach to living powerfully and authentically, contact me for one on one coaching!