A current hot catch-phrase in my industry is “are you living an authentic life?” I hear and read that slogan frequently and I always scream in my head what the hell does that mean? Are people running around living false lives? Well in a way, yes. The issue for me is that I think “truth” is a better and more easily applied word than “authentic.”
One of Webster’s dictionary definitions of the word authentic is “representing one’s true nature or beliefs…” While that definition is easy to understand, it can be a hard put into practice. How does one represent their “true nature or beliefs?”
Clearly I do understand the essence of this phrase – that many people choose to not follow their dreams or listen to their instincts, and end up living out circumstances that they never intended or wanted. But my issue is that to live authentically one must first really know and understand who they are and what they want. While some of us enter adulthood already having figured out who we are and what we want (and then spend the rest of our 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s refining that), there is a huge quantity of adults walking around who simply do not know the answers to those questions.
That’s not a criticism mind you, it is a reality that not all personalities are able, or in some cases even willing, to set in stone the life they want to live. There is nothing wrong with going with the wind and currents and just enjoying where life takes you and how it shapes you, if that’s is who you are. So who then, is really living the “authentic” life? Is it people like me who have things all mapped out and goals firmly being adhered to, or is it those who fly by the seat of their pants? I think what it comes down to is if you are happy with the life you’re living. After all, either approach can leave a person feeling unsatisfied and/or lost.
To me, what’s truly important is honesty. Are you honest with yourself and those around you – honest about who you are and what you want? Honesty can be much more easily applied to one’s life than authenticity, don’t you think? Perhaps then, the better way to state the catch-phrase would be “are you living an honest life?“
To that end, I leave you with the true essence behind this posting: if you are not living an honest life, if you are not being honest with yourself, remember that life (or time) seems to zip by very quickly (you know the other old catch-phrase life is short). Now I know how hard it is for many of you to be honest. Honesty is sometimes scary for while it’s freeing for the deliverer, it can be painful for the recipient. But honesty, as we teach our children, is always better than the burden of lying (or in this case, living a lie).
So dig deep, don’t let fear stop you, and start being honest. Remember to take baby steps, and be patient, it will get easier, and that honesty must always be delivered compassionately (that includes to yourself). Honesty is the most powerful tool to altering your life’s course. Take heart in those that live an honest life for they demonstrate that when we live an honest life, we are at the very least, happier and able to breath just a little bit better.
Almost everyone I talk to in my capacity as a life coach and friend has said to me at some point “I just don’t like confrontation.” If you read my March 2013 article Confrontation or Communication (and if you haven’t you might want to) then you know that the word confrontation has a bad rap. More to the point, 90% of the time when you think something is, or will be, confrontational, what’s really at stake is that you need to tell someone something you know they don’t want to hear and therefore assume they will become defensive, which makes you offensive – or the bad guy.
But I’m here to tell you that while truth is hard, truth is always better and more beneficial than passive aggressive attempts to soften a blow, or worse yet, sheer avoidance. So take stock of your life and relationships, and see if there’s something you need to say to someone that you’re just not saying.
Are you afraid you’ll feel guilty – that’s usually what holds people back from sharing a important truth? Let me remind you that guilt is an emotional trigger designed to let your heart know when you’ve been ethically or morally wrong to another (or yourself). Telling the truth about your feelings, especially if done with tact and respect is never ethically or morally wrong. As for tact and respect, that does not mean candy-coating or making the ‘lead’ be so buried under tangential fluff that the recipient never really understands your feelings. How you keep tactful and respectful is by staying succinct, on point, and keeping it about facts and YOUR feelings.
Say for example your friends or family want to come visit for a week-long vacation. You haven’t enough room to house them all comfortably, and you have too much on your plate with work, kids, after-school activities, budgetary concerns, etc., so it would be highly inconvenient for them to stay in your home for an entire week, especially when you are not on vacation too.
You’re reluctant to tell them the truth and hurt their feelings, disappoint them, or screw up their plans, especially since it would feel like the dreaded “confrontation” because they’ve made it clear that this is happening regardless of your feelings. That is of course, because you haven’t been upfront with your feelings!
So you say something like: of course you’re welcome, but I can’t take any time off to be with you and we don’t really have enough beds for all of you. They say not to worry, they don’t mind sleeping on the sofa or floor and will be gone most of each day sightseeing . But you know that you’ll feel the stress of wanting to keep your house clean, keep your kids on their routines and schedules, and just have your own space after a long day of work.
Then you try the more direct approach, though still veiled: any chance you can schedule this for the week of [blank] because they kids have no school then and I can take some vacation days or even join you at a hotel and have a staycation? Once again, they appreciate your idea or concern, but assure you that this is the best for them and they’re okay with you not being available.
Either way you been passively vague about how their visit would affect you, and neither approach took care of your needs. Now my response from the start would be I would love to see you but I have to be honest the weekdays are just not good for us to have guests. I hope that doesn’t mess up your plans, and if you need any help finding affordable hotels in the area I’d be happy to get you some recommendations.
Most people will appreciate that you didn’t martyr yourself and in many cases they would feel the same way about a disruption to their work/school week. Others may not, but again I remind you that you have not been wrong to them, you’ve been honest and right for yourself and your family. If they are disgruntled by this it’s because they wanted or needed to save money and you’ve thrown a wrench into that. But is it fair that they put a strain on your resources and family’s’ needs because they want a vacation they can’t fully afford?
I understand that with family these concepts are often unimaginable due to the idea that family means unconditional acceptance and family-imposed burdens are a fact of life. But I feel that even with family, once we’re all adults, we have the right to put our needs and feelings first if the opposite would cause a detrimental disruption to our lives. Of course, I’m not talking about emergencies / crises – that’s when we do whatever is needed to be there for each other. My family and friends know that’s my code. But when their needs are voluntary or elective, then I speak the truth. Ultimately I do believe your friends and family will respect you for it, and if not, at the very least, you’ll have a less stressful week! Think about it, and as always I love to hear your perspective.