Living an Authentic Life - the Path to Fulfilment
In a world where success is defined by money, and happiness is just a weight-loss plan away, many of us have lost sight of our most valuable asset, our true selves. By living authentically, however, we can reach our potential and experience true happiness.
When you are living authentically, you feel happy and optimistic. You are honest and open and listen to your feelings. You can think for yourself, you are open to change, you can take responsibility, ask for help, and make healthy choices. More importantly, you want to do your best.
In her book Create A Life That Tickles Your Soul (Tower Hill Press, 1999), Suzanne Zoglio PhD explains, "When you fashion a life where the decisions you make and the actions you take are considered, deliberate, and in harmony with what's important to you, you are living an authentic life."
You will know that you are not living authentically when you feel tired, anxious, confused, depressed, helpless, or angry. If you are not being your true self, you are living to please or impress others, second-guessing your decisions, or hiding your feelings. You feel trapped. You don't expect much for yourself or you feel like a victim. Perhaps you've learned to bury these feelings with addictive behaviours, such as compulsive shopping, eating or drinking.
When you are not living authentically, your mind and your body have to work harder and the result often reveals itself physically as well as mentally. You not only feel depressed or anxious, but your immune system is stressed. You may suffer from colds and flu or seemingly strange ailments such as aches, pains or rashes. Your body is trying to let you know that something is wrong.
If you know you are not using your gifts and talents or pursuing your dreams, you will not feel passion for what you are doing, no matter how hard you work or how much others appreciate your efforts. Working hard, being there for others and agreeing to various commitments are often praised in society, but they can deplete your energy and your sense of self. Giving to others is a good thing, but there needs to be a balance.
The good news is that these negative and distressing feelings are trying to tell you something. They are the red flares in the middle of the night, alerting you that your soul needs rescuing. The only right course is the one that makes you feel at peace.
Live your Truth
Being authentic means being yourself every day, and some days, that isn't easy. Going to cocktail parties, job interviews, first dates, and meetings, says counsellor and life coach Carol Adrienne, PhD, can make almost anyone's authenticity feel wobbly. Being ourselves when we are with others, especially strangers, is challenging. The stress of those situations can cause us to regress into old patterns of feeling anxious and trying to fit in.
While it may seem easier to stay in your comfort zone, finding the courage to be who you really are in all areas of your life will help you realize your true potential and, consequently, find the fulfilment and peace that society often tells us comes from money or fame. To get to your true self, you may have to examine dreams you have forgotten, fears that are holding you back, or beliefs that are not your own. Perhaps all your friends are having children and buying houses, but you've secretly dreamed of travelling the world or owning a horse farm. It's easy to get swept along with the current of what is considered 'normal'. But your soul wants you to dance to your own tune.
The first step is to become clear about what is really important to you - what you love, what supports your purpose and what fosters your growth. Once you begin to live your life outwardly in alignment with what you believe inwardly, those feelings of anxiety, frustration and depression will begin to melt away. It's not being busy that makes you tired, but the effort required to keep up appearances.
Being who you really are, a painter, a plumber, or a parent, in a way that expresses your own values and truths, gives you energy. Your authentic voice is that quiet, persistent messenger who speaks to your intuition, telling you what is right for you and what you really need. The insight from following your own path and the freedom to express what you've learned by being authentic doesn't require a struggle. It only requires being yourself. Sometimes the easiest way to begin is to think about what you don't want, what doesn't feel right for you.
When you are living an authentic life, you know what is important to you and you can make choices and decisions based on your own truth. Everything becomes clear when you know yourself and your values. As author Gerald Corey (2009) states "...we strive toward a meaningful life by recognizing our freedom and by making a commitment to choose in the face of uncertainty" (p. 91).
Think about what is important to you and what you like to spend your time doing. What are you passionate about? What did you enjoy doing as a child, before people came along and told you it was silly or a waste of time? Children often move towards their passions and interests naturally. They live authentically, without fear or embarrassment to be themselves. Perhaps you always liked making clothes for your dolls or baking cakes or caring for animals. Connect with the child in you again. If you write down what you would like to do and what you actually do every day, you may be surprised that you spend the majority of your weekend cooking or cleaning when you really want to be cycling or drawing or learning to crochet.
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." (The Gospel of St. Thomas Logian).
It's important to make time for things you want to do. You are not being selfish. Being at the centre of your life is not the same as being self-centred. It's not about finding a new career, although passions can lead that way. It's about feeding your soul with things that resonate with you. Spending time doing things that make you happy will feed your soul and that will make you feel calmer, freer and happier. Even taking time to visit a garden where you can simply enjoy the plants and flowers can let you feel a connection to your true self and the wider world that will instil a sense of peace that you carry with you. When you do things for you, you are loving yourself and bringing more love into the world, including bringing a loving approach to those around you.
Dr Adrienne explains that "a good sign that you are feeling authentic is when you feel expanded and relaxed. Feeling hemmed in or contracted is a sign that you are shutting down and not being as present as you could be".
Many people are hindered on this path to fulfilment by guilt. We are often harder on ourselves than anyone else. It can be hard to say no, especially to loved ones, when we have spent our lives saying yes. But taking care of yourself and setting boundaries is healthy. Your needs are as important as anyone else's. Guilt will only limit you and keep you feeling trapped.
The Gift Within
While there may be some twists and turns along the way, living authentically means that you are able to live by your own personal truth. When you live by who you really are, you find not only freedom and well-being, but the joy of giving your talents to the world. The passions, hobbies and interests you had as a child become the gateways to your soul, your true self.
Finding the truth about who you really are and what is important to you takes honesty, awareness and some time. But the path to real happiness is not paved with fame and material wealth. It exists every day, in the big decisions and small choices you make, in the pursuit of your authentic self.
An authentic life can emerge one small step at a time. Dr Adrienne offers these simple steps that can help you live with more awareness:
- Meditate. Practise clearing your mind regularly;
- Specify the fear. Write down exactly what you are afraid of;
- Identify the voice. Is it yours or your mother's or the TV's?
- Eliminate procrastination. Achieving one small goal will help erase self-doubt;
- Appreciate your uniqueness. Find your special talent or skill;
- Surrender. Know when to let go;
- Slow down. Enjoy each moment and savour small pleasures;
- Stand up. Express your passion through action;
- Simplify. Learn to say no and clear clutter from your life;
- Embrace nature. The natural world relaxes us and puts things into perspective.
Carol Adrienne PhD. Authenticity www.soulfulliving.com
Iris Krasnow Surrendering to Yourself: You Are Your Own Soul Mate. Mirimax. 2003.
Suzanne Zoglio PhD. Create A Life That Tickles Your Soul: Finding Peace, Passion and Purpose. Tower Hill Press. 1999.
Corey G. Theories and Techniques of Counselling and Psychotherapy. (7th ed.). Brooks/Cole-Thomson Learning. 2005.
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