Living authentically seems to be a buzzword in so many circles – especially in the coaching world I live in! How do you live an authentic life?
To be authentic is to live with compassion and integrity.
Integrity means more than honesty; it’s about wholeness and internal consistency.
You live in integrity when your actions and choices reflect your values, priorities and desires.
You live authentically when you compassionately listen to all aspects of yourself without ignoring any part of you.
Do your relationships reflect what is truly important to you or only what you think others will find acceptable and pleasing?
Are you living a life in which you feel whole and complete?
Or do you feel that you ignore your feelings or turn your back on essential parts of yourself?
There is an aspect of honesty, being true to yourself, and living with wholeness (embracing all of you, not just the parts others want to see).
Be authentic rather than self-destructive.
When we think of self-destructive behaviour, most of us think of addictions or self-harming. It can be exhausting to live inauthentically, constantly pretending that you are okay. It’s a slow road to self-destruction.
But self-destruction can be much more insidious. It’s chipping away slowly at our self-confidence and dreams. The little voice and inner critic say, “Others might be able to, but you can’t”. These little acts of self-destruction seem so well-intentioned.
It won’t be easy to live in alignment with your true nature unless you know yourself.
An authentic life is aligned and compassionate.
Authentic people live from an inner self-awareness: you thrive when you live in alignment.
Until you understand yourself: your feelings, your needs and desires, your values, and how you interact with the world around you, any talk of living authentically will be empty. How will you measure your authenticity if you don’t have a standard of what it means to you?
So, I posit that an authentic life requires courage, creativity, and compassion:
- Courage to create yourself with generative evolving,
- Creativity as a conscious authoring of your life, and
- Compassion towards yourself and others as you choose what it means to live authentically.
Live authentically with compassion.
You’ll need to stock up on compassion if you want to live the best version of yourself. There are two sides to this coin:
- compassion for yourself; and
- compassion for others.
Neither one can be overlooked! You will feel incomplete if you live out of balance, either living exclusively for yourself or simply living to please and serve others.
Compassion allows you to differentiate being nice from being kind.
Compassion for yourself allows you to choose kindness for yourself and others rather than falling into the exhausting trap of people-pleasing. What’s the difference?
There are subtle differences between kindness and being nice: one has to do with pleasing others, and the other comes from a place of tenderness and being warmhearted. You can operate from both a place of pleasing others and benevolence, but problems in relationships arise when you are focused exclusively on being agreeable for people-pleasing.
What if they fail to reciprocate with the payoff you expected? Will you feel resentful?
What might be another way of relating to her that would satisfy her needs and be authentically me?
Could I find things to do that we both enjoy, rather than simply “being nice” and getting it over with?
Being nice can be exhausting! Rest when you need it and replenish your soul. Being kind will always make you feel better about yourself and life! If you’re not up to doing it from love, give yourself permission to step away and do nothing.
Refuel and refill until your inner cup of compassion is overflowing — until you aren’t struggling to fill your cup by doing things “for love” because you’re empty.
Compassion & connection in an authentic life
Does your life serve you or only others? (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way)
Imagine the state of your relationships if you lived authentically. Obviously, some relationships might be destroyed by authenticity. But ask yourself this: do you want to invest in building a relationship based on lies? What kind of relationship do you have if only part of you can show up, and the rest must be hidden away?
What benefit do you reap from inauthentic relationships?
You think “it’s easier”. Perhaps, it’s keeping the peace. But the price you pay is exhaustion from walking on eggshells.
What would compassion look like in how you connect with others? If you stopped the people-pleasing nature of your relationships, what would change if you connected to them with compassion?
And that compassion and loving-kindness are for yourself as well as for them. Anything less is unwise. You don’t need more dumb compassion in your relationships: you want authentic compassion that allows you and the relationship to grow.
You are constantly evolving and changing. So is each person around you: your spouse and family, friends, and co-workers. No one is the same person they were a year ago.
But most of us get caught in a virtue trap: living up to other people’s expectations. We try to “stay the same” so that others feel comfortable. We try to keep relationships exactly as they were, rather than constantly evolving the relationship to reflect our personal growth and changes.
This ignores the wonder of growing in a relationship.
Of course, it feels terrible to recognise that a relationship has died. But birth, life and death are regular cycles of life.
Are your relationships an authentic mirror of your growth and change? Can you be yourself, or do you walk on eggshells around some people?
An authentic life reflects your values.
When you have compassion for yourself – treating yourself with loving-kindness – your life will reflect your values and priorities. Not your parents or family’s values – yours. Values are attributes of the person you want to be. They are more than just emotional responses to the world.
Nir Eyal makes an important distinction between “things we value” versus the values that we hold.
If someone can take it away from you, then it’s not one of your values. (Nir Eyal)
So, your values might include:
There is no comprehensive and exhaustive list. It’s very much like a definition of “success”: your definition of success is as individual as you are! You will feel successful when your priorities (how you spend your time and energy) are aligned with your values (not someone else’s).
Have you taken the time to make sure that your ladder of success is leaning on the right wall for you? Is all that effort you are putting into climbing truly worthwhile?
Looking at myself with compassion
My personal experience with values is that it takes time to really get attuned to what they are. Looking back, I can see how I’ve taken time to really connect with my personal values. You might try different methods of identifying your values until you get a clear idea of your personal values.
- In late 2018, my values were simply this: I thrive when I am divine, aligned, creative, courageous & connected (Values & priorities: why identify them?)
- In January 2020, when I redid my values, it was slightly different. However, I could still see the overlap: bold (rather than courageous), committed, resilient, inspired (rather than creative), aware (instead of connected), intuitive and in flow (rather than aligned). (Secrets of the heart: revealing my values)
- In mid-2021, I had another look at my values and settled upon mastery, freedom, wisdom, laughter, empowerment, and tenacity. When 2022 started, I felt no need to revisit this, as these values clearly reflect what is important to me.
What’s interesting to me is that mastery & wisdom are in my descriptions in 2018 and 2020 – of what other values mean to me. Tenacity & empowerment also showed up as important in defining the values that I identified. You might say that tenacity is another way of describing resilience and commitment. Wisdom is what you get from awareness, intuition and inspiration.
Freedom is ultimately what I seek to create through living in alignment with my values.
Compassionately accepting my authentic self:
The only completely new value in 2021-2022 was “laughter“.
I was ignoring the power of joy and laughter in my life. If you look at my conversations in 2018-2019 (especially many of my lives on Facebook), you will see they are filled with laughter, not just wisdom and empowerment. You’ll find many more memes than serious posts if you see my personal feed!
I felt inauthentic because I pretended that laughter only had a place “with friends”. My reality: I have always been the one sharing jokes since I was a kid. There is nothing I love more than making others laugh until they cry. It took me a long time to recognise that as being something essential to me.
Until you are compassionate, you might overlook something you hold dear because you are trying to be picture-perfect. Holding onto my sense of humour is essential to me for joy and laughter. It’s no less important than mastery or wisdom.
Priorities and what’s truly important
Once you know your values, you can define success for yourself. Your decisions about priorities, goals, and importance will feel more aligned when you recognise what is truly important.
Make time to track how you spend your time and money. Where does your energy go?
Now, measure this against your values. Are you investing your time and money in what is truly important to you? Or do you feel like it is being frittered away?
Spending your time and money on what you don’t value is a slow road of self-destruction. It feels so inauthentic and exhausting. If you do this “for love” and don’t receive the love you expect in return, you will find yourself resentful and frustrated.
So, the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself and others is to get clarity about your priorities and what is truly important to you and ensure that 80% of your time is spent there. Your life will feel much more authentic this way.
Examples of being authentic
An authentic life of compassion might feel like:
- Sitting with your emotions rather than exploding and reacting. Just the act of recognising that most emotions last only 90 seconds and that it’s okay to allow them to pass through you can be liberating. You don’t need to explain this to anyone. Just make space for yourself to feel for two minutes. Then release and move on.
- Saying no to an invitation because you’re tired and what your body most needs is to rest rather than to stay busy and on the treadmill of life.
- Calling a friend to catch up for coffee so that you can engage with how they are now, not who you knew them to be.
- Staying present in your body when interacting with family members. Notice who they are with you and who you are when you are with them. Is there any part of you that feels uncomfortable? Do you notice when you shy away from a topic or feel that you cannot speak your mind?
- Organise your schedule to get a couple of hours of a week just for yourself so that your batteries get recharged and refilled.
- Spending more time with your children because that aligns with your values.
I can’t tell you what your authentic life will look like. I have no idea what the perfect mix of pieces will be, where you feel that you are whole and complete.
But I can tell you about the benefits!
- You’ll be healthier: emotionally, mentally and physically. Our bodies are constantly reflecting us – in health – any state of dis-ease. So, when something is off in our world, our bodies take the hit in the long term.
- You will have greater self-control, as you are aware of your emotional states and facing your emotions and reactions at the moment.
- Your relationships will be healthier. People will push back against change: they will argue and fight for the status quo and how things were. Initially, there will be discomfort, especially if there are many areas of partial honesty and walking on eggshells. You’ll have to do physio to get through the challenges like any healing journey. But it will be worth it when your relationships reflect who you are.
- It will be easier to take action as you can tap into courage and motivation. You will know what truly motivates you and notice when you procrastinate because something feels off.
- You will feel more confident as you get used to honouring yourself and your promises. Your word will become your bond: to yourself and others. You will feel more trustworthy, allowing you to trust others more.
- You’ll feel more in tune with your intuition because you will be more self-aware.
- It will be easier to overcome bad habits and compulsions because you’ll understand the secondary benefits and gains you are getting from them and find new ways to work with yourself compassionately.
- You won’t feel indecisive when it comes to decision-making because you have a clear idea already of what’s important to you. And because you can trust yourself and your intuition, you will feel ready to make the tough decisions.
Loving your authentic life
Thriving is an inside job: it comes from being compassionate, creative and courageous – living from the inside out. Your authentic life will be satisfying: you’ll feel that all the most important elements are complete, rather than any piece being missing.
And that’s a life that you can love!