Many people say that they want to be authentic, that they want to express into the world who they really are rather than having to pretend to be someone they are not. They do not want to pretend to be who other people expect them to be. They no longer want to identify with the various roles they play.
However, the reality is that very few people actually embark on their Quest for Authenticity. It can be an unsettling and scary journey into an undiscovered land. After all, the person you are expressing into the world has been carefully crafted for years, and it is the only You that you know!
Most often this desire is the result of the emergence of an uncomfortable awareness that whatever you are doing just is not working any more. Something may feel seriously missing in your life: meaning, perhaps, or a deep sense that something is off-track.
The Fear of Disappearing
The first step is acknowledging that whoever you believe you are or are pretending to be, is not really you — not the essence of who you are. One of the strongest barriers to the Quest for Authenticity is the fear that, if you let go of the roles you play, you just might find that in the end, there is nothing left.
Who are you when you drop the pretense and unravel the roles? What if there is no one home?
A woman recently came into my office and expressed just this situation. She realized that most, if not all, of the relationships she had were based on what her friends wanted her to be. She had identified strongly with the expectations they and her parents held for all of her life, but she really didn’t feel that living to these expectations was genuine. In essence, nothing about her life really resonated any more and she was exhausted.
She said that after years of counseling and trying to figure it all out, she felt that nothing had really helped, that her whole life had fallen apart. She said that it was like when she looked at where she was and what she wanted, there was nothing there. It was a blank piece of paper.
My response: “YAY! Good for you!”
After all of what seemed to her as “fruitless work,” she was exactly where she needed to be. All she required then was a new way of envisioning and creating her future the way she wanted it to be, rather than how others thought she should.
It is natural that people become attached to things and people. Relationships are important. The sense of belonging is important. However, as you journey on this quest, you will find that some of these relationships no longer apply to who you are becoming. You will have to give some of them up, even if you do not want to.
On the Quest for Authenticity, you must be willing to let go of everything. Not that you will have to, but you certainly must be willing to. Whatever you find yourself holding tightly to keeps you stuck.
You cannot proscribe any part of your life that might be affected. Change may — and very likely will — come in places that you do not expect. While you might be ready to look for a different job than the one you already know does not fit, you might not be ready to surrender some cherished relationships.
Everyone you know has an expectation of who you are, and as you change, that expectation, that assumption about who you are, will be challenged. You might anticipate that a “life long friend” will remain with you on your journey. However, along the way they may not be able to accept the new you, and they may drift away.
The Fear of Abandonment
During the journey to discover your deeper self, you will inevitably change: think differently, behave differently. There are no two ways about this. Change is inevitable. And because you are changing, you will no longer play along with the rules of the games others around you are playing, including family and friends.
The other great obstacle that keeps people from beginning the Quest for Authenticity is the fear that no one will like who they become, that everyone will leave, and they will be alone.
My experience strongly suggests that this catastrophic fear is baseless. What happens instead is that you will find yourself letting go of people who do not support you, who have expectations that you will be how they want you to be. They will be replaced by new people and new relationships that better resonate with and support who you really are.
Consider that, rather than being abandoned, you are really being found.
The Excitement of Authenticity
In Wolves In The Woods we examined the reality that the body cannot distinguish between fear and excitement. I have known several people who chose to pursue the quest for authenticity, and they all express how grateful they are for the experience.
Not one of them had an easy journey. As expected, significant change led to significant results that were not always pleasant. And not one of them ever quit once they fully engaged in the quest. As it turns out, once you begin — once you fully engage in the process — you find that there is no way back.
Past one certain point you realize that no matter what happens, you simply cannot settle for who you were before. You become hooked on the exciting prospect of engaging fully with Life, of finding out who you really are and what you really want.
Once the feeling of what living authentically is sets its hook into you, you cannot escape.
When that happens, you know that you can no longer settle for that hole in your core to which you had become accustomed. The feeling becomes a longing so deep that it has the power to force you right out of your rut.
Living From The Heart
Many people who feel themselves stuck and lost have been working at it for a long time, trying to “figure it all out.” What that means is that they have spent a good deal of time intellectually trying to make sense of their lives — living in their heads. That generally leads nowhere because all the intellect can do is plan according to the data at hand: the past. So it goes around and around in the same old circles and coming to the same conclusions.
What is required to live authentically is to live from the heart. You must learn to feel your way into what resonates with who you want to become, and learn to trust what you feel.
This does not mean that you abandon your intelligence. It means that you put it in its proper place. Your thinking mind — your biocomputer — is a remarkable gift. It researches, observes, plans, and executes extremely well. It just makes a terrible driver for your life.
Your heart, on the other hand, is remarkably tuned to the magic of inspiration. It is connected to a deeper aspect of who you are. It is no accident that many cultures believe that the soul is seated within the heart space.
When something real touches you, you feel it in your heart, not your head.
The Quest for Authenticity is a mythical adventure that calls to you from deep within. On this quest you are the adventurer and the storyteller. It is you that you seek, and it is you that keeps you from the treasure. You are the grail, and you are the dragon.
There is no more important thing for you to do than to find yourself. In the end, all you have to offer yourself — and the world — is your authentic self.