Updated: Dec 4, 2018
I got an email the other day from a friend who said I'd inspired her to start creating her own happiness in mind, body and spirit, starting with taking herself out on a few hikes now that the weather was warming up. We used to go for walks when I lived closer to her - the walk being more of an incidental activity that carried a good girly chat session. She's one of the few people who saw a very unwell version of me, albeit heavily concealed and in denial, and subsequently, a much brighter version of me - the one I am now.
It was a short simple mail but it made me think about how we are able to inspire people just by being ourselves.
Authenticity is one of the casualties of the digitally and socially connected world (spelling and focussed concentration are others that come to mind...) which makes it really hard to be who we really are. We've become so caught up in being an instagram projection of ourselves that we think our real selves are eclipsed by pictures of us on a small screen. When our lives are constantly on display we get into the habit of showcasing the version of ourselves that will be judged favourably. Think about that for a minute - whenever we post something, we are inviting people to judge us.
Social media is not the culprit here - there are plenty of examples of how it's used as a channel to tell a completely authentic story - but its ubiquity has served as an amplifier to a venerable human riddle that we still can't seem to (re)solve and that is:
Why can't we just be ourselves?
Like the quote above states, authenticity is the choice to let our true selves be seen. And because it's a choice it means we are 100% in control of whether we practice it or not. We all have the choice to be who we are and feel how we feel but it takes courage and a big whack of vulnerability. Yes, vulnerability - the scariest mofo in business, friendships and relationships. I know, because I was of the ilk that vulnerability is for pussies. I wasn't going to be one of those pathetic fools. I feared vulnerability like I fear those big furry spiders with eight eyes. I was fully armoured and it worked in my favour for a long time because people used to say they were terrified of me and that made me feel awesome.
Pretty fucked up, right?
A lot of people live their whole lives in this state. They are afraid of being judged, laughed at, rejected, criticised, exposed, un-friended etc so they armour up in the form of hostility, blame, self-deception, suppression, dishonesty and deflection. But that state is not sustainable. It's exhausting and - if you really want me to scare the shit out of you - it eventually becomes blatantly obvious to other people around you.
The opportunity to be our authentic selves does not have to be as affecting as someone's first share at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It can show up in a very ordinary daily event. It happened to me the other day by surprise. I was so desperately sad about something that had happened earlier that week so I cried a bit and then put on my brave face and went about doing what I do ..... until I had what The Church (the band not the establishment) would call "An Unguarded Moment." I was at the gym with my trainer and about five minutes into my session I started crying. I just sat there in silence, crying. Yes, it was hugely embarrassing and I had a million self annihilating thoughts in a nano second about how awkward the moment was but I chose to own it without any excuses to externalise what was happening. I was really fucking sad. And then I cried. And someone saw it. That's it.
My trainer is a good guy so he adapted the session and I felt a lot better afterwards. But even if he had been a total douche who went and had a bit of a laugh with his mates about it afterwards, that just makes a dick of him, not me. The act of owning your actions and not being ashamed of them takes a sledgehammer to any unkind commentary that results.
That is the absolute gold nugget of choosing an authentic life: the truth makes you bulletproof.
There is no shame in speaking the truth. If someone made you happy, tell them. If someone did something for which you are grateful, thank them. If you love someone, say you love them. It's only when you attach conditions to those statements that you become unstuck because those statements, while they may be true, do not originate from a place of authenticity, they originate from a place of expectation and attachment to a desired outcome. If those statements are true and free of expectation then they can't be used against you. They are simply statements that mark how you feel at a point in time.
Being authentic triggers other people to be authentic. Showing vulnerability will often inspire others to let their guard down. Don't get preoccupied with pretending to be a different version of who you are, a version that has all the answers and an enviable life. You know what the most enviable life is? The one that is genuinely happy and not dependent on anyone or anything else to provide that happiness.
Living an authentic life and inspiring people through your authenticity is one of the most amazing superpowers you can cultivate. And the only weapon you need is the one you have had all along; your self.
Stay well, sleep well.