How to live a more authentic life (authenticity part 2)

Superman style image for living the authentic life

In our second piece on authenticity, Conrad looks at how to live a more authentic life.

SO yesterday I said I was going to talk about how to be more authentic in your day-to-day professional life. Here we are.

Achieving this is not without obstacles, however.

First off, there’s a real danger of over thinking authenticity, under-thinking it or double-talking your way out of it. Living an authentic life is one of the biggest internal struggles you will ever face. It closes as many doors as it opens. It disappoints as many as it inspires.

But it makes you a genuine force of nature.

The trick, as I said yesterday, is to hold onto your values. Trust those most genuine of gut instincts.

The obstacles to living an authentic life

Professor Herminia Ibarra makes the point that “being authentic” can be a convenient label. It can be something you hide behind.

She says the problem is you might not fit with corporate life. Your colleagues may be more structured, or they may be more chilled out than you are. Consequently “being authentic” could be an excuse not to do something – such as stick your neck out for a promotion – when deep down you are more than capable and suitable. You just have to step things up and get out of your comfort zone.

I’d add something else – it can be an excuse for unpopularity. People who lack confidence often push forward the more unlikeable side of themselves first – as if to pre-empt whether a person likes them or not. This unbalanced picture of who they are (when deep down they might want these people to like them) becomes an excuse. They say “well, I’m just me and if they don’t like it then that’s their problem”. When the actual problem was they were afraid that if they presented  a more friendly (and therefore vulnerable) side to who they were they would have that side of them judged and disliked. They are protecting a part of themselves by burying the best in them and becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of social pariah-hood.

Solving these problems

Making yourself more amenable to a corporation you don’t agree with, or quitting a dream job out of fear, are definitely not the solution to any problem.  If you are too flexible or too rigid you are done for. The trick, then, is to find out who you are. What values you believe in. Once that work is done then you can then apply one golden rule – if something makes you a better person, then do it. If it diminishes who you are then don’t.

Applying this is the solution. We get too sidetracked sometimes in what is authentic and what isn’t. But the truth is only you know that – not some list of pre-written values.

Sticking out a job or course without living your dream can be fatal. In fact if people did then the world we live in would simply not exist. Think about what would have happened if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates had stayed on at college – or Mark Zuckerberg, for that matter?

Here’s some ways to dig out your core set of personal values.

1. Living your authentic life through the TV

Ultimately, your values are like a brand belonging to a big business. They are a place of tension between who you are now, and who you want to be.

There are plenty of ways of coming up with a list of values. One way could be to pick five TV shows or movies that you like. List your favourite characters in those shows or films.

Then look at what they do and explore the emotional reasons why they did it. So if you like Luke Skywalker and think he’s great because he blew up the Death Star that’s a starter for ten. But WHY do you believe he did this? Probably because he was selfless, brave and (in the final reel) intuitive.

Jot them all down. Voila. There’s a list of values. Appreciate that you may not have harnessed or mastered all of these but that’s fine. They are still your guiding light. They are still values you believe in.

If you like this “brand” approach, check out this excellent book, here.

2. Living your authentic life through the news

Sometimes the things which get our goat are guiding lights to our principles, as we saw here. Watch the news, or read the news headlines with a pen and paper. Jot down things that annoy you. Look at why they annoyed you. I saw something today where a politician was being horrendously vague. I just wanted them to be more exacting, specific. Why, on a gut emotional level, would I want someone to be more exacting? Because truth and letting someone know where they stand are a huge deal for me.

3. Living your authentic self through meeting them

You don’t have to get all spiritual and shamanistic about this one to appreciate its benefits.

It’s all about talking to yourself.

Shut your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere nice and safe. Make sure you are relaxed. Get to appreciate where you are.

Then imagine someone coming towards you – your ultimate self.

Imagine they have achieved amazing things in life. They struck lucky every time. They didn’t hold back when the time came to pushing ambitions. Talk to them. Ask them what they did, and how they achieved it.

If this works then, after a while, the answers they give will not be “well, I won the lottery”. They will be giving you advice about what they did and how they did it.

The rule of thumb is to not get sidetracked by asking for reasons not to do things – that is just retreating into your own excuses. Use this exercise as a way of pushing for a better more authentic life.