The Authentic You

Epictetus once said, “It is impossible for man to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” This quotation sums up why so many of us are not experiencing contentment or serenity in our lives. We think we possess knowledge that we actually haven’t yet acquired. And where our ignorance has the most devastating impact on our ultimate outcome is when it pertains directly to ourselves.

If we think we know ourselves, yet we have never taken the time to understand ourselves, then it will never be possible for us to live an authentic life.  What is an authentic life?  It is a life in which we are making the decisions that are in keeping with what is best for is. It is a life where the opinion of those around us matters a great deal less than the opinions we have about ourselves.

To live authentically, you have to strip yourself of everything that is not genuine. You have to let go of learned behavior that does not match up with who you really are. And you have to get to the point where you would rather disappoint everyone else in your life than to disappoint you.

Some people would say that such a philosophy promotes selfishness. But what it really does is enable you to give others the freedom to be authentic, too. Once you cease meeting or trying to meet the expectations of others at the expense of your own needs, they will be forced to gain clarity about themselves and what their needs may be.

I have spoken about the potency of habits in a previous blog post. And I want to delve more deeply into the way that habits can negatively impact both your life and the lives of those around you. When William James wrote his chapter on “Habit” in his Principles of Psychology, there were many things about human behavior that had not yet been discovered or analyzed. James encouraged people to allow certain actions to become habitual, such as eating a meal or taking a bath.

The problem is, even these seemingly innocuous activities should actually be engaged in while we are thinking about them. Why? Well, the more we get into the pattern of doing things without engaging our mental faculties, the more inclined we are to not use those faculties at times that it is essential for us to do so. Now, there obviously are habits that have a positive influence on our lives. But sometimes we need to make sure that the habits we think are positive actually are.

For example, if we have a habit of repressing our true thoughts and opinions in order to be accepted by others, is that really a good habit?  Or does it simply appear to be good on the surface? And, even if we do win this much sought-after acceptance, is it really worth very much if we had to pretend to be someone other than ourselves in order to gain it?

Let me ask you something. If someone told you that he or she would write a book under your name and that it would be a best-seller, would you think that was a tempting idea? Even if you did, would the accolades that you received when the book was published mean nearly as much to you as if you had written the book yourself? Or would a certain part of you feel like a fraud?

When people told you what a wonderful writer you were, would that mean that you would actually believe them? Or is it possible that you could get to the point where you actually believed that you had written the book? If you answer no, I challenge you to reconsider your reply. Although you may think that I’m taking things too far by using this example to illustrate my point, you probably at least concede that it would be possible for some people to buy into their own fraudulent identity.

Sometimes it is easier to get trapped in a life that is compromised of learned behavior patterns and assumed opinions than it is to explore our own authenticity as an individual. To conform to what others think we should be does not require courage or conviction. What it does take is a self-image that is not clearly defined. I am often told by people who cross my path that they would finally have happiness or contentment in their lives if they could just find the right career or if the man or woman of their dreams would miraculously come into their lives. Although I empathize with such thought patterns, I think that they are both unrealistic and dangerous.

For one thing, such beliefs prevent us from taking the time to work on ourselves. They remove the necessity of personal growth because we are looking at  something outside of ourselves to make us complete.  And, when that person or that career fails to live up to our idyllic fantasies, we are left feeling even more dissatisfied than we were before. In a way, it’s like someone with an eating disorder attempting to “cure” the problem without getting to the root of what is causing it.

When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. The illness itself harmed me far less than the way the doctor I was seeing at the time treated the illness. Rather than taking the time to analyze and examine what was causing me to deprive myself of nourishment, she blamed me for not eating and seemed to subscribe to the erroneous assumption that I was making a conscious choice not to eat. If you know anything about anorexia, you understand that it is not a choice. Even though those who are anorexic often use starvation as a coping mechanism to handle the fact that certain aspects of their lives seem to be beyond their control, they are not consciously engaging in this behavior.

Similarly, if you are unfulfilled or unhappy and you are seeking a relationship or a career to escape from the emptiness within yourself, you may not be doing this intentionally. When we feel a void within us, it is only natural that we might have a frantic need to fill that emptiness.  It’s interesting how quick we are to talk about connecting or reconnecting with our bliss. But is there still not the assumption that we have discovered our “bliss”? Emptiness and bliss are not compatible. Thus, as long as we have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction within ourselves, we are not only not connecting with our bliss–we have not found our “bliss”.

Of course, like the word happiness, bliss is also a word that can be defined in many different ways. However, I have the sense that it conveys the essence of elation or exuberance. If we use that definition of bliss or even partially subscribe to that definition, then we must also admit that there are not many people whom we have ever known who have seemed very exuberant or elated. Does this mean that it is unrealistic to expect to ever feel bliss? No. But it does mean that we may have to redefine the word. The other option is that we will have to accept the fact that, even though we want to believe we are connected to our bliss, we are actually still pursuing it.

One assumption that prevents us from living authentically is the idea that happiness or bliss is a destination that we will someday reach. Perhaps, some of us even think that if we feel loved and appreciated enough, contentment will be ours. But what sort of contentment are we seeking? If you are honest with yourself, I think you’ll admit that you are not looking for the temporary feeling of rapture that comes from devouring a piece of chocolate cake.

Chocolate cake is wonderful, but once you’ve eaten it, it’s gone. If you pursue the wrong type of bliss or if you are not clear about the type of bliss that you won’t, you may end up with a lot of what I would call “chocolate cake” moments but no lasting feeling of fulfillment or significance. Is that what you want? Even if you could exist on a diet of nothing but candy, cake, and cookies, would that ultimately satisfy you?

To me, the satisfaction that comes from lots of  “chocolate cake moments” is a bit like the happiness that is derived from buying clothes and jewelry or taking a trip to some country you’ve never traveled to before. Sure, there is enjoyment–but how long does it last, and how profound is it? Your soul is never going to be content if the only nourishment it gets are from things that have no lasting value.

At the end of your life, knowing that you have lived authentically and honestly is going to mean a great deal more to you than how many pairs of shoes you have in the closet or how many trips to Europe or exotic locales you have taken. And unless you are living authentically at the time that you enter into a relationship or marriage, you will not find happiness in that partnership, either. For no matter how much love, admiration, and acceptance you get, if it isn’t the authentic you who is being accepted or loved or admired, how can it make you happy?  

An actor I once knew told me that he believed that nearly all people are wearing masks and that only when we get to the point in our lives where we are willing to take off our masks will we be at peace with ourselves. It is somewhat uncomfortable to accept this concept. For, if we do, we have to wonder how much of the behavior we are witnessing on the part of those around us is sincere.  But when we understand the reason why we wear masks, we can embrace the idea without it making us feel overwhelmed, confused, or uneasy.

Usually, we put on these masks at a very young age. Why? Because when we are children, we start being told what behavior is “acceptable” and what behavior is “unacceptable”. Our hands are slapped when we touch the hot stove, and we get a spanking when we decide to stick our finger in an electrical outlet. We hear so many “thou shalt nots” that, merely for the sake of ease, we repress our needs and desires and modify our words and actions in order to please those around us.

The problem is that we carry this repressed behavior into our adult life, and, instead of the masks getting more transparent, they oftentimes get more opaque. Eventually, separating our real faces from the masks that have been covering them for so long becomes almost impossible. For one thing, the masks have become our security blankets. As long as we are wearing them, we are able to face the world without having to constantly worry about being rejected. Even though we may get rejected when we wear our masks, the real persons being rejected are the persons we’re pretending to be.

In a way, wearing a mask not only protects us from being hurt but it also means that many of the negative judgements that are made about us can be disregarded. We can tell ourselves, “Well, that person didn’t really know me. If  he had, he wouldn’t have rejected me.” Yes, this  may be the case, but is it not better to be rejected for ourselves than to be accepted for someone we’re not? 

If we do not give other people the chance to see and get to know the true individuals that we are, we are inadvertently forcing them into the role of unwitting conspirators in our  elaborate attempts to weave a life built upon half-truths and lies. So, we are both failing to connect with our own authenticity and encouraging others to be inauthentic as well.

As I learn more and more about human behavior and examine with growing clarity the role that our mental conditioning and our learned patterns of behavior play in our success and happiness, I realize that as much as an artist works to perfect his paintings or a pianist works to polish his or her technique, we must work at mastering the art of living.  Once again, I turn to Epictetus, who said, “For as carpenter’s material is wood, and that of the statuary is copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man’s life.”  In the end, each of our lives if what we have made of it, and we can either choose to master the art of living or we can always be stuck in a never-ending cycle of lies, destructive patterns, deception, emotional pain, and learned behaviors. Which choice will you make?

Until soon,

Alexis, the SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva

Be yourself!

snowflake3 (icy snowflake)Deepak Chopra, the author, lecturer, and endocrinologist once said, “Nothing is more important than reconnecting with your bliss.” But what if, like me occasionally, you feel as if you have lost your bliss entirely . . . or perhaps you even feel as if you never found your bliss in the first place? I have said many times in my blog posts that material possessions and such ephemeral things as fame and fortune will not give you happiness or contentment. The question is, what will fill that void within your soul?

The key may begin with making sure that you are living a life that is authentically yours. If, for example, you are living a life in which your goals have been guided  by the desires or wishes of others or you are pursuing your goals for the wrong reasons, then you are compromising the person that you are. In a world in which the superficial is often more highly prized than the ordinary and jealousy is much more common than feelings of generosity and benevolence towards others, there is a tendency to compare ourselves to other people . . . people who may or may not be anything like us.

Rather than focusing on that which we can do, many of us expend our mental energy thinking about that which those around us are able to do, and resenting the advantages they have over us. It could be said that envy and covetousness are perfectly “normal” emotions, and that those who do not admit to experiencing traces of them at least every now and then are hypocrites. Yet, when we envy that which someone else has or we are jealous of that which someone else has accomplished, are we not failing to acknowledge and appreciate the authentic being that we are?

I’m certain that you’ve heard that every snowflake is different from another . . . that each is in some way unique. Do you know what causes the dissimilarities in snowflakes? It is the discrepancies in temperature and the humidity conditions that bring about the changes. Remarkably enough, even snowflakes created in laboratory snow tanks are dissimilar to each other. It has been said that each snowflake carries the physical history of its own personal travels. Well, are we not in many ways like a snowflake? Whether they be good or bad, painful or joyful, the experiences that come into our life and the people who cross our paths help mold us into the people who we become.  And in many ways we determine whether or not the outcome is positive or negative.

To a certain extent, I am a bit of a skeptic. I do not subscribe to the idea that we are at the mercy of fate or that the stars will predict our destiny. Yet, how we use our minds on a daily basis truly will impact the way that our lives continue and end. All too often, people become so accustomed to destructive thought patterns that they develop the habit of thinking negatively, even when they are unconscious of it. To a significant extent, the environment in which we were raised as children influences how we see the world when we are adults. If we were discouraged from expressing ourselves in a way that enabled us to appreciate our own uniqueness–if, for instance, we were compared to other siblings or experienced abuse or neglect–we will tend to look upon the world as being intensely competitive. We may even see it as a hostile universe where no one can be trusted, not even those to whom we are closest. The danger is when we allow ourselves to subscribe to the idea that this type of vantage point is based in reality.

Indeed, the world is competitive in many ways, and, yes, it can be cold and brutal. But that does not mean that we are doomed to lead lives of what author Henry David Thoreau would call “quiet desperation”. Even if we have suffered nothing but abuse, betrayal, and pain up until this time, if we do not believe that our lives can turn around for the better, it isn’t the universe or fate that is placing a curse upon us. Rather, we are placing a curse upon ourselves.

Stephen Covey has spoken of how there are two types of people in this world: those who are effective and those who are ineffective. Covey believes that the ineffective people are those who allow life to happen to them . . . those who think that they were born under an “unlucky star” or who somehow think the forces of the universe are conspiring to make their lives miserable. The ineffective people are the first to cast blame on others for the mistakes they made, for many times admitting their own guilt would chip away at their already fragile self-esteem.

Conversely, effective people are those who are willing to admit their mistakes and who do their best to profit by them. They tend to disregard such terms as “destiny” and “fate” and refuse to accept the idea that they do not have power over most of the events that take place in their lives. To a large extent, ineffective people are guided by their emotions. Instead of stopping to think before they act, they frequently behave rashly, only to be perplexed, bewildered, and overwhelmed when the ramifications of their actions leave them playing the part of the “victim”.

At many times in my own life, I have been an ineffective person. Having come from a dysfunctional family, I did not have the role models I would have needed growing up that would have enabled me to effortlessly become an effective individual. When  you already feel inadequate or have issues with your self-image, the last thing you want to do is accept the fact that you have had a pivotal part in the mess that you’ve made of a specific situation, a career, or an important relationship. However, until you can see yourself clearly and objectively–until you can look in the mirror and see the real you rather than an idealized image of yourself–how will you ever create a personal vision for your life?

I find it interesting that, according to scientific studies, a large percentage of people see both themselves and their lives as being better than they actually are.  Could it be that gaining clarity about every aspect of our life is too painful for many of us to bear on a psychological level? And, if so, is the short-term attempt to sugarcoat our lives going to bring us long-term happiness, or will it only prevent us from ever experiencing true bliss? If you chose to ignore all the flaws in a diamond or an emerald, would those flaws go away? Even if the gem appears to be flawless from a distance or to an unobservant eye, would it diminish the imperfections?

 As I have said before, we are all, in a way, a gem that is in the process of being polished. But if there are flaws that we need to work to eliminate first, all the polishing in the world isn’t going to make us into the person that we want to be. Although many thinkers, philosophers, and authors have expressed this thought in similar words, I still believe that Gandhi said it best: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” One person cannot even begin to change the world, but if we want to see the world start to change, we should start with changing ourselves.

I have found that one of the most important things we can do–an essential step in starting to embrace our own authentic selves–is to let go of the judgements and assumptions we make about other people. When we begin to criticize those around us, we shift the focus from something that we have control over to something that is completely outside our “zone of power”. While you do not have to agree with others or even pretend to, to let the people whom you know have their own opinions and views on every subject, even those which you feel vehement about, is mandatory for creating the life of your dreams. Ultimately, the only life you are going to live is your own. And, no matter what anyone else does, whether you agree with it or not, your own decisions, thoughts, and opinions are the only ones you have the right to establish, change, or sustain.

A lot of complications that come into our lives stem from our inability to separate that which we can control from that which we cannot control. Author and speaker Wayne Dyer has used the label “authoritarian” to describe those people who have the need to force others to subscribe to their same views and opinions. I think that authoritarians oftentimes seek a sense of self-importance that comes from shoving their beliefs down someone else’s throat. But, even if they are successful at doing this, that feeling of self-importance that they want to experience will continue to elude them.

The only way that you will feel important is if you establish a definitive sense of self-worth within yourself . . . and nobody else can give that to you, even if they share all of your beliefs and opinions. In fact, there is no amount of money on earth and no relationship, no matter how fulfilling it may seem, that will give you a feeling of self-worth if you don’t already experience that inside yourself. You have to let go of what you think you should be and what others have told you that you could or couldn’t be to become the person that you’re meant to be. Sometimes, that which will give us ultimate satisfaction in life is so far removed from that which anyone else has encouraged us to pursue that we feel as if we are walking alone down a road that is dark and lonely, bordered by trees on both sides. There may not be anyone there to tell us that we’re making the right choice–it may be a case of us having to trust our instincts about what is right for us.  

A man who had to carve his own niche in life, in spite of criticism from everyone around him, was Wilson Bentley, the farmer who went on to compile the most remarkable photographic collection in history. What were the photographs of? Snowflakes. Although the idea of studying snowflakes would not inspire most people, Bentley was utterly inspired by the magnificence of what he referred to as his “snow blossoms”. Because he followed his instincts and embraced his own extraordinary potential, he not only found his bliss but also stayed connected to it.

In one scientific paper that Bentley wrote about his studies of snowflakes, he used the word “beauty” or “beautiful” forty times in a mere nine pages. To be so enraptured with one’s work is what anyone would surely desire. If more of us were this enthralled with the career path we decided upon, think of what our world would be  like! Rather than a society made up primarily of people leading a humdrum existence that never fills up the void within them, people would wake up each day feeling exuberant and glad to be alive for another twenty-four hours.

Isn’t that the way you want to live? Don’t delude yourself into imagining that you will find bliss or contentment through anything other than fulfilling your individual purpose in the world. If you look at those who have millions of dollars and are famous around the world, only a mere handful of them are truly happy. Shakespeare may have said that the world is a stage and we are all players, but, if you could trade in a “fake” life, a makeshift existence that is leaving you empty and unfulfilled, wouldn’t you do so in a heartbeat? It doesn’t matter what we’ve been told that we must survive . . . whether we have subscribed to the idea that life is difficult and unfair and we must simply bear with it. We are not a character out of a novel by Charles Dickens, and we do not go through our entire existence being miserable and unhappy. Although great works of literature, art, and music have been produced through emotional and physical suffering, it wasn’t necessarily because of this suffering that these masterpieces were produced but rather in spite of them.

I am learning so much about life as I write my blog and share my insight with you. There are so many questions I still have in regard to how optimal happiness is attainable and how we can differentiate between dreams and goals that are realistic and those that will always be just beyond our grasp. Having not written a blog post in nearly three weeks, I have had quite a lot of time to reflect upon my own life and to recommit to being the kind of Diva who will truly make a difference in the lives of those who read my blog. You and I are on this journey together . . . and that is something I hope you will never forget.

For today, it is my heartfelt wish that you will look upon yourself as a snowflake, in human form . . . a unique being entirely different from anyone else. I want you to pursue the destiny that is yours alone. It is waiting for you, but only you can discover it and fulfill it.

Live with enthusiasm, faith, confidence, and passion!

Until soon,

Your SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages are written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva