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

for some, it’s all about them. . .

cat-snowwhite and the mirrorAs someone who feels that it is her personal mission (ever heard of writing a personal mission statement? No, well. . .we’ll talk about that later) to reach out to others and share with them her insight and ideas, this diva is grieved whenever she encounters those who reject that which she has to offer. Hey, it’s inevitable that such people exist. Why? Well, let’s face it, if this world were full of nothing but positive people, it would be an entirely different place. What frustrates (yes, frustration is a negative emotion. I admit it!) is that no matter how much I try to help and/or show affection to some people, they end up showing a  lack of gratitude at one time or another. “Okay,” you say, “but that’s the way the world works.” You know what? You’re right. However, I tend to think that such individuals are not applying the principles that your Success Diva promotes. Rather than the world not being just about them. . .it really is all about them. “But wait,” you interject, “you have said more than once that each of is the star of our own show.” Sure, that is what I said. But that doesn’t mean that you forget about everyone else’s needs besides your own. To put your needs first in no way means the needs of those whom you care about are unimportant. Does it? It simply means that you understand and realize that only in putting you first can you be all you want to be to those special people in your life. For those of you who are mothers, you know how easy it is to become so wrapped up in your child’s concerns and wants that you forget all about you. I’m not speaking of the things your child actually needs, for what mother who truly loves her child/children doesn’t do her best to provide her child/children with everything he/she/they need (s)? No, what I’m talking about are those times when you choose to spend yet another hour playing with your daughter or son, even though you really need a quiet hour to yourself, perhaps reading one of your favorite authors or writing in your journal. It may seem as if you’re being selfish to spend time on you, but, in the long run, you’re doing both you and your child a favor. I oftentimes notice that parents who devote themselves exclusively to their children and their children’s wants end up losing their temper, getting impatient, and exhibiting other signs of behavior that convey their personal lack of self-fulfillment. It isn’t a matter of it not being just about them—it’s not about them at all. Rather, it’s about a child who will probably grow up feeling that, if  he/she isn’t the center of attention, something must be wrong. When I was a child, I spent a large amount of time practicing music every day. So, I never had the chance to feel I wasn’t being given enough attention because I was alone with whatever musical instrument I was practicing and was generally completely occupied with this activity. My mother was the sort of woman who would willingly have sacrificied all her wants to make me happy, yet she never had the chance to do that since my primary occupation was music practice. I do feel that my mother began identifying herself too closely with the role of being a mother. If I had it to over with, once I was old enough to understand how important it is for parents to have time to pursue their own interests, I would have encouraged her to engage in more activities that were focused primarily on her. However, there are so many things we tend to ignore when we are children. We look towards our parents to provide all the love we need, which means that, at a certain age, we find it difficult to love ourselves, particularly if one or both of our parents failed to give us the unconditional love that we sought and needed. Believe me, neither of my parents were perfect. Of course, who is perfect? Moreover, my father was too young and immature to understand what being a father really meant. He was obsessed with work and spent most of his time away from home. When he was around, he was often verbally, emotionally, and even physically abusive. Without sharing parts of my personal life story (if you know me privately, I’m sure you can fill in a few blanks), I will say that I still have psychological scars from my childhood. At the same time, there were certain things that I was taught that I am very grateful for. I learned a definitive work ethic at a very young age, and I also grew up to understand that integrity, honesty, self-discipline (even if you don’t think you have it, look for it and you might just find it), and compassion are more important than money, material possessions, and other things of a similar nature. It fills my heart with delight whenever someone tells my mother what a lovely and sweet daughter she has raised. I’m certain it makes her proud, also. Indeed, I’m certain that what makes her most proud of me has nothing to do with the things I’ve accomplished. Rather, she is proud of the person I am inside. Have you ever read author and wit extraordinaire Oscar Wilde’s famous novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray?  Or, if you haven’t read the book, have you seen the film, by any chance? Well, I cannot think that there is a better indication of how outer beauty can mask inner hideousness than that particular story. What does it matter if you are exquisite without if you are filled with bitterness, malice, cruelty, vindictiveness, and other poisonous emotions inside?? In the long run, those emotions will destroy your beauty, no matter how magnificent it once was. The people we are and become have a way of revealing themselves to those around us in the most extraordinary ways. Don’t think that you are just fooling yourself if you are thriving on malignant emotions but are showing a mask of goodness and kindness to the world. The masks we wear are sometimes not nearly as opaque as we might think. And ultimately, the person who will be affected most by those pernicious emotions you may be nourishing yourself with is (yes, you guessed it!) you.

It’s easy to blame our childhood and/or the pain others have caused us for the person we are right now. In fact, it’s far easier to do this than to accept responsibility for who we are. And yet, we will never be able to lead the life that we desire until we understand that we are responsible for the person we are and for the life we are leading. What does this mean? Am I suggesting that you crucify yourself for the bad decisions and the cruel things you might have done?? No, I’m not. What I am suggesting is that you decide to make a change starting right now. On a certain level, I think we all do the best we can at the point of our lives that we’re at. Life is like a long and curving road, and that road is much smoother in some places than it is in others. We will never have all the answers nor is wisdom something that you will ever have enough of. But from reading some of my posts and absorbing my ideas and my insight, I hope that you will be willing to admit that you may still have things to learn about life. I hope, too, that you will be willing to learn those things, rather than simply saying that the way you are now is the way you’re probably destined to be. I have invented a new phrase that I feel sums up those people who focus on their own needs at the expense of anyone else’s needs. They have IAATD. Do you know what that is?? Well, it’s “It’s All About Them Disorder“. Now, maybe I emphasized the fact that you’re the star of your own show a bit too strongly. Who knows? I don’t retract anything I’ve said in my previous posts, but I will say that being the star of your show and being the only star in your show are two entirely separate things. Did I not mention how important it is to be part of a team? When have you seen a team in which each player was thinking only of what was best for him or her? If you have ever watched the Olympics, I’m sure you’ve noticed how ALL the players in a team sport relish and delight in the successes of their fellow team members. Did you have a chance to catch the Olympics last summer? If so, didn’t you see how happy the all-around Olympic champion in female gymnastics, Nastia Liukin, was when her teammate, Shawn Johnson, won a gold medal in one of the individual events? And did you also notice the way Shawn Johnson was smiling when Nastia won the all-around gold medal? Don’t you think Shawn must have been disappointed that she didn’t win that all-around gold medal ? Of course, she was. But being the champion she is, she understands that only in being happy in the victories that others achieve will we ever experience any personal triumphs.

When I was an actress, I had a tendency to let my competitive instincts prevent me from fully being pleased when actresses whom I knew got parts in plays that I had auditioned for. I also found it difficult at times to be excited when an actress had the chance to be in a production that was of a higher quality than the production I was acting in at the time. If this means I was a little jealous, okay—I was jealous. Do you think this jealousy helped me in any way? No, it didn’t. It only prevented me from being able to make the most of certain opportunities that came my way. You see, these negative emotions have a way of creating misery in a person’s life sooner or later. You might think that it isn’t doing you any harm to resent someone or even feel contempt or malice towards them. However, you will ultimately pay the price for allowing yourself to keep these emotions as pets. It’s sort of like keeping mildewed cheese or a rotten egg in your refrigerator. I don’t know about you, but after a time, that rotten egg or that mildewed cheese starts to smell terribly bad. In fact, it starts to stink up your entire refrigerator. So, what I’m basically saying is that negative and destructive emotions belong in a garbage can, along with all the other trash. Let the garbage men take them to the dump—don’t keep them around the house.

I want to say a few more things about the IAATD (It’s All About Them Disorder). When you encounter people who have this disorder, the best thing you can do is let them know that you are there if they need you and then simply let go. An alternative to this is to walk away entirely, and that is a choice that you must make for yourself. Your diva isn’t going to say, “Hey, get so-and-so out of your life.” What I will say is that IAATD can be contagious if you spend too much time around someone with it. It’s ideal if you can surround yourself with as many positive, encouraging, and loving people as possible. The people you have in your life should support you in all of your endeavors. When you have to start explaining what you’re doing to them or defending yourself to them or proving to them that you still care about them, even though you aren’t able to give them as much attention as they might like, then you’ve crossed paths with someone who has IAATD. Unfortunately, a lot of people with IAATD like themselves the way they are. Indeed, they are very content focusing exclusively on themselves and what’s best for them. So, even though you can make an effort to help them see the light (so to speak), I would imagine that they’ve gotten so accustomed to the darkness that they have started to enjoy it. But, if you think someone whom you care about who has IAATD is willing to change, by all means let them know that the path to true happiness comes from making sure your life isn’t just about you.

For those who have discovered this blog via Facebook, I want you to know how pleased I am that you’re here. I have done my best to promote my blog at that site as I happen to think there are people there who can truly benefit from what I have to say. Please don’t forget that writing me personally for specific help and/or input is always something I appreciate. My e-mail address is successdiva7@yahoo.com  Also, I do accept most friend requests at Facebook. I think that only in having an open mind and a caring heart can anyone ever experience ultimate joy, fulfillment, and success.

I encourage you to live every moment like it truly matters. Make each hour count! Live with passion and enthusiasm.

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

Please join my mailing list! Okay.  .  .I won’t beg. But it would make me one happy diva indeed if you would join the Success Diva mailing list.  To subscribe (and, yes, it’s free!), go here:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/successdiva/

 

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