• Be yourself

    At its best, authentic living is a free-flow, un-self-conscious expression of and alignment with who you are. Coming from a state of fullness (not the insecure me-me-me of the ego-self), it can be a rich source of meaning.

    [Back to the How to Live a Meaningful Life main page.]

    As with most things in the personal development world, it’s not a matter of reaching a state of authentic living and riding it for the rest of your life. It’s a non-stop ebb and flow, sometimes more strongly in alignment, other times not so much.

    Nice idea – in theory – right? But what exactly does that look like? How do you do that? If you find a certain amount of uncertainty bubbling up, you’re in good company. The idea of authentic living gets pretty much zero attention in how we’re conditioned to think in this culture.

    I want to share some angles you can approach it from.

    • Permission
    • Moving towards self-alignment
    • Moving away from self-dissonance
    • Reinforcement

    Permission

    The idea of giving yourself permission to live an authentic life might seem strange, but this is where so many people need to start.

    A big part of my work involves helping people feel more energized and alive, helping them find their groove. Through the years I have seen over and over the degree to which many people hold back. The degree to which people wear a mask, or show up smaller than they really are, or refrain from doing and saying things that are a full expression of who they are, but might “rock the boat” of the people around them.

    Here are some common ways you might be withholding permission from yourself:

    Permission to be yourself

    I often tell people, “You can never be anybody else half as well as you can be you.” And yet so many people operate under the assumption that they need to be “somebody else.”

    That might be in order to be _____ (successful, happy, good enough, etc.). Or it might be because of others’ expectations of them.

    Permission to shine

    All too often people feel like they need to turn down the volume on their shine. That might be because of cultural conditioning, or it might be because they think – rightly or imaginarily – that others around them would find it threatening.

    Permission to express yourself

    If truly expressing yourself means fitting into the box of what our culture deems “normal,” then you have free reign for self-expression. But for many, it doesn’t. For them, the form their authentic self-expression takes might be deemed quirky, eccentric, or downright weird. Little wonder that the idea of expressing themselves can feel like an invitation to rejection and judgment.

    As a result, they hold back in a wide range of ways, from creative expression, to letting their personality shine through, to letting themselves have a voice

    Moving toward self-alignment

    OK, so you’ve given yourself permission. Now what?

    Authentic living is, in a nutshell, about self-alignment. It’s about alignment with what comes naturally for you. It’s about alignment with what you care about. It’s about alignment with who you are and what makes you tick.

    Some areas of potential alignment to consider include:

    Plugging into your energizers

    When you understand what energizes you, you can make a conscious effort to bring more of that into your life. For example, exploration and discovery is a huge piece of what keeps me energized and engaged. Not coincidentally, I have created a career for myself that is jam packed with opportunities to experience that.

    Another way of thinking about it is, “When am I in my groove? How do I spend more time there?”

    Living your values

    Whether you have identified them or not, your values play a key role in who you are and how you see the world. When you are out of alignment with your values, life feels wonky. But when you’re in alignment, life can feel nourishing, inspiring, and meaningful.

    Self-expression

    There is something about the human spirit that thrives when we have the opportunity for self-expression. And for each of us, that is a unique and individual thing.

    What wants to be expressed through you? Is it creative? Is it a voice for positive change? Is it a dream you have?

    Pursuing a vision

    Sometimes a vision for a future we want to create grabs hold and won’t let go. When it does, we have a choice. We can either ignore it (“That’s not practical. I’m not the kind of person who ____.”) or we ask, “how can I start breathing life into this? What steps can I start taking, if only small ones?”

    Do you have a vision for something that moves you? Maybe it’s a change you want to see in the world, or work that calls to you, or a community you want to build. Imagine letting yourself be a vehicle for that vision to come to life. How would that feel?

    Living your spirituality

    For many people, there is a deeply spiritual component to how they experience life. When we move beyond the intellectual (i.e., “This is what I believe”) and into the embodied (“This is how I live my spirituality”), it opens up whole new doors of meaning.

    Moving away from self-dissonance

    When you move away from what is at odds with who you are, how you’re wired, and what’s important to you, it’s addition by subtraction.

    When you recognize where the self-dissonance is (e.g., making decisions based on others’ expectations, repressing your voice about things that feel deeply important, or feeling the friction of a career that doesn’t fit), it creates the opportunity to follow that up with the question, “How do I reduce or eliminate this?”

    That, in turn, creates space for more of what is in alignment to occupy.

    Reinforcement

    Finally, there is the aspect of reinforcing your self-alignment. This can take a couple different forms.

    Questions

    On a regular basis, ask yourself questions about your self-alignment. For example:

    • What are the areas I want to review for alignment?
    • In each of those areas, how am I in alignment?
    • In each of those areas, how am I out of alignment?
    • What one thing would help me be more in alignment this next week?

    The idea is to keep it top of mind, stay clear on what’s happening, and make it a proactive part of your life.

    Self-celebration

    We human beasties aren’t that different than, say, our pet dogs when it comes to learning new tricks. When a behavior is rewarded, something in our brain says, “Oh hey! I like that. I should do this again.”

    One way we can build reward into the picture is the simple act of self-celebration. Catch yourself in the act of alignment. Pause and smile to yourself. Say, good job. Pat yourself on the back, figuratively or even literally.

    Make it a regular habit to ask, “What’s going right? How was I in alignment today?” Then celebrate the wins. Make them into something special – because they are. They are the building blocks for a richer, more rewarding, more meaningful life.

    A parting note

    It’s a lot easier to write about this than to live this. We live in a culture that is constantly trying to push us out of alignment. Constantly trying to get us to buy something so we’ll feel better about ourselves. Constantly trying to get us to live our lives based on some external (and ultimately arbitrary) definition of success.

    Self-alignment isn’t a one-and-done effort. It’s a non-stop, never-ending project that requires both ongoing awareness and consistent action over time.

    Conscious self-alignment isn’t just a thing to do on the side in between checking off items on your to-do list. It’s a way of living, and a way of life.

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