Life’s way too short to be someone you weren’t meant to be. Check out these actionable steps to cultivate the authentic self that’s ready to meet the world.
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” —Oscar Wilde
I sat in the dark with a group of strangers who had become friends during the past 24 hours. We circled a candle as we took turns holding a block to identify the speaker—or, more accurately, the sharer. It was here that we shared our darkness and our light.
What exactly was my darkness? It seemed an inappropriate time to complain about things that didn’t matter much—the extra weight around my middle, my inability to keep on top of the house due to too many pets, the torn tendon in my foot that’s keeping me off hiking trails.
So what was my darkness? I listened to my new friends talk about significant childhood challenges, family issues and work grievances. I had none of these things. And then it dawned on me… my only real darkness is myself.
According to the Mac & Cheese Productions website, “Life of Yes! (LOY) Sleepaway Camp is designed to equip you with a way of thinking and a community rooted in you getting as much as you can out of your life. A weekend filled with habit-, value- and courage-development activities, in an environment where you feel at home with people you just met, like summer camp for adults.”
How odd then to be in a completely supportive container where my big reveal is that I’m not always saying “yes” to my authentic self.
Or perhaps that wasn’t exactly the case.
The real truth is I’m in touch with my authenticity and it’s extremely present in my personal and professional lives. The problem happens when I see what other creative people are doing. Unfortunately, the internet has made it awfully easy to compare your worth, value, adventures, business, personal life, travels, and anything else you can think of to just about anyone in the world who has an online presence.
Just last night, in fact, it happened. I’m planning an amazing playshop around mindful living and a Facebook invitation came in from someone who’s hosting playshops with similar themes and goals.
Of course, the other person’s offerings are so much more creative, wonderful, unique, fun, exciting, powerful, etc. etc. But are they in reality? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? And more importantly, who cares? No one—but me.
Authenticity is a funny thing. It’s this wonderful “A-Ha!” moment that we celebrate—and we should celebrate it (and we should keep celebrating it). We would also be well served to step away, take a breath, and realize what we’re celebrating: We are embracing our real selves and the power that putting our real selves out there carries.
When we compare ourselves to others, our real selves lose power, and all the authenticity work we’ve done becomes secondary to our inner voice. Tell the inner voice to go on a permanent vacation and look in the mirror and smile. If that’s not enough, hug yourself. If that’s not enough, take out a pen and paper—physically make a list of things you like about the real deal you and hang it by your mirror, your computer, your refrigerator.
Remember that authenticity—like mindfulness or yoga—is a practice. Sometimes we do better at it than other times and that’s OK. Being imperfect is also what makes us human. Let’s celebrate that too!
Cultivating authenticity is a two-fold process… like a relationship. There’s finding it and then there’s maintaining it.
There are so many ways to connect to your authentic self. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Play. Take an improv class. Play board games. Visit a playground. By playing, we tap into our childhood sense of wonder and our inner voice (hopefully) quiets down. By playing, we come alive and are able to better connect to ourselves and to others.
2. Vision Boarding. There is something solid about having a visual on the wall to support you. In clipping and pasting words and pictures and concepts, we are creating a visual representation of our best and most desired selves. When we make decisions about how we spend time, we can refer back to the board to see if the activity supports our vision.
3. Lists. I know—lists are dull and boring. And they are extremely useful. They put light onto concepts and desires and make “what ifs” part of a more concrete journey with real goals attached to it. Consider them more road maps to living than just lists. The best part? The roadmap doesn’t exist until you create it!
4. Experiences. Sometimes we just need to step outside of ourselves and try something new, take a class, go on a retreat. An experience—especially when it’s shared and builds community—can be a life-changing, transformational event that has the ability to help you navigate your life path—authentically—and with positive support from others.
5. Reflection & Meditation. Ever hear the phase, “hurry up and slow down?” In doing so, we provide ourselves the self-care space we need to be honest with ourselves about who we are and what we want. There are no wrong answers. There’s only the busyness we use to keep us preoccupied with versions of ourselves.
Once the real YOU steps forward, how do you keep the light on?
1. Community. Surround yourself with people who appreciate and support your authenticity. If you find some of your relationships no longer serve you, let them go. Your cheering squad needs to be strong and faithful.
2. Take time for self-care. Once you’ve found the authentic version of yourself, take care of it physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When we’re neglecting ourselves, it’s difficult to let our own light shine. Relax. Rest. Repeat.
3. Celebrate individuality. Stop with the comparisons and embrace the differences. Even if someone looks like you, does similar work, or has a similar hobby, that person is not you. Whatever you do with your personal, professional, creative, and recreational time (this includes playtime) is yours to design. Let go of others and their ways, and use your own voice to guide you.
While the Life of Yes! Sleepaway Camp reveled a darkness that was deep inside me, it also helped me share light.
And guess what the light is? Me!
I’m living my most authentic life and finding my own adventure—personally and professionally—while helping others do the same. The more I remember this and forget about what everyone else is doing, the brighter my light shines and the richer my adventures become.
I invite you to find your own adventure—inside of yourself.