Being Authentic. Tell the truth or look good?
It is easy to talk about being authentic without having a clue what it really means. Real authenticity refers to the distance between us and other people. And we measure that distance by how willing we are to be real.
There’s a constant battle within many of us: “Should I tell the truth or should I look good?” The funny thing is that we think we have a choice. And while we ultimately do, the more aligned we are with our true selves, the less it feels like a choice. Each time you hear a speaker or author use his or her life as a teaching tool, aren’t you just a little inspired and in awe? Every time you hear someone tell the truth from the platform, aren’t you just a little encouraged to do the same? When a person has the courage to tell the truth, it gives the rest of us permission to do the same.
When first asked to share my story in a public forum, it was frightening. I was devastated because I hadn’t yet made peace with my past. It was hard to admit I was a heroin addict and an alcoholic at fourteen; that I dropped out of high school and lived homeless on the streets at eighteen; that by twenty-one I became a prostitute to support my habits; and that at twenty-six I was so drunk that I walked in front of a moving car. In my eyes, being less than perfect was something to be ashamed of, not accepted, and certainly not celebrated. However, as I came to terms with my life, as I began to see how my experience was a gift to me, I recognized its utility for others.
Life. Kept Secret.
So how do we move from seeing life as something to be kept secret to using it as an opportunity to serve? How do we move from talking about being authentic to actually being authentic? Here are some suggestions that helped me and perhaps they will resonate with you:
- Bring to mind someone who had the courage to be real. How did you feel in their presence? Were you able to connect with them in some way? Why?
- Think about a difficulty you faced in your life. What lessons did you learn?
- Share your experience with a trusted friend. Putting words to your past is a first step to being more real over time.
- Listen for opportunities to be real. You may meet someone with a similar problem who needs to know that others share it. If that happens, have the courage to be real and share your experience.
- Keep talking. The more you come clean, the easier it gets.
- Come to peace with your past, because the more at peace you are with yourself, the more real you can be.
Courage to be Real.
Self-esteem comes from the courage to be real, and being real takes skill. It takes courage because we risk losing something: face, family, friends, jobs, and our reputation for being a certain way. Yet each time we are courageous it gets easier – not easy, but easier. We become someone people can relate to. And even if our experience differs from theirs in the details, they know we are people who have lived through a fire and can teach them how to do the same.
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