To feel authentic

by Calvin on January 24, 2014

I like Gary Vaynerchuk a lot. I’ve known of him since 2008, and known him since 2010.

This week, I’ve seen him twice, at different events.

What’s so great about Gary is how authentic he is. He’s not trying to be anything. He’s not trying to please you by figuring out who you want him to be and be that. He’s trying to serve you, to give. But not to please.

That has not been my story. I’ve always been the complete opposite. “Tell me who you want me to be, and I’ll be that”. It hasn’t worked, but it sure ain’t for lack of trying. A plant stretches in the direction the light is coming from. Same with children: They’ll develop towards what their parents reward with their love, whether or not that’s who they really are.

I came across this quote today in Gods in Everyman:

To feel authentic means to be free to develop traits and potentials that are innate predispositions. When we are accepted and allowed to be genuine, it’s possible to have self-esteem and authenticity together. This develops only if we are encouraged rather than disheartened by the reactions of significant others to us, when we are spontaneous and truthful, or when we are absorbed in whatever gives us joy. From childhood on, first our family and then our culture are the mirrors in which we see ourselves as acceptable or not. When we need to conform in order to be acceptable, we may end up wearing a false face and playing an empty role if who we are inside and what is expected of us are far apart.

Being authentic means being you. When you’re not, you’re really abandoning yourself. My pattern has been to want to be anyone I laid my eyes on that were successful. Mario Batali? I want to be like him. DHH? I want to be like him. Jon Stewart? I want to be like him. David Chang? Yup, him too. Walk past some cool shoe store in Rome? Yes, want to be the owner of that, too. Anything, really, as long as it’s successful.

Couple that with the fact that I’m actually very gifted, and a really good learner, which means I could probably succeed in most anything I set out to do – I’m good at music, cooking, programming, strategy, photography, writing, and much more – and it’s easy to convince myself that I could be all of that.

One of the big lessons of these past few nights with Gary Vaynerchuk has been realizing how different we are from each other (something my wife’s happy I’m finally discovering). For example: Gary has barely read 5 books his entire life, I’ve read hundreds if not thousands, and I love books. He doesn’t want anyone’s advice, I do value (selected) other people’s advice. He abhors details, I actually love details. He’s not technically intelligent, I am, massively so. He doesn’t have the sensitivity or spiritual sensibility that I do. He clearly has a lot of things I don’t.

The journey from who you have learned to be, or who you’re trying to be, back to who you really are, can be long and challenging. When you have 30 or 40 years of experience being “not you”, it can take some practice to dig out the real you. And you may lose some friendships in the process.

Here are my top tips for going on that journey:

  1. Love and forgive yourself for having lived your life the way you have. You have done the very best you could. You had to conform in order to survive. Nobody taught you how to discover who you really are and live that. If you’d know better, you’d have done better. Love and forgive yourself.
  2. Honor yourself for even having the courage to take this challenge on. It’s so much easier to just continue on the path you’re on, and accept the internal death as normal, as the way life is, as “just getting older”.
  3. Ask yourself what you’re a YES to, and what you’re a NO to. Even better: What are you a HELL YES to? You need to start paying attention to and respecting what you want, at a deep and primal level. And yes, this includes sex and passion and anything else.
  4. Pay attention to the stories you use to stop yourself. Often I’ll know exactly what I want, and then not do it, because I have a story that it’s too much, or I don’t deserve it, or I don’t have time, or we have to go to bed at the same time, or I’ll get fat, or I’ll die early, or I’ll feel guilty, or any of a million other stories circling around. What I want you to get is there’s the speeder, and then there’s the break. What you want is the speeder. The stories become the break. You want to notice how and when you apply the break, and then you want to train yourself to not do that anymore. Sure, the stories are going to be there, but you can choose to ignore them.
  5. Let go of the need to justify or argue for what you want. One of the big breaks that we apply is feeling that we need to explain or justify. The underlying belief is “I don’t have an inherent right to want what I want, I need to justify it”. Instead, choose to want what you want. In reality, it’s not really up to you what you want. You didn’t decide or ask for it. It’s your nature. It’s what you want. God created that want in you. Your choice is what to do with it. And generally, the best path is to honor it, without justification.
  6. Make friends with your guilt. Guilt is that feeling you get when you choose yourself over others, when you feel like you’ve done something you shouldn’t have. Well, the guilt is a big part of what’s kept you playing a role that wasn’t you. So now, you can pretty much take guilt as an indicator that you’re on the right path. Get friends with it. Celebrate it, whenever you feel it. And then continue doing what you’re doing.
  7. Try shit. Make mistakes. Take chances. Sometimes it’s almost impossible for me to feel what I want, it’s still so new to me. In that case, just try different things, and see what you like. If you liked it, do more of it. Try things you’ve never even considered. Stretch your boundaries. Each time you do something new, it helps blast some neural pathways in your mind.
  8. Trust your body sensations. Inauthenticity happens in the mind. The body knows very well. So start paying attention to how you feel in your body. Do you feel expanded? Or do you feel contracted? Do you feel your energy dropping? Do you feel depressed? Your body will usually react instantly. Trust those sensations. Your body does not make mistakes. Your mind does. You try to talk yourself out of what you know in your gut to be true, and that’s where trouble starts.
  9. Move your body in new ways. Your body really is your genius. It knows way more than you’ll ever realize with your mind. One of the tricks to breaking old patterns is to move your body in new ways. How many crazy new ways can you move your legs? Your hips? Your jaw? The muscles around your eyes? Muscles in your back you didn’t know you even had? Each time you move in a way you haven’t moved before, or a way you rarely move, it creates new neural pathways, and change becomes easier and more fun. Play with it. Allow yourself to look dumb. Being willing to feel like you’re stupid or silly is a big part of discovering your own true self. You cannot let these judgements about what’s appropriate or not, or silly or not, determine who you are. You have to be willing to discover the real you, no matter who he or she is.
  10. Love where you are. There’s nothing worse than if this becomes yet another self-improvement “project”. The reason you ventured away from who you really are in the first place was that you felt wrong and inadequate. Do not make this yet another way to feel wrong and inadequate. Love where you are, no matter where that is. Change and healing is only ever possible when we love and accept ourselves exactly as we are right now. Whenever you catch yourself trying to get away from who or where you are, take a deep breath, embrace yourself, and declare your love for yourself out loud, preferable while looking yourself in the eyes in the mirror.
  11. Be playful. Don’t take the whole thing – or yourself – too seriously. It’s just life. Have fun. Play with it. Know that you’re going to step over the line time and time again – whatever that line is. If you didn’t, how would you ever find out where the line is?
  12. Know that you are not alone. Sometimes when you look around – especially when you meet someone like Gary – it can seem like everybody else has their shit together, and it’s just you that’s struggling, trying to figure out who you really are, trying to find your place in the world. I get that. I feel the same way at times. But know that you are not alone. The way our society works, it’s the norm to be distanced from yourself. That’s why someone like Gary Vaynerchuk sticks out so much. Authentic people are a rare species. And it doesn’t take all that much for people to notice that you have something special going on. Authentic relationships is really something that we all crave.
  13. Be patient. It might take some time to get to know yourself. Maybe a lifetime. Maybe more. Allow it to take however long it takes, be patient with yourself, and make sure the journey is enjoyable and full of love.

What would you add?

Any questions you’d like me to address?

Previous post:

Next post: