This is part 1. Part 2 and probably 3 will come rambling along in the next few days.
My friend Jordan longs to lead an Authentic Life. In caps.
He’s done fascinating things while also doing well for himself. Most people would say he’s living the good life. But he’s wanted to escape it for years. He and his wife tried once. They aimed for their idea of paradise. Failed. Not really through their own fault. But they ended up being sucked straight back into the “good” life again. Now they’re considering another try.
Jordan thinks I live an authentic life. In some ways, I do. I certainly try. But then I look at someone like Joel and … no way. I know all too well my own compromises, bad habits, and excuses.
I’m glad Jordan thinks that of me. I aspire to authenticity no matter how often I miss. Yet it’s funny how we so often associate The Proverbial Authentic Life with poverty (or at least with genteelly limited means).
Of course there’s good reason. When you’re as poor as Joel, you’ve got nobody to impress — except in the sense of impressing neighbors with how honest, hardworking, and creative you are at solving problems. For that, you must be really, really real.
When you’re at my level, it’s not so hard, but you still have to focus on needs more than wants. You live by certain priorities that produce responsible results. You get to be virtuous if only by necessity.
I do suppose that a life filled with a high-power career, money, and status is usually a little less authentic. It simply has so many more opportunities. But does it really have to be less?
Digression here: I’m going to talk about wealth and authenticity, but what I’m saying has applications all across the spectrum. It’s really about money, status, inertia, and excuses — curses that apply to us all.
What is an Authentic Life?
First of all, let’s define our terms. What is an Authentic Life?
- Living according to principles?
- Living simply and in harmony with Mother Earth?
- Being as self-sufficient as possible?
- Following your wildest whims wherever they may lead you, and damn anybody who doesn’t have the guts to ride along?
- Pursuing your dream career even when everybody says you’re crazy?
- Living in solitude, unswayed by the currents of the world?
- Finding God and living according to His Divine Will?
- Being a cranky SOB and driving all your friends and family away so you can have everything precisely as you want it?
To each his own. Hopefully not the whim one or the cranky one, but it’s not ours to say. But rich or poor plays only a minor part — and sometimes rich (or at least “comfortable”) is better.
Some of the best beginnings of cap-A Authenticity traditionally involve giving up a job and relocating. Right? Who better to pursue those aspects of authenticity than people who’ve made it in the world?
People think possessions hinder authenticity. Is there a religion in the world (other than those 1-800-number variants on TV) that doesn’t tell its most serious adherents to give up everything they own? (Even the prosperity preachers on TV still use that notion to pry the maximum out of pockets everywhere.)
But what if your wealth enables you to surround yourself with great art, great minds, and great experiences? Isn’t that a meaningful life?
Wealth might also allow you to support starving artists or mentor children.
On the other hand, being poor might keep you so close to the bottom of the Maslow pyramid that you have damn little time or concern for being authentic.
My point isn’t about whether it’s better to be comfortable or poor. My point’s that it isn’t — either way. Being poor and of the right mindset might force you to live closer to ground-level reality, but being prosperous has its own advantages in the authenticity department. Authenticity begins wherever we are, with whatever we’ve got. Then it takes us places we may not even know we want to go.
My friend Jordan knows this, of course. But he also knows that pulling up stakes and moving away from all the physical manifestations and demands of the “good” life is often essential for breaking habits and changing mindset.
Funny how often a relocation with a complete lifestyle change is a first step in seeking The Authentic Life.
Not the first step, though.
To be continued.
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