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The Authentic Life

This is part 1. Part 2 and probably 3 will come rambling along in the next few days.

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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.

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To be continued.

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16 Comments

  1. Pat
    Pat May 5, 2018 3:40 am

    “Not the first step, though.”

    No. The first step is: Know yourself… what you are… and what you want – and why.

  2. Claire
    Claire May 5, 2018 4:56 am

    Damn. You just wrote part II.

    I will say it’s a little more complicated than that, though …

  3. Pat
    Pat May 5, 2018 6:01 am

    “Damn. You just wrote part II.”

    Sorry.

    “I will say it’s a little more complicated than that, though …”

    That’s why you’re the blogger, and I’m the commenter, Claire. I can’t always put it into proper words. You, OTOH, have a natural capacity to say the right thing, and explain it well. I’m anxious to hear more.

  4. larryarnold
    larryarnold May 5, 2018 8:05 am

    For me, today, leading an “Authentic Life” is simple. When someone glares at me and snarls, “Check Your White Male Privilege!” I look inside myself and respond, “Yup. Still there. Now, as I was saying…”

  5. Comrade X
    Comrade X May 5, 2018 9:29 am

    Good subject Claire.

    Authentic is the opposite of fake methinks. However being real IMHO has to start with oneself, so the question I would ask is how many of us are real to ourselves? I’m not even sure that’s possible for many of us.

    Do we really see ourselves for what we are (forget about what others may think), and then if you look at yourself and don’t like it (or some part of it) can you accept that for what it is or do you try to change it?

    Nothing will ever be perfect so isn’t imperfection part of life and to me everything is direction, direction takes taking a step (a step can be just a thought too), then another, knowing that you can change your mind when a better direction appears too.

    Always looking for the right direction ain’t a bad direction in it self but as you get older methinks you walk more than you run.

    A life seeking as long as you are enjoying it on the way is not such a bad life, is it? We are very lucky here to be able to have a choice of joy in our life’s too. We all have that choice methinks just that many don’t choose to look for that or even appreciate it when they have it. I’m not of the opinion that joy needs to be a big thing but again; is it not as big as we want to make it?

  6. Mike
    Mike May 5, 2018 9:30 am

    All life is lived authentically, one way or another. Each individual is just that, an individual who sees things like the authenticity of their lives in a different light.

    Is the life of say, Warren Buffet anymore authentic then yours Claire, or Joel’s? No, they are just different. Where they become authentic is that you three are doing life on your terms as much as practicable, just as we all are.

    The first step in finding the authentic life happens on that wonderful day when you stop comparing your life to the way somebody else lives. Forget about comparing how much you have in various possessions or the amount of money you have verses the guy across the street. The object is to play the game in such a way that using cash or possessions as a marker of status means nothing. It is then, when you stop trying to keep up with the Jones, that your life becomes authentic.

    Remember, in the game of life you can do one of two things, play the game on your own terms or let the game play you on its own terms.

  7. Comrade X
    Comrade X May 5, 2018 10:16 am

    “Remember, in the game of life you can do one of two things, play the game on your own terms or let the game play you on its own terms.”

    +1

  8. Reno Sepulveda
    Reno Sepulveda May 5, 2018 12:22 pm

    I’m constantly reminded of that Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai, specifically the character Katsumodo. He spent alot of his time mooning about over cherry blossoms. His passion was a romantic Zen quest to find the most perfect, quintessential, authentic example of a cherry blossom.

    Of course after the climactic battle, it starts snowing wind blown cherry blossoms from a nearby orchard and he realizes… “They are… all perfect!”

    And then he dies.

    I have a deep mistrust of people (writers get a pass because it’s pretty much their job to moon about over everything) who spend a lot of energy mooning about over authenticity. What they really mean is they have done shit they are ashamed of but they feel real bad about it and will probably try and make some kind of changes or amends one of these days so that counts for something right? Then they dress their anxiety up in a noble quest for authenticity.

    Here’s the thing. One way or the other, you are authentic every minute of your life. You may not admire, respect or like yourself and you can change things up but like they say wherever you may roam, there you are.

  9. Fred
    Fred May 5, 2018 4:21 pm

    Hi Claire,
    Perhaps if I’m a fake, being fake is the authentic me. This is problematic though because under ‘fake’ is really just a liar. So, if the authentic me is a liar to the point of lying to myself then that’s a pretty big problem, no?

    So maybe, authenticity is as simple as being honest. And now that I’m being honest and honest with myself…that road, wherever it leads, is the authentic life for me.

    If I set my jaw and got about being honest I would find out who my real friends are, what my real work should be, and where the authentic me fits in. Or perhaps I would find it best to make my own unique way.

    Good Topic!

  10. firstdouglas
    firstdouglas May 5, 2018 5:27 pm

    “You live by certain priorities that produce responsible results. You get to be virtuous if only by necessity.” Yep, in my experience. And Stephan Molyneux, discussing the difference between courage and worry, sounds to me to be speaking to your subject as well. http://bit.ly/2KteyEG (Nearly a half hour long, if I’m remembering correctly, but I may yet listen a second time.)

  11. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal May 5, 2018 6:58 pm

    I have no clue how authentic I am. I won’t lie or steal, or do other things I know are wrong, to get money. I do my best to not be a burden on any individual or on “the world” as a whole.
    I try not to be mean to people in real life, but I won’t pretend that horrible actions are ethical. People generally know where I stand and it doesn’t need to be brought up (I sometimes ask that they not bring up certain things we both know will only lead to disagreement. My thought is: Go ahead and do what you’re going to do, just don’t seek my approval for things you know I can’t approve of).
    I know that I feel better when I don’t compromise myself, while not meddling with what others want to do. But if I see them violating someone, I will speak up– I just probably won’t feel great about it afterward.
    I don’t fit in, and I know it. I don’t expect people to make room for me, or accept me, if they don’t want to. I think I am a good friend to the friends I have had.
    Honestly, I don’t know how I could live any different and live with myself. (I would prefer to live in a different location, but that’s just life for now.)

  12. Rick Burner
    Rick Burner May 6, 2018 3:36 am

    Tough questions, Claire.

    Here’s how I attempt to live “authentically.”

    1. I attempt to live maturely and honestly according to the hierarchy of values I have chosen.
    2. I admit my many failures (at least to myself) and refuse to wallow in self condemnation.
    3. Living this way leads to more maturity and an improved set of values.

    Repeat steps one through three until death.

    It’s hard work, but real adventures always are.

    I believe that the core requirement for living well is honesty. Too many people compromise their values (lie to themselves and others) to “get ahead.” The authentic person gets lost. But lying is not a requirement to becoming successful (however you define that). I know millionaires who live as honestly as they possibly can. And I know two wealthy men who have always lived by deceit. Their lives, which look so good on the surface, approximate purgatory.

    Our values always need improvement; that isn’t the same as compromising. Determining the difference is akin to walking a tightrope. I cannot count the number of times I’ve fallen off and needed a long recovery period.

  13. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson May 6, 2018 3:59 am

    There are people who live lives of desperation. They are unhappy at their work but fearful they will lose their jobs, anxious about what people think of them so they are always trying to please, disappointed in what they have because the Jones have more, dead inside because they dare not examine the dishonesty in their own lives. They have made avoidance of self-examination into a high art. Perpetually in distress, churning through jobs, friends, lovers, and spouses, they are searching for the thing that will fix everything. Nothing ever does.

    These are the people who need to consider the meaning of authenticity.

    Most of us have figured out that being happy in our work is more important than the money, being faithful to people we like pays dividends, and measuring ourselves against who we were versus who we wish to be is far more satisfying than keeping up with the Jones’. While I’d say most of us live authentically most of the time, there are the high priests and priestesses who take it to another level of dedication. I imagine that describes those who go into the clergy, or sail around the world alone, or operate spartan health clinics in the midst of wars. I think that their extreme dedication to their personal passions provide good examples for those rare times when we are confronted by hard choices. Do we take the hard road and live by our own standards, or do we go with the flow. To the extent that we do the former, we are as authentic as any hermit.

    “To thine own self be true.”

  14. fred
    fred May 6, 2018 9:35 am

    I dont like this thread.Its heavy duty soul searching,and its painful. I tried my best,did my best,was it enough?I dont know.I do know I dont want to think of what might have been vrs what is real.

    John Lennon says in Beautiful Boy…”Life is what happens to you,
    While you’re busy making other plans”

    Or as the other great philosopher Popeye says… “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.”

    I need to go outside in the garden and talk to the chicken and dogs.Thats authentic says Anon fred.

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