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The Authentic Life, part II

Part I is here.


Before I commence to get myself in further trouble with part II, I’d like to add a very large ditto and several kudos to most of what the Commentariat had to say on part I. Extra kudo to Joel, who has lived the life and even written a poem about it.

I disagree only with the notion that every life is authentic. Sure, authentic in the sense of “yes, that life exists.” Not so much in the sense of “yes, it’s a life lived honestly and without pretense.”

Also, I get that several people found the very concept of “authenticity” to be eye-rollingly hipsterish. Maybe so. But I’ll bet if my friend Jordan and I had spoken instead of being true to oneself, getting back to basics, being self-sufficient, or living by ones values there would have been less objection. And IMHO we’re talking the same concept. I’ll grant that “authenticity” is a trigger term.

That said, I shall now resume my writerly prerogative of fretting about all kinds of things. So, on to part II.


Pat (in comments) nailed it when she said the first step to living in harmony with your values and aspirations (note me not saying “living authentically”) is knowing yourself.

But how the heck do you do that?

Certainly we all hold certain values and personality traits that are so central, so solid, that it seems we were born with them. Maybe we were. In those we tend to know ourselves beyond a doubt.

But other values — and nearly all behaviors and goals — we acquire mainly by trial and error. By stumbling into them. By screwing up and learning. By being betrayed or otherwise injured. By discovering some activity that has the ability to sweep us out of old patterns. By achieving a long-sought goal only to discover it leaves us empty.

Knowing yourself is a process. And one we don’t always control.

Some people are more systematic or self-perceiving than others, but even the best of us can get clobbered by the unanticipated and sent spinning off like a pool ball.

I’m thinking of a young relative of mine who, practically from babyhood, was fixated on a military career. He read war books. He studied strategy. He had rooms full of war games (before they were all played on computer). He joined the ROTC. He lived and breathed military. He was a patriot’s patriot’s patriot. He went to college on an ROTC scholarship.

Then he joined the actual U.S. Army as a junior officer. And hated it from day one. He spent his entire 5+ year enlistment obligation attempting to subvert what he perceived as brain-dead bureaucracy. He couldn’t wait to get out and live some other life. Any other life. He didn’t know or care what.


Of course you could argue that my young relative knew himself just fine; what he didn’t know was the reality of the military.

But isn’t that always part of the equation? We have to know ourselves in context. And how do we know that without experience — often painful experience?

Or we can know ourselves but come to doubt what we know under the pressure of other people or society in general.

For instance, I loved solitude as far back as I can remember, and today, for me, it’s key to living in integrity. But the brutally social atmosphere of school and later the even more brutal social demand to seek “true love” brainwashed me into believing for many years that being alone was wrong, even dangerous.

Then, too, you can know yourself quite well, know your goals, and even have everything lined up to achieve them — but end up having the ground shift under you.

This is what happened to Jordan and his wife on their first try at living their Authentic Life (his term this time). They moved to a tropical paradise and set up a small business, only to have the government of said paradise regulate their livelihood out of existence. Back they came to their previous unsatisfying “good life.”

Or you can think you know yourself, go for what you want, and discover you’re utterly unsuited to it. Case in point: a young woman who believed she wanted to be a contemplative nun, dreamed of it, planned for it, and entered a monastic order — only to discover that she lacked the discipline, humility, and work ethic the vocation required. (Apparently a common story with young wannabe nuns.)


So sometimes:

  • You know yourself but don’t have enough experience with reality to test yourself against it;
  • You know yourself but don’t have the experience, maturity, or strength of character to believe what you know;
  • You know yourself and exactly what you want, but you end up being behind the eight-ball.
  • You think you know yourself but you don’t.

Other times, you know yourself quite well but circumstances conspire to keep you from moving toward the life you want.

Then, too, there’s the similar but IMHO unauthentic option of pretending to know yourself and what you want but blaming circumstances/other people/lack of money for your inability even to take baby steps in the direction you claim to want to go.


“Know yourself” is a nice mantra. And it’s a good beginning for leading a life true to your own values.

But the reality is tricky.

The conclusion I’ve come to after a long life of mistakes and misdirection is even trickier:

To live true to yourself, you’ve got to be utterly unwilling to compromise your values while at the same time being as adaptable as a chameleon in applying said values to life.

Being an uncompromising compromiser. It’s hard.


I have notes for a part III, but I don’t know whether anybody wants to hear any more from me on this subject. So I’ll hold off and see what the Commentariat has to say. The possibility exists that I’m babbling meaninglessly; I’m too close to the subject to know.

Meanwhile, J.D. Roth of has done wonderful work lately on meaning, purpose and life goals. If you’d like to spend analytical time on yourself, I recommend his 12 exercises for discovering purpose and passion.


  1. Pat
    Pat May 8, 2018 7:44 am

    “Being an uncompromising compromiser. It’s hard.”

    Yes, please – more on this. But I’ve been learning.

  2. Cube64
    Cube64 May 8, 2018 7:57 am

    What an excellent article! So many of your articles are excellent, but this one touched upon a subject I’ve thought about often. As usual, you’ve expressed it better than I ever could and from a perspective that’s a little different than I’ve contemplated before. All of us have made compromises and some a lot more than others. Exactly where to draw the line is a decision all of us have to wrestle with. Your readers are among the most authentic people anywhere. And yet most of them seem to be fairly tolerant of others who have chosen to make more compromises than they have.

    When politicians and their cronies have such a heavy influence, those who are unwilling to compromise generally have to pay a heavier price than the general populace at least in terms of a financial well-being. In general, even though your readers have qualities that all of us prize like thinking critically, being resourceful, being independent and self-reliant, being true to themselves, etc., I would guess that many have paid a financial price (some heavier than others) for not just professing mainstream political, religious, or moral values.

    If you feel up to it, I would like to see a part 3 of this series.

  3. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal May 8, 2018 8:21 am

    I think I know myself, but I’m always gathering more data on the subject.

    I was always a loner. I spent most of my life wandering wild places alone– or the closest I could find at any particular time. At home I was holed up in my room. My grandmother stuck a handwritten note on my door saying “The Hermit”.

    My only experiences with crowds of people were misery. Church and school– and I despised both. (Of course, my parents said I didn’t like church because I wanted to sin. That didn’t make me like it more.)

    That didn’t change when I grew up.

    But, as a 37 year-old adult I discovered I could actually really enjoy company– even crowds– as long as it was on my terms. I had been ripped away from everything I knew and enjoyed, and plopped down (and promptly abandoned for all intents and purposes), far away from everything familiar. And, through an unlikely set of circumstances, I discovered karaoke at a tiny close-knit bar (I’d never been in a bar before). And I fit right in and loved it. Even the crowds. Then a girlfriend convinced me to go to her photography showing in an art gallery in a Big City, and as weird as that was (as they were) I loved the experience.

    Now, knowing that I can sometimes enjoy things I never thought I would, I am open to new experiences. Hey, if I hate it, it won’t last that long and I’m sure to learn something.

    So that was another data point about me– I hate crowds forced on me, doing things I don’t like, around people I have nothing in common with, but I can enjoy people when it’s voluntary and we have something– anything– in common. I continue to look for new situations and experiences, even if I believe I won’t like them. It doesn’t usually hurt to try something new. As long as I stay true to my principles and don’t archate who knows what I could enjoy.

  4. Tahn
    Tahn May 8, 2018 9:24 am

    I would certainly like to hear more. This is a valuable perspective, which I am passing on to my Daughter and Granddaughters. Thank you Claire.

  5. Dana
    Dana May 8, 2018 9:27 am

    My opinion on the value of personality tests has gone down a bit over the years, but this one about ancient civilizations showed up in my feed this morning, just before reading this blog entry, and was uncannily spot on. Just passing it along.

  6. Comrade X
    Comrade X May 8, 2018 9:38 am


    “Being an uncompromising compromiser. It’s hard.”

    Yep! I like that quote of yours Claire.

    The old saying about being careful about what you wish for has real meaning IMHO.

    Not being satisfied can be both a blessing and a curse too.

    I find it hard to be one way in part of your life and think you can be another way in another part.

    The being a loner is another thing, I’ve never been alone just that it ain’t always been with humans. A lot of people I can’t stand but is that their problem or mine? I have found that some of the people I like best I don’t really know, why is that, would it be because when you know someone you will have to know their good & bad too and find it in yourself to forgive the bad so as to appreciate the good?

    I really believe that in people in general there is good and evil in us all so the key is being able to recognize your evil or weaknesses then making sure your good is dominate. Methinks it’s a whole another conversation about the people who are evil and why but also methinks people can change from evil to good or the other way around too or not even think they are one or the other for that matter.

    Making the best of what you have and also trying to make it better at the same time seems to be a good direction. Being completely satisfied for some of us may not be in the cards (maybe the ones that are, are mainly better at convincing themselves that they are) but in life there seems to always be another hand too if you play the game. I like dealing the best.

  7. larryarnold
    larryarnold May 8, 2018 10:00 am

    I’ve been in all four of your bullets. Maybe knowing yourself means trying things until you get it right, then being flexible when the world changes and you have to start over.

    That’s all the profound I have available right now, so please keep going.

  8. Joel
    Joel May 8, 2018 12:40 pm

    Depending on childhood indoctrination, even when you don’t even know you’re doing it…

    I loved solitude as far back as I can remember, and today, for me, it’s key to living in integrity. But the brutally social atmosphere of school and later the even more brutal social demand to seek “true love” brainwashed me into believing for many years that being alone was wrong, even dangerous.

    When I was a teenager, the vocation I dreamed of was a hermit in the boondocks. Couldn’t imagine anything better. Every adult who got a whiff of that steered me in the opposite direction, of course – it was an adolescent fantasy, utterly unrealistic, I’d hate it if I really tried it, finish school and get a job. “Find a girl, settle down, if you want you can marry. Look at me, I am old but I’m happy.” Unanimous advice, unanimously wrong.

    50-odd years of misery trying to fit in with everybody else’s expectations later, I’m a very happy hermit in the boondocks. And when I finally left the city, it was to cacophonous choruses about what a mistake I was making.

    Then, too, you can know yourself quite well, know your goals, and even have everything lined up to achieve them — but end up having the ground shift under you.

    I’ve been thinking about an article in yesterday’s second link dump – about amor fati. You know, I’ve never studied stoicism in any detail – I have a deep distrust of philosophers in general – but every time it comes up it sounds so much like where I’ve ended up in my own head. Remember “Embrace the Chaos?” That wasn’t always phrased very well, and I haven’t consciously enlarged the thought – but it’s the way I always live, and it has brought me the greatest contentment I’ve ever known. Don’t just accept change – even bad change – love it! Like Murphy’s Law, it’s not a council of despair but a call to action. And it eliminates “run in circles, scream and shout” from your list of appropriate reactions to sudden setbacks. Setbacks become opportunities to improve things you’d otherwise have just lived with.

    Thanks, Claire! I need to think about this more, and write a new “embrace the chaos” post.

    And I definitely want to read Pt. III.

  9. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran May 8, 2018 1:27 pm

    I’ve learned to know myself by trial and error and had things pretty much figured out for the authentic life for my wife and I. Work until I was 66 and 2 months old, then retire and have time to spend with our kids and being grandma and grandpa to our grandkids. I’ll still be doing that, except it will be in solitude in between my visits with the kids and grandkids since my wife died last year. Seeing it’s just me now and not needing much to live on, I calculated that I can retire at the end of this year, giving me a head start to spend more time with the kids and grandkids, starting a bit younger and in decent health so I can do more with them!

  10. Art Eatman
    Art Eatman May 8, 2018 1:59 pm

    From time to time through the years I’d stop and go all introspective in a sort of review: “Why do I think like I do?” Political view/opinion in particular.

    I never had any problem with responsibility for the well-being of wife and kid. But I didn’t like to be given orders by any outsider.

    ;Mostly office work as a professional civil engineer, but also very skilled in numerous blue-collar endeavors. Outdoorsman. Farming/ranching background. Car racer. Yada-yada-yada.

    I guess all that created a mindset of “Wish in one hand, poop in the other, and see what fills up first.” I ran across an article just today on the difference between “is” and “oughta”.

    My wrinkles ccme from grinning, so I guess I’ve done something right. 🙂

  11. David Gross
    David Gross May 9, 2018 7:21 am

    If you’re intrigued by “authenticity” and its difficulties, it may be time for you to delve into the good old existentialists, for whom authenticity was their bread and butter. Here’s a write-up I did on Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Ethics of Ambiguity” that might whet your appetite:

  12. Pat
    Pat May 9, 2018 7:45 am

    I just got around to reading Joel’s poem. A very thoughtful and poignant commentary. (And he says he doesn’t have time for philosophy! 🙂 )

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