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.)
- 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:
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 GetRichSlowly.org 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.