By Elaine Voci, Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant®, Life Coach
“This above all: to thine own self be true.” William Shakespeare
Life is an amazing adventure. When you are being yourself, your best self, and doing work you love, time flies and events flow, but when you are trying to be someone different than your true self, and having to pretend at work, then time can slow to a snail’s pace and discomfort multiplies. To put it simply: incongruence hurts.
It’s up to us, not our circumstances, to decide how we want to live, think, feel and act. It’s always been the case that life is what we make it and that our attitude is the determining factor between living fully and happily or living in a state of anxiety and unhappiness. So, we must begin by acknowledging that we are in charge of how we become our authentic selves and how we will meet the challenges that will inevitably be a part of the process.
Knowing that there’s more happiness to be found in being authentic, what specifically can we do to live in our own beauty while being true to ourselves? As a life coach and a life cycle celebrant, I have observed that authentic people live according to four practices that you can adopt in your daily life:
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Offer your honest opinion tactfully; share some parts of your personal life with others in conversations, and commit to having genuine relationships built on candor and mutual respect. Recently, as I approached the elevator in the building where I practice, I noticed that a woman was standing there with a large sock on one foot. I was curious and, rather than ignore it, I chose to engage her in conversation. I learned that she had injured herself at home, tripping over an item on the floor; she looked sheepish and stated that it was a “stupid” accident. I commiserated and told her I could “one up” her story with my own. Ten years ago, I tore my ACL by stumbling over a floor pillow while I was vacuuming. We both ended up smiling, chuckling and making an enjoyable connection with one another that morning because I took the risk of expressing interest.
- Keep fear of failure from limiting your choices. Fear of failure is real. It’s what holds us back from growing and being successful. It’s strengthening to challenge our fears by asking, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If we are willing to take a chance, and ask for support as we need it, we can test ourselves to learn something new, or solve a problem, or tap into our creativity. No one is going to expect you to have all the answers when you tackle new roles and responsibilities, so allow yourself the luxury of leaning on others to help, to advise, and to guide you once you’ve chosen a direction to go. As Julie Andrews noted, “Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.”
- Be open to getting out of your personal comfort zone. Consider the boundaries of the comfort zone you have created. Ask yourself, “Is that as comfortable as I could be?” It’s likely that those boundaries can be expanded to accommodate more risks and challenges than you have given yourself credit for. Push the parameters out and let your true self have more room to grow. One of the keys to being happy in life is to have confidence in yourself, and taking risks is one sure way to discover more of your strengths, your resilience, and your human potential.
- Have the courage to leave. Growing into your authentic self does not have to jeopardize your personal happiness at work, at home or in life. As a career coach, I have seen too many clients who stayed too long at a job they had outgrown, or who continued to work in an environment where they felt uncomfortable being themselves. Being able to discern when it’s time to move on – from a relationship or a job – is of great benefit to your health, wellbeing and personal integrity.
Walking away can be difficult and challenging, but also rewarding, life-affirming, and restorative. When you can be yourself, and feel comfortable in your own skin, and confident in your abilities to manage life on your terms, then happiness is within reach. The effects can be lasting and positive as you grow older. As one of the participants in a course I facilitate titled, “Conscious Aging” remarked: “When I was younger I used to walk into a room and wonder if the people there would like me; now that I am older, I walk into a room and wonder if I’m going to like them!”