What is a Good Life? #18
Being Yourself / Authenticity
Good day to you all,
Thanks again for your interest in this newsletter.
If this is your first time reading this newsletter, please click here for background information on the project and how it is structured (4 separate sections). Through following this weekly newsletter, I hope it gets easier to navigate one of life’s biggest questions.
The key theme this week is Being Yourself / Authenticity. The interviewee speaks about the process of reconnecting with herself, while I reflect on the difficulties and rewards of being yourself.
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1. This week’s interview – Being Yourself
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with Tess*. Tess is a Curator and a co-founding Editor of an art publication. She speaks about recent shifts in her life, prioritising being herself and re-evaluating the significance of work.
*Not the participant’s real name
What is a good life for you?
Autonomous living has recently evolved for me as being part of a good life. Autonomous living means being myself, making choices for myself, and by doing this I am able to contribute more from my heart and passion, rather than following someone else's steps. This shift happened after I noticed I was doing things too much for others, rather than doing them for myself.
Being myself benefits the way I live my life and the choices I make. It doesn’t mean being individualistic, it means that I know who I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and creating an environment for me that fits within that.
“The happiest people discover their own nature and match their life to it.” - Ray Dalio
Can you talk to me about the significance of being yourself, while not being individualistic?
When I first thought of autonomous living, I somehow related this to individualism, of being selfish – something I have an allergy for. I realised that being yourself doesn't mean you can't make compromises.
It just means if I collaborate with others professionally that I speak up for who I am, then we both enjoy extra benefits and complement each other by being ourselves.
How do you notice when you aren’t being yourself?
The moment I push myself away, I feel it. I feel it in my body, I have troubles with my throat or in my stomach - it makes me nervous. However, the moment I speak up for myself and my truth, I feel more empowered, and then someone else has the choice to accept me or not.
For example, part of me is being very sensitive. If someone decides they don’t want to have a relationship with someone sensitive, this is a choice another person can make. But if I were to adapt and transform myself to not being sensitive to fit in this relationship, I would lose myself.
How do you understand more about yourself?
Over the course of my life path, I’ve discovered more of who I am. There are some characteristics that I’ve developed but there are also parts of me that haven’t changed.
Recently, I noticed that I was losing connection to who I am, so I started doing more self-exploration, reading, working with a coach, meditating, etc.
The more I know of myself, life somehow becomes a little easier and goes more naturally. It doesn’t feel like I’m trying to hold on to something. There are some things I’ve had to let go of, but new things are also coming into my life.
What challenges do you face in being more yourself / living more autonomously?
Whenever I’m too identified with my work, my relationship, friendships, and my home, it becomes harder to feel what is authentic to me. It’s hard not to adapt to what society expects of you. A part of a good life is to see and recognise the noise, to be aware of it, and stay connected to your own voice.
Of those, identifying too much with work has been the biggest challenge. I always thought having a great life meant having a great job - excelling at something and developing my career. Work, for most of us, is the place where we can constantly evolve, or it's the place of development.
I lost myself completely in this and I'm still peeling off this layer of myself. In the past year, I decided to work a lot less than I was before, and now I can’t ever imagine working as much as I did before.
How has life changed with this adjustment to work?
Now, I'm able to say that I'm extremely happy with days and weeks that I’m just reading, spending time with my partner, going into nature, and working a bit too.
But I’m noticing this need to contribute more to society. It's the need to feel that I can use my skills or who I am to help others. I always saw work as the place where I can do this but I lost this sense of work being the way to contribute.
I would like to discover how to contribute to society as I go through the process of finding out who I actually am and what role work can play in this.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi
2. This week’s insight
Each week I share an overall insight from reviewing 100+ interviews collectively
Being Yourself / Authenticity was mentioned by approximately 18% of the participants in this project as an important part of a good life. Participants associated being yourself / authenticity with creativity, more meaningful relationships, trust, vulnerability, and honesty.
Numerous participants suggested that it was only with close friends and family that they fully experienced being themselves. Some participants made the realisation that it was a waste of energy trying to be anyone else. A handful of participants cited being themselves as what led them to discover what they wanted to do with their lives.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” - Oscar Wilde
3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
The ideas of being yourself and authenticity have been watered down to such an extent that they have been rendered almost meaningless.
Products are sold under the pretence of aligning with who you really are; the self-development space promotes these terms ad nauseam; companies are asking their employees to bring their true selves to work (within a very specific set of confines), while marketers urge us to build our own authentic personal brands.
And yet, despite the flippancy with which these terms are used, great philosophers and writers have been telling us for centuries how unique and rare it can be for people to actually be themselves.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The path to being yourself is not necessarily without risk. It may require you to get to know yourself on a much deeper level (initially you may not like everything you discover about yourself). It can entail deconstructing old belief structures or worldviews, which could destabilise your inner world and your external relationships.
However, few endeavours can have such a wide-reaching impact on so many facets of our lives, enabling us to forge deeper connections to ourselves and others and to make full use of our own internal resources.
4. This week’s questions for personal reflection
Each week I pose questions to support your own inquiry into what a good life is for you
Is there a central part of you that you’ve lost connection with as the years have passed by?
When do you feel the least yourself and the most yourself? What contributes most to creating either state?
That’s all for this week. I’d greatly appreciate you sharing this newsletter with your friends. I’d also really like to receive any feedback with suggestions for what you would like to see from these weekly updates. If you want to contact me directly, here’s my email and LinkedIn.
I’m a coach, based in Berlin (via Dublin, Ireland). I formerly had a 15-year career in Capital Markets, and for better or worse, I’ve convinced myself that I’m going to make a discovery around human thought / behaviour.