A current hot catch-phrase in my industry is “are you living an authentic life?” I hear and read that slogan frequently and I always scream in my head what the hell does that mean? Are people running around living false lives? Well in a way, yes. The issue for me is that I think “truth” is a better and more easily applied word than “authentic.”
One of Webster’s dictionary definitions of the word authentic is “representing one’s true nature or beliefs…” While that definition is easy to understand, it can be a hard put into practice. How does one represent their “true nature or beliefs?”
Clearly I do understand the essence of this phrase – that many people choose to not follow their dreams or listen to their instincts, and end up living out circumstances that they never intended or wanted. But my issue is that to live authentically one must first really know and understand who they are and what they want. While some of us enter adulthood already having figured out who we are and what we want (and then spend the rest of our 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s refining that), there is a huge quantity of adults walking around who simply do not know the answers to those questions.
That’s not a criticism mind you, it is a reality that not all personalities are able, or in some cases even willing, to set in stone the life they want to live. There is nothing wrong with going with the wind and currents and just enjoying where life takes you and how it shapes you, if that’s is who you are. So who then, is really living the “authentic” life? Is it people like me who have things all mapped out and goals firmly being adhered to, or is it those who fly by the seat of their pants? I think what it comes down to is if you are happy with the life you’re living. After all, either approach can leave a person feeling unsatisfied and/or lost.
To me, what’s truly important is honesty. Are you honest with yourself and those around you – honest about who you are and what you want? Honesty can be much more easily applied to one’s life than authenticity, don’t you think? Perhaps then, the better way to state the catch-phrase would be “are you living an honest life?“
To that end, I leave you with the true essence behind this posting: if you are not living an honest life, if you are not being honest with yourself, remember that life (or time) seems to zip by very quickly (you know the other old catch-phrase life is short). Now I know how hard it is for many of you to be honest. Honesty is sometimes scary for while it’s freeing for the deliverer, it can be painful for the recipient. But honesty, as we teach our children, is always better than the burden of lying (or in this case, living a lie).
So dig deep, don’t let fear stop you, and start being honest. Remember to take baby steps, and be patient, it will get easier, and that honesty must always be delivered compassionately (that includes to yourself). Honesty is the most powerful tool to altering your life’s course. Take heart in those that live an honest life for they demonstrate that when we live an honest life, we are at the very least, happier and able to breath just a little bit better.
From an early age my mother instilled in me a solid work ethic, that being late was a sign of disrespect, and the importance of your word and honoring a commitment. I have never lost these ideals and am now teaching them to my daughter. I am sadly aware, however, that many parents from the generations in between my youth and now seemed to have slacked off on these traits.
When I became a personal trainer at the ripe age of 42 (20 years older than the average first time trainer) the Fitness Manager at the gym lamented daily about how he wished he had 10 more like me. While the other beginners stood around talking on their phones when they had no clients, I walked the floor, re-racking weights, helping people with their workouts, passing around free samples of our protein bars, etc. I was always on time, never kept a client waiting, and had their workout planned out in advance. Surprisingly I was the anomaly.
When I was 21 I committed to photographing a co-workers wedding, happy to have a paying gig. Then it turned out that her wedding was taking place over an hour away from where I lived, that I would know no one else, and couldn’t bring a date. I really didn’t want to do it. I thought about what excuse I could make. But my mother’s teachings would not let me off the hook. I had made the commitment – given my word. I sucked it up, drove the 80+ miles by myself, focused politely on my task as photographer, and left four hours later knowing I had done the right thing.
I find these days that many people do not share these apparently antiquated social ethics. They just weren’t raised with them. Kids call their relatives by their first names, not Aunt or Uncle, etc. I’ve had four play dates for my daughter here at the house this summer, not one of the parents ever reciprocated. I contact my clients the night before their training sessions with a courtesy reminder, yet many clients continue to give last minute cancellations or simply not show up. Friends email me with suggestions of getting together, I reply with multiple dates, and then weeks go by and the dates are missed.
My ultimate pet peeve is tardiness. It simply isn’t in my DNA to be late – and chronic tardiness by friends and clients irritates the heck out of me. There’s no reason for it, especially with all of technology on our side – alarms on smart phones, reminders set with Siri, etc. But alas, I know that time management is not a priority to everyone.
Once again I find myself on a soapbox today, spurned on, no doubt, by having watched Ken Burn’s amazing 14 hour documentary on The Roosevelts. If you want to teach your children about good social ethics, FDR and Eleanor were great examples. Not perfect people, but certainly raised with an ingrained sense of honor, commitment, and respect.
People used to say “my word is my bond.” It’s a simple statement that says so much about the reliability of a person. I ask you – how good is your word?
What’s the difference between being blunt or tactful? When you are being honest are you tactful in your delivery or are you blunt? Do you make a conscious decision when to invoke either choice or is your personality simply always tactful or always blunt? Well, let me be blunt … I recommend using both at the same time.
The dictionary defines tactful as: a sense of what is fitting and considerate in dealing with others, so as to avoid giving offence; having skill or judgment in handling difficult or delicate situations. Blunt has a much, well blunter definition: lacking subtlety; straightforward and uncomplicated.
Here’s why I prefer to be blunt as long as it is colored with tact. Blunt is quick, straight to the point, and usually honest. I do not have to candy-coat or tiptoe around the issue and hope that the person got the gist of what I was trying to say, and then hope further that they interpreted it with the sentiment that I intended. That’s way too much soap-opera delivery for my taste.
But unlike some people who get labeled as brutally honest, i.e., their truth tends to hurt, I feel that if you deliver your honesty with compassion and respect (tact) you will not be brutal and ideally you will helpful.
Being too tactful (without bluntness) has it’s own set of problems. This approach often results in a wishy-washy delivery of what you think the person wants to hear. Inside you’re thinking I wish I could just tell them they’re being silly or blind. How much time is wasted in your life having misdirected communication because you’re trying to be tactful. If someone asks for your opinion, or are in a position to offer helpful wisdom or advice – do it quickly, compassionately, and be succinct!
That leads me to my other favorite word when it comes to communication between people. Succinct means: marked by brevity and clarity; concise. Succinct also goes hand in hand with blunt, as both imply quick or brief. (Ah, the beauty of something put simply, clearly, and honestly makes me smile.)
So the next time you need to be honest about something of importance to you or another person, be tactfully-blunt and your life will move on quicker and be the better for it.