How often are you living an authentic life?


Today is June 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you living an authentic life?” Ralph Waldo Ellison was an American novelist, literary critic, and scholar best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social, and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986). For The New York Times, the best of these essays in addition to the novel put him "among the gods of America's literary Parnassus." A posthumous novel, Juneteenth, was published after being assembled from voluminous notes he left upon his death. Ellison applied twice for admission to Tuskegee Institute, the prestigious all-black university in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington. He was finally admitted in 1933 for lack of a trumpet player in its orchestra. Ellison hopped freight trains to get to Alabama and was soon to find out that the institution was no less class-conscious than white institutions generally were.


The following passage from Invisible Man illustrates Ellison’s commitment to living an authentic life: “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with that I am nobody but myself.”


As one reviewer wrote: “The narrator of Invisible Man struggles to arrive at a conception of his own identity and finds his efforts complicated by the fact that he is a black man living in a racist American society. Throughout the novel, the narrator finds himself passing through a series of communities, from the Liberty Paints plant to the Brotherhood, with each microcosm endorsing a different idea of how blacks should behave in society. As the narrator attempts to define himself through the values and expectations imposed on him, he finds that, in each case, the prescribed role limits his complexity as an individual and forces him to play an inauthentic part.”


For those who leverage their mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality, being authentic is a strategy often used. Today’s reflection involves taking a moment to pause and increase our self-awareness on our level of authenticity. As Jeremy Sutton wrote in a March 10, 2021, article "Authentic Living: How to Be Real According to Psychology,” the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre suggested “authenticity was fundamental to the notion of freedom and living a meaningful life. Authentic living requires us to embrace the reality of our freedom and be responsible for how we choose to live.”


Obviously, today’s reflection might be a heavy lift for some people. Taking a few moments to examine if you embrace the reality of your freedom and own how you have chosen to live your life stresses even those with a high degree of self-love. Since balancing authenticity and wellbeing is juxtaposed to the multiple roles we play, Sutton emphasized that individuals need to be aware of the challenges involved with doing so. Part of this challenge is to accept the limitations of both yourself and others while realizing everyone will define their own authenticity. To be authentic is to be your true self; or in the pursuit of your true self.


In The Art of Being, social psychologist Erich Fromm commented on the need to be authentic and observed: “If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being asocial or irrational in their eyes, so be it. Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them. How many lives have been ruined by this need to explain, which usually implies that the explanation be understood, i.e. approved? Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.”

  • How often are you being authentic?

  • How often have people told you how to be authentic?

  • How often do you remind yourself that ‘you have been born to be nobody but yourself?’

  • How often do you embrace the reality of your freedom and hold yourself responsible for how you choose to live your life?

  • How often do you allow yourself the freedom to accept that other people may not understand how you live your life?

  • How often do you find yourself criticizing how others live their life?

  • How often do you find yourself explaining how you live your life? Why do you feel such a need to do so?

  • How often do you remind yourself that ‘you owe no one an explanation or an accounting, as long as your acts do not hurt or infringe on the rights and freedoms of others?’

  • How can you leverage your mind, body, and spirit to increase your self-awareness as well as your authenticity?