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?” One of the most common traits found among those who navigated the chaos is a sense of authenticity. The etymology of the word authentic stems from late Middle English: via Old French from late Latin authenticus, from Greek authentikos meaning ‘principal, genuine’. So, another way of phrasing today’s question is “how genuine are you?”

Sometimes being genuine is the most difficult task of all for those navigating the chaos. Invariably translating your dreams into reality is going to run into opposition from people who think you should be doing something else with your life. Your career, your love life, and just about every other decision is up for scrutiny by those closest to you as well as by complete strangers.

The key is to never listen to anyone who has failed to achieve any level of authenticity themselves. Conversely, anyone who has figured out a way to be authentic will most likely encourage you to do the same. Why would you ever listen to someone who has no sense of self? Why would you allow someone to is a copycat to rent space in your head? And why take advice from someone who is afraid of exploring who they really are?

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.”

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 worried about people understanding your behavior?

Are you so tired of being someone other than who you want to be that you have forgotten what it means to be authentic?