I’m always honored to have Dr. Cyndi Briggs as a guest blogger. She thinks deeply, shares courageously, and writes beautifully.
I grew up in the 1970s, that blissful decade when the expansive thinking of the late 1960s melded gorgeously with the pragmatic sensibility of the 1940s and 50s. Tie-dye tee-shirts and Bob Hope Christmas specials. Shaun Cassidy and the Fonz. And in parenting, the crisp edges of old-school discipline paired with upbeat encouragement of Be Yourself! Those two words splashed across the TV screen on Sesame Street and the Electric Company and tacked to every classroom wall. We were a generation told to be exactly who we are.
And now, authenticity is a buzz word found frequently in blogs like mine and self-help literature in general. Authentic leadership, authentic parenting, authentic self. We’re encouraged to be genuine, real, entirely ourselves. I like this idea in theory. Hell, I write about it all the time.
Whether I’m writing, teaching, speaking to an audience, or coaching a client, I aspire to be the most genuine version of myself. I step up to the plate and say quietly to myself, OK Briggs. This is it. Just be yourself and everything will be fine. I want to give people the real deal.
Learning to be yourself is akin to going on a vision quest or walkabout. A rite of passage. Those brightly colored, cardboard letters our grade school teachers posted in encouragement gave no hint to the enormous force unleashed when we stop pretending and start being real. To be yourself is to cast your lot amongst the great explorers and adventurers of history, to launch from the safety of what is known into unmapped territory.
Here’s why: Your Self isn’t your history. It’s not your manners nor your public image. It’s not your job nor your family nor your hobbies. Your Self is something far deeper and wilder than all those things, those hallmarks of civilization that while important and necessary, don’t ultimately equate to your entire being. Your Self is the spark of the divine, the creative life force that operates outside of time, space, laws, rules, culture, and expectations. Your Self is unique in all time, yours alone, your own singular expression of life itself.
Whoa. Kind of mind-blowing, right?
When I step up to the mic or sit down to write and I call on my Self to show up and be present, I never know what’s going to happen. This is the tremendous dare of being authentic. It’s not a planned and careful event (though planning can help provide a jungle gym for the Self to play in). Being authentic is to let the tiger out of the cage. To see what really happens in the wild. And to settle deeply into a trust that the wise Self knows best, even if the path it chooses makes no sense to the civilized and subdued logical mind.
There’s a particular feeling of surrender when we give in to fully being ourselves. A similar feeling to accepting that the weather will be what it wants to be, regardless of how it might inconvenience us. We are each a force of nature, changeable, adaptable, nurturing and sometimes destructive.
What I know for certain is this:
The times in my life when I have ignored the urges of my authentic Self, I have done so to my own peril. When I attempt to rigidly steer or direct my life, I ultimately end up running aground on a rocky shore. And since the ship metaphor seems to be working for me here, let me take it one step further: Being authentic doesn’t mean tossing the oars into the ocean or tearing down the sails, but using those tools in conjunction with the wind and the current that wish to carry us along with them.
So what does it mean to be yourself? And how do you find out who your authentic Self really is? Here’s a start:
- Create quiet time to simply be, to simply listen.
- Pay careful attention to urges and desires, no matter how small or strange.
- Speak the truth, even if it seems inconvenient or unnecessary.
- Trust that what you love is what you are meant to do.
- Love what feels good to your body.
I’ll end today with one of my favorite quotes from a man I know nothing about. I think he sums up beautifully how much this whole business of being yourself really matters:
“Don’t just ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then go and do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman