When I was living and working in Paris for a short time, back in the 90s, my favorite museum was the Musée de Rodin … August Rodin, the French sculptor. As a wanna-be writer, I was intrigued by Rodin’s belief that, before an artist can create art, he “must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.”
I don’t really agree with that premise, but I think there’s a valuable, less self-immolating, takeaway for all of us, regardless of whether we are aspiring artists:
Before an individual can create a life worth living … he or she must be ready to set fire to the constraints of their own inauthenticity.
Yup. That’s an MC-ism. You can quote me on that one.
Inauthenticity douses passion. And it does so indiscriminately. If you’re consistently inauthentic in one area of your life, it will seriously dampen your ability to be authentic in other areas. That’s why you’ll often see people who hate their jobs tuning out their family by drinking a lot at the end of the day. Or people who are deeply unhappy in their relationships pounding back the chips and packing on the pounds. Or someone who consistently speaks words they do not mean in order to keep the peace or curry favor, will ultimately find themselves mired in relationships — at work, at home, socially, etc., — that are resentful, destructive, and soul-stealing.
What I’ve found as a coach (and when I’ve received coaching myself) is that the nearer we move our behaviors and words toward authenticity in even one area of our life — the more successful we become in all areas of our life. It’s amazing how often I’ve seen significant change occur in big ways in a client’s life, when they take even small steps toward authenticity.
For example, not every woman who colors her hair is “hiding” herself — for some, hair color expresses and celebrates the woman within. But for others, hair-coloring is just one more tool in trying to stem the tide of appearing older in a society that prefers its women young, or at least youthful in appearance.
For that woman who is consciously hiding herself behind a monthly dose of hair color, when she does finally decide to let her gray grow out, it often has unintended consequences — the good kind — in other areas of her life. Suddenly, for example, she’s more energized as a lover (might sound counter-intuitive but while coloring hair might give us a sense of confidence in the workplace, it can subtly undermine our confidence in our most intimate relationships). And, often, women who stop coloring their hair find themselves feeling more comfortable stretching other self-inflicted constraints — signing up for a dance class when she hasn’t danced since her 20s, deciding to take a solo trip and letting her grown kids figure out their own meals for a weekend,indulging her long-delayed dream of zip lining, or even feeling wildly — unexpectedly — more joyous and confident at work, even when surrounded by not-a-drop-of-hair-dye-in-sight millennials.
Similar results await men who dare to become more authentic. A man who comes clean to his wife about how he hates Friday nights in front of the television (her preferred way to wind down from the work week), works out a solution with her that lets her stay at home in her PJs, snuggled in front of 48 Hours while he goes to a night driving range and unwinds for an hour by perfecting his golf stroke. By moving toward authenticity for himself in this one small space of a couple of hours, he also makes his relationship more authentic — which can only be a good thing. Who knows how they might spend their time when they reconnect later in the evening, both feeling nourished, and relaxed, by having spent time being true to their own interests?
For my own self, the year when I finally worked up the courage to be authentic with my family about not wanting to get together for Thanksgiving — knowing that would disappoint my Mom particularly — just so that I could spend four days writing, the result was that my newfound authenticity led me to the happiest, most fulfilling years of my life. Not only did I find my authentic voice as a writer in one four-day weekend, but what I wrote landed me my first job as a paid weekly newspaper columnist — a lifelong dream. In the process, I gave my Mom a great gift — the power of trusting our relationship enough to be real in it. And she in turn felt great about being supportive of my choice, even though she spent that Thanksgiving completely alone. It all worked out very well, but first I had to be authentic — truthful about my own needs and being willing to disappoint others.
It’s hard to have a fire in the belly when we’re constantly putting out any potential flickers of flame by dousing them with inauthenticity. So, here are some suggestions that might help you in moving toward authenticity:
• Take one of your New Year goals or resolutions — the one that feels most like a “should” — and throw it the window. Yell “Hell, Yes!” to the no! Mark it off your list with a slash of red ink and move on. Do something else — or do nothing in its place. Losing one “should” will feel a little bit like you’ve struck a match to something … even if you don’t know what that something is yet.
• Tell the truth about something you’ve been keeping a secret. Don’t tell secrets that serve you — and some do (who needs to know your secret obsession with manscaping or about the delicious crush you had on your sister’s husband when you first met him?). But absolutely DO tell the truth about something if you’ve been avoiding doing so out of fear. I.e., because you’re afraid your lover, parent, sibling, or bestie won’t like you if they knew what it is that you’re hiding. It can be something as simple as saying to your partner, “You know, I loathe the House of Hamburgers and from now on if you go, you’ll have to go alone.” or as complicated as saying, “I think you’ve become an alcoholic and if you don’t get help, I’m leaving.” Telling the truth is like setting a controlled fire to clear out deadwood and pave the way for new growth. It really does set you free.
• If you’ve been cruel to someone, whether it was yesterday or ten years ago, stop right now and call or write that person you hurt. Ask for forgiveness. If someone asks you for forgiveness, give it straightaway. You really can’t burn with passion for anything in your life if your inner world is tangled up in an inability to forgive others or seek forgiveness for yourself.
• Choose the path of most resistance. Forget about taking the easy way out of something. It absolutely never, ever, ever, never, no way, not happening, ever, never, never, works out. I know this from experience — hard f’n experience — and I’m here to tell you, easy is never easy. And it often involves a lot of lying — mostly to yourself. Easy is for scented candles that give you the illusion of being in a pine forest. It’s a pretension. A suspension of reality for a usually painfully short time. The easy way out is all about avoiding conflict — either within your own heart or with others.
Be brave enough to take the harder approach to solving the gnarly conundrums of your life with truth, compassion, and a commitment to looking at reality with all its thorns. Nothing will make you feel more alive than staring the reality of any situation in the face and being willing to deal with it in a completely authentic way. Is there really any other way you want to live? It won’t be easy. It will be hard. And it will be worth it.