Building My Ideal Life
Over the years, I have done a lot of introspection and deep diving to try and figure out who I am and what I want to do with my life. Along the way, I realized something vital. I was not living authentically, and that way of life was slowly tearing me down.
The last few years have been spent working hard to figure out what it means to live authentically, working through the behaviors that held me back, and identifying the steps I need to take moving forward. In this article, I’ll share a bit of what I learned along the way so you can start working toward the life you want to live.
What Is Living Authentically?
You might hear the term “authentic living” and roll your eyes. It can sound awfully pretentious if you aren’t familiar with the concept. If that’s your first reaction, that’s okay! But keep reading, you might be pleasantly surprised by how much this hits home.
First, let’s explore what living inauthentically means.
Living a Lie
To live inauthentically is to shield a large part of yourself from the rest of the world. You do what you think you’re supposed to do, giving yourself no room to do the stuff you want to do.
For me, living inauthentically meant I was suppressing my creativity. I thought making art would be seen as childish, irresponsible, and cringy — so I stopped. I held myself back from doing something that made me immeasurably happy for years because I was trying to fit myself into the mold that was expected of me.
For you, living inauthentically might mean that you wear a mask of who you think you should be. You might have a carefully crafted persona to be as inoffensive and unobtrusive as possible. Perhaps you do things you don’t like to try and fit in, or you don’t allow yourself to do things that you love for fear of rejection. You might even be in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy or a career that stifles you.
Often, these situations come from a desire to be accepted and validated. We grow up expecting that we’ll only be loved or praised if we do things that others deem acceptable, and we stop living for our own wants and needs. Living these lies every day can eat away at you, leaving you feeling empty or depressed. So how do you change?
Living Your Truth
Living authentically doesn’t mean your life will be perfect — you’ll still have bad days, challenges that frustrate you, and disappointments. But it does mean that you’ll be able to take those rough times more gracefully because you’re not spending half your energy on putting up a shiny fake persona.
Being authentic isn’t a destination, it’s a practice. You have to work regularly to build the habit of being honest. You (likely) have a habit of living inauthentically, and that kind of long-ingrained habit will take time to unlearn. But with work and time, you will start to replace those negative habits with more powerful positive ones.
How Do I Know if I’m Living Authentically or Not?
There are three simple questions you can ask yourself that will help you understand whether you are living as fully as you could be. These questions come straight from this article on Positive Psychology and they get right to the point.
- Do you feel free to make your own choices?
- Can you comfortably express your own views and opinions?
- Do you feel you can be yourself on a day-to-day basis?
If the answer to any of these is “no”, then it is time to reflect on whether or not you are living as your true self.
Barriers to Authenticity
I want to address the reality that not everyone can afford to live authentically due to complicated living situations. We do what we must to survive certain scenarios and protect ourselves. If you are in a situation where you are struggling with poverty, abuse, severe medical issues, or other major holdups, then living a life true to yourself might not be possible.
It is only after our base needs are met that we can focus on our quality of life. Before that, basic survival must come first. So if you are at a point in your life where you are unable to comfortably meet your basic needs, then your first priority should be to handle your situation. You will always have time to focus on authenticity when you have more breathing room.
7 Tips for Living More Authentically Today
Figuring out how to live authentically will look a little different for everyone. The journey will be unique to each individual, so I can’t tell you exactly how to get there. I can, however, give some pointers and tips from my own learning process that will hopefully help!
The very first step toward living authentically is accepting responsibility for your life. Yes, there will be horrible things that happen to you, and you can’t control them. Natural disasters, abusive people, financial loss… sometimes these things happen no matter what you do.
But the way you handle yourself in these situations is 100% within your power.
Accept that the only thing holding you back from being happier is you. Blaming others might make you feel better in the short term, but it restricts your growth in the long run. By placing blame on everyone else, you are giving them all the power and making yourself the helpless victim. If you run with this mentality long enough, you might develop learned helplessness and stop trying to improve your life.
You control what you do, how you act, and where you go from here. The reins are yours. You just have to take them.
You aren’t going to change your life overnight. Instead of focusing on huge changes, like career shifts, take baby steps in the beginning. Write out a list of things that feel more like living authentically to you. Perhaps authenticity feels like that daring shade of lipstick, or that cool jacket, or learning how to say “no thank you” more often.
Compile a list of small courageous acts that feel exhilarating and right to you. From there, you can begin trying them out.
Track Your Success
If you’re a data-driven person, then you might like to track your growth. With your list of small authentic actions, try giving yourself the homework of doing one bold new thing from that list each week. You can keep a habit tracker to tick off your successful weeks and keep an eye on your growth.
Give Yourself Options
You might not always have the energy or confidence to try the same task over and over again. Mix it up and give yourself some options to allow room for growth. If your primary way of exploring authenticity is clothes, then keep a non-clothes-related action in mind for when you’re not feeling it. That might be an hour of art time, going to an after-work event, visiting a museum… just think about things that make you feel good and confident, and add them to your list!
Be Willing to Let Go
Living authentically isn’t without its costs. Some people will struggle to accept your new changes, and they might show their true colors during this process. Anyone who belittles your efforts to improve yourself is likely just bitter that you’re growing while they remain stagnant.
You are under no obligation to stay in any relationship or friendship with people who try to tear you down. I have had to let go of several people who were a negative influence in my life, including relatives. Was it difficult? Absolutely. But it has led to a huge increase in the quality of my life.
As you grow and change into the person you want to be, you must be willing to let go of things, habits, and people that no longer fit into your ideal life. Change isn’t always comfortable or pleasant, but the end result is worth it.
You know one of the best gifts I ever got myself? Learning how to set boundaries!
Setting boundaries is just teaching people how I wanted to be treated, and while it was a tough thing to do, my life is so much better for it.
Pay Attention to Yourself
If you’ve lived a life doing the things you should do to satisfy others, you might have a natural urge to suppress your inner voice. Instead of always worrying about what others expect, learn to regularly stop and ask, “What do I want?”
One method I’ve found to be immensely helpful in tuning into that inner voice is the Morning Pages journal method from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This journaling practice gave me the room to dig deep and explore how I feel, what I want, and what’s getting in my own way. I credit the Morning Pages for a huge chunk of my personal growth as I learned to live authentically.
Taking the first steps toward an authentic life can be very scary. You will have slip-ups, setbacks, and tough days that make you feel lousy. But remember that you are worth it. Your happiness is worth it. At the end of your life, you don’t want to look back regretting that you didn’t explore all the wonders that life had to offer just because some people were disapproving.
So throw off the mask and break free of the limitations you have set for yourself. A truer you sits just on the other side of fear.