“Live imperfectly. On purpose.” - A Life In Progress
We’re well acquainted with the pitfalls of living in a social media-saturated world. We know the collection of curated snapshots we see on Facebook and Instagram doesn’t necessarily reflect a life well-lived, simply a life well-presented.
Still, it presents a challenge. The idealistic images we see can work their way into our emotional subconscious making us feel badly about our less-than-perfect lives.
But here’s the thing. Perfection won’t give us what we really want: genuine happiness and fulfillment. These things come from living authentically, which is the opposite of perfection. Living authentically means making a mess.
Living authentically means being honest with ourselves about our true values and needs, even when this creates discord with others who would like us to value and need other things.
It means striving for your unique balance between achievement and enjoyment; exertion and rest; giving to others and caring for ourselves – even though you’ll never get the balance quite right. It means learning about ourselves, trying something new, making mistakes, learning more, and trying again.
Authenticity is messy, and I know this from personal experience.
In my youth I fell in love with classical music and the clarinet. At age 18 I went off to a music conservatory to pursue my dream of becoming a professional clarinetist. Music is notoriously competitive where steady paychecks are rare, but with my family’s support, I enthusiastically went off to pursue my passion.
Over five excruciating years, I discovered there was no way I was cut out for this career. I began the slow process of reconciling who I thought I was (a performer) with who I really am (a person who loves making music but hates performing). The self-knowledge I gained came at a big cost but gave me valuable insights that set me up for both personal and professional success later in life.
I learned that I could navigate my way through any hardship. Though performing wasn’t for me, I discovered I had a unique gift as a music teacher, able to motivate students of all ages and personality types with compassion and enthusiasm.
Was pursuing my passion worth the eventual pain? Would I have been better off choosing a more prudent path from the outset? Hindsight might suggest yes, but I’m not new to this life game, and neither are you.
If I hadn’t pursued my dream, would I still be wondering “what if”? I may well have spent the rest of my life regretting that I hadn’t taken a chance and followed my passion. We are wired to wonder about the road not taken. It’s just how we’re made.
Pursuing my dream was the truest course of action I could have taken at the time – it absolutely reflected my 18 year old authentic self. The eventual reality check was painful, sure, but that was also part of my authentic journey. The lessons I learned about myself were invaluable, even necessary.
Even though living authentically is often messy and sometimes painful, we should jump in with both feet.
Why? Because in my experience, genuine happiness and fulfillment are directly tied to authenticity. Research backs this up. In one study, “researchers found that that, in general, the more a person acted authentically, the more likely he or she were to be happy and experience subjective and psychological well-being.”
Living authentically means listening carefully to what our bodies and minds are telling us. When our lives are out of whack, or when things fall apart, it means making time and expending the effort and explore new ways of living until we figure out a way that is a bit healthier, happier and more sustainable.
Even small changes can have a noticeably positive impact on our quality of life. The 10-minute walk before dinner can help you let go of work stress and be more present with your family. Getting up 15-minutes earlier to journal and set intentions for the day can help you feel more focused and purposeful throughout the day. Letting go of one or two things on your to-do list that aren’t necessary or don’t represent what’s truly important to you can reduce your sense of overwhelm and burden.
My advice? Make a big old, hairy mess. Try something new, rub your bruised knees when you fall down, get back up and try again. Take a chance on going left when you’d normally go right. Didn’t work? No matter; turn around and try again.
When a smiling photo of us is posted to Facebook, let’s make sure it’s the real deal: a moment of true joy in a life of daring greatly, struggling to achieve a level of authenticity that brings true fulfillment.
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