Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost
You hear a lot these days about being authentic. Refrains of “Be Yourself”, “Do You”, or “Be Real” grasp for your attention. Whether the intent of the message itself is authentic is a discussion to be left for another time. What’s certain is that we are significantly uncertain of what it all means. What is authenticity? Who or what is the “authentic self”? Why all the confusion? And, how can you become more authentic and true?
To be authentic is to be congruent. You are congruent when your deepest aspirations and values are outwardly reflected in how you live your life. You are congruent when your thoughts, emotions, and actions correspond harmoniously with lasting principles and sincere sentiments.
Naturally, you can’t begin to live an authentic life without also discovering who you truly are. Bruce Lee, the prolific martial artist, once remarked that honestly expressing yourself is very difficult to do. To know yourself and to honestly express yourself is an art. Lee believed this to be the essence of martial arts. Actually, it is the highest form of art. It is the Art of Living.
To try to discover who you truly are, why you’re alive, and how to turn your life into a triumph is the ultimate quest. This quest involves the gradual conquest over your own inner obstacles, and the cultivation of your own inner resources, beyond which wisdom and truth are revealed. From this perspective, life is an adventure in which you are becoming who you truly are, growing closer and closer to your profound inner identity.
This perpetual process of awakening to your true identity can only come from within yourself. It’s an intimate, intelligent and intuitive experience. No one can give it to you, and you won’t find it in any book. You need to discover it for yourself. As Socrates was quoted as saying, “To find yourself, think for yourself”.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will readily admit that there is so much about life and ourselves that we do not truly understand. Quite often, terrified by uncertainty and lacking in self-knowledge, we look outwardly, rather than within, searching desperately for a sense of identity.
If you look externally for your sense of identity you will find many suggestions, but what you won’t find is your authentic self. It’s undeniable that there is a great deal of pressure to conform — pressures often motivated by superficial and materialistic ends. So, why do we give in? Why do we choose to conform?
Maybe we conform simply to keep those we are concerned about satisfied, or rather to satisfy our desire to belong. But, as the Greek philosopher Epictetus remarked, “In trying to please other people, we find ourselves misdirected toward what lies outside our sphere of influence. In doing so we lose our hold on our life’s purpose.” In other words, you cannot live an authentic life if you are concerned with other people’s opinions. And yet, you can still respect the opinions of others without having to compromise your own integrity.
It’s undeniable that the quest to know thyself can at first feel overwhelming. When you decide to take the “road less traveled” you may find yourself feeling vulnerable and exposed. Self-discovery requires you to be honest with yourself. Patiently and compassionately letting down your self-imposed defenses, you come to recognize your inner obstacles, as well as your inner resources. This honest self-assessment is necessary to living more authentically — providing you with the self-knowledge required to progress in becoming who you deeply and genuinely aspire to be.
As with all great quests, it takes courage to take the road less traveled. Fortunately, you only need to start from where you are. The road less traveled is traversed one step at a time.
Routinely reflect and ask yourself:
- When am I truly myself?
- When do I lose my identity and why?
Authenticity is a creative quality. Motivation must arise from deep within oneself. If the motivation comes from within and is true, good, and just, it is authentic, and the action in turn is the natural expression of authenticity.
Ultimately, being authentic liberates us to become who we are destined to be, and the courage of the authentic individual inspires others to strive to be authentic as well. It is an essential ingredient for building a new and better world. After all, only the authentic individual can be the change they wish to see in the world.
So, the next time you come to a fork in the road, and feel that you are at a crossroads in your life, there’s no need to be anxious or feel lost, simply take the road less traveled by. That will make all the difference. After all, in the words of Carl Jung, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”