We have created an impossible standard under which to achieve happiness as adults. I am primarily referring to an epidemic that spreads faster than head lice and it’s this idea of authenticity or being true to yourself. I suppose this is where I should insert my disclaimer that in no way do I advocate group think, sheep mentality, or head lice. But if we were to be perfectly honest, being an adult is a pain in the ass, not only due to responsibility and taxes and expectations of maturity, but because we make it so damn hard on ourselves.
Most of us would agree that, ideally, it would be fantastic if we could all be true to ourselves. And I think that if most of us were completely honest, we would admit that this would be a selfish way of living. I know that many people don’t want to equate “carpe diem” as selfishness, and perhaps this is because they don’t know how to translate “selfishness” into Latin, but in reality you can shove all the stars in your eyes that you want to, living authentically is fairly self-centered. And this is why:
To be completely and truly authentic to yourself means to be completely and truly inauthentic to anyone else’s way of authenticity. There will always be an imposition on someone or something. Should one person’s happiness come at the sacrifice of another’s? And this is where the teenagers whine, “But we should be allowed to do what we want! We need to be true to ourselves!”
Adults like to think they are sophisticated in the world of gray, but truth be told, they are not. Adults like things in black or white because that’s how things can be categorized. It’s just how they are wired. And really, this whole quest for authenticity and being true to the self is a smoke and mirrors trick so that all of us don’t have to face the real honest fear that most all of us have at our most basic core, and that is forming connections with other people.
If all of us are running around being true to ourselves and discovering what makes us who we truly are, then we won’t have the ability to connect with other people and forge meaningful relationships.
There is a great deal of risk in connecting with people. There’s the risk of getting hurt, of course, but also of seeing a person be someone else. It’s the childhood trauma of seeing a teacher at the grocery store and hiding behind our parent while enduring an awkward conversation. If we get to know someone as a certain individual to us, we don’t want that to ever change.
Until it does. And then what?
Then we have a choice. We either choose to accept that this person is a fake or a phony, or ‘inauthentic’, or we choose that this person simply changed, as people do.
But it’s easier to simply not connect at all, placing people in rigid characterizations and then casting them out when they don’t fulfill the expectation. We do this constantly with celebrities, politicians, neighbors, friends and coworkers. The moment someone doesn’t follow a pattern or a script we somehow insist that person becomes a fake.
Why do we do this? Why do we set ourselves up to be unhappy? Authenticity is unrealistic for ourselves and for others, so why set it as a standard?
There are far too many questions but I do know this: as I have worked on moving myself out of isolation and more into networks of various relationships, I have become more happy. Coincidentally, I have become more real. I’ve cared less about being true to myself and I’ve cared more about seeing what is true.
There is so much more in life to enjoy when I am able to see what is true around me, and because of that I have never felt more real in my life.