One of the most important things in life is to discover who you really are, and design your life so you can live authentically. You only get one life. If you don’t go through this process you will find yourself living a lie, feeling like a hypocrite, hating your life, and dying with regrets. Yet this is one of the most difficult things to do, because our society offers well-meaning advice that sounds like a great path to self-discovery that isn’t very well thought through. Frequently we hear people say stuff like, “Try new things,” “Speak your mind,” “Listen to your heart,” and “Follow your dreams.”
This can be helpful in so far as they help us see new elements of ourselves, but as you will see it doesn’t help people identify who they are at their core, and frequently leads to moral dilemmas, and not authenticity.
Trying new things might help me discover my preferences, but am I the sum of the foods I like or the things I dislike doing? What if the authentic me is someone who doesn’t like new things? Wouldn’t that mean I am being inauthentic by trying new stuff?
Saying what you think and feel will help others know you, but is that what makes us authentic? Should you tell your married co-worker, “I think about having sex with you every day?” Should you share with your children, “I think you look fat and ugly?” Are you not also being authentic when one keeps their thoughts to themselves to protect relationships? Speaking your mind more boldly and frequently will reveal your heart to others, but it will not reveal yourself to yourself.
We are told we can be authentic by discovering our hearts through journaling, personality tests, and psychotherapy. Once we discover our hearts, we are taught, we should listen to them by doing what feels most true. The problem is that feelings change so quickly. Give me some food, a nap, a little more information, or a new experience, and I will feel differently. Also, our feelings gravitate toward avoiding pain, and seeking pleasure. Consistently listening to your heart will send you into a downward spiral as you over eat, spend too much money, and drink a lot. Some of the most unhealthy people I know listen to the feelings too much. Not to mention that our hearts desires can be really evil. What about the pedophile who desires young boys? Should he follow what feels most true to him? Feelings make great alarms, but poor guides. Some times being authentic means doing what you heart is telling you not to do like working out, and being faithful.
The self help gurus say follow your dreams by making a list of your values and writing out a vision for each area of your life. Then make an action plan. What they don’t tell you is that you are not dispositioned to achieve some of your dreams. A man in a wheelchair can’t play in the NBA. You might not even want your dreams when you get them. How many people have pursued a dream job and now hate it? Also,Some people chase dreams because they are psychologically driven. “I’ll show mom I’m important, and marry a doctor.” Likewise, following your dream may lead to the destruction of your family. How many businessmen have worked, and forgotten about their children? Is that authentic living? Some dreams are evil. Hilter dreamed of an Aryan Europe. Would he have been more authentic to pursue it or set it aside? This does not mean all of our dreams are bad, the just are not the core of who we are.
What I hope you are beginning to see is that our cultures trite advise doesn’t necessarily lead us to discover our core identity, and often takes us further away. We miss the boat, in part, because, we, as a society, live in denial about one of the most fundamental truths about human beings. We are born into a relationship with other people. We live in a world where my actions affect you and your actions affect me. If I am going to become authentic, I have to take that into account.
Many people struggle with authenticity their whole lives because they don’t know what to do with the people factor. Some have been so hurt by others the they had rather close their hearts up, and never say a word of they think. Others feel guilt and shame over what they have done. Some live each day painfully aware of others thoughts about them. You can’t be authentic if you don’t deal with the people factor, and learn how to treat others and yourself correctly.
The most important person that we must learn to relate to is God. We must understand our connection to Him. Our lives affect him, and His live affects us. If God exists, then he knows everything. That means we are not who we think we are, or how we feel, we are who God thinks we are.The path to self discovery is to discover who he says we are. The only way to live authentically is to live in right relationship with what He says. We self-actualize to the degree that we become who He has created us to become. The most inauthentic thing you can do is to live in opposition to who God says you are. When we live in opposition to that we are rejecting ourselves. It’s a form of self-hatred.
Discovering who God says I am, has changed my life, to a degree that I cannot put into words. However, it has been my experience that most people don’t find it very life changing because they have a skewed vision of the Father due to bad theology, sin, doubt, or past experience.
We must learn to change the way that we think and bring our thoughts into alignment with what God says. Paul calls this renewing the mind. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Is there any area of your life where you find that you think of yourself different than what God does?