Living contrary to my values has been a source of discontent lately. I have a utopian vision of the ‘good life’, which if I squint, I can see somewhere off in the distance. But there are days when I examine my life that I can only see the discord between the vision and the reality.
What does it mean to live an authentic life? Living authentically is being true to yourself and your values, whatever those values may be. It is when your actions reflect your thoughts and your words. It is when you stand up for what you stand for. It is when your inner self and your outward world are in harmony.
What I value is simple, sustainable living. Like many who long for the simple life, I envision a little land, a productive garden, a few chooks, a balcony where I can sit and sew while the children play in the garden (in my fantasy there is no sibling bickering or ‘mum, I’m bored’ 🙂 ) the smell of fresh baked bread and rhubarb pie complementing the warm afternoon sun. I’m relaxed enough to have time to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak. To be present. To enjoy the moment without the pressure of ‘I should be doing….’ I am content.
Instead we live in small townhouse on a noisy main road in suburbia with neighbours who own a drum kit. And an electric guitar. Our yard gets little sun and is a mess of weeds rather than a food lover’s Eden. Our TV takes pride of place in our living room, we eat white fluffy bread out of a bag and today I’m tired. Too tired to sew. Too tired to bake, and craft, and garden, and make curtains, even too tired write. Too tired to make the changes we need to make to continue our journey towards that vision of simple, sustainable living. I’m not content.
When life gets in the way of authenticity
The problem is that life isn’t about grandiose visions or ideas of perfection. Life is a constant procession of day to day, moment to moment minutiae. The minutiae isn’t what gets in the way of our ideal life, the minutiae is our life.
This is it.
What matters is the single moment you are in right now. And what you do in that moment. When you are present in the moment and make conscious decisions about the little everyday things, decisions that reflect your values, then you are living authentically.
So to live more sustainably, we have converted to solar hot water. I’m increasing our garden. We have reduced our takeaway consumption to once or twice a month. We avoid foods packaged in lots of plastic. We are having a TV free month. It is not my idea of perfection, but we keep taking steps towards that ideal.
There is no point thinking that ‘when X, Y and Z all fall into place, then my life will be complete.’ Things never just fall into place, our ideal life is something to work towards. It is a journey. You make the most of the circumstances you are in right now and the steps you take now will lead you to the place you want to be. You don’t need to be all or nothing to be living authentically.
How to live a more authentic life
1. Know what you value and why. You can’t live an authentic life if you don’t know what it is to be YOU. What is important to you? What is your reason for getting up on a Sunday morning? What are you passionate about? What do you do that gets you lost in the moment so that time just slips away and you are consumed and content? In other words, what are your values?
2. Understand what this means in real, actionable terms. Take your vision and work out what you need to do to realise it each and every day. It may mean baking your own bread. Or not yelling at the kids. Giving 100% at work. Avoiding gossip. Catching up with friends. Volunteering at your favourite charity. Meditating. Painting. Doing more exercising. Travelling more. Kissing your husband when you leave for work. Listening to your neighbour. Choose your day to day minutiae and make it count towards your authentic life.
4. Avoid doing the things that contradict your values. This is often easier said than done, I admit. We often have conflict between our short term desires and our long term vision. Our goal may be to live debt free and we know if we buy that whatever we are that much further from achieving our goals. But damn it, I really want it, and it’s been so long since I’ve treated myself, one little splurge can’t hurt that much…. I’m not espousing saint hood, but taking a moment to consider your actions may prevent regret later on.
5. Don’t worry what other people think. There will always be detractors that can’t understand your point of view. There will also be someone else doing it better than you are. Forget comparisons. This is your life.
To be content, you need to live true to yourself. What this means will be unique for each and every one of us. Many of us never take the time to stop and think about who we are, what we believe in and what we are going to do with the short time we have.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. (By Marianne Williamson. Read the full passage here.)
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.