On Authenticity: Finding Equilibrium Amidst the Storm

Part of the process of growing is realising your mistakes and actively trying to correct them. When looking over my life and past experiences, I realized that one of the issues I face is a lack of authenticity in many aspects of my life.

Merriam-Webster defines “Authenticity” in two ways:
- Worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact
- True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

My definition for this context is the latter one: being truthful in one’s own work.

I invite you to watch this video:

Once you finish the video, I urge you to watch it again just to grasp the magnitude of the entire process, from beginning to end.

Its about a Japanese doll maker who hand-crafts, polishes, and paints every single one of his dolls. It starts with a singular piece of raw wood that gets striped from bark, polished and carved into a particular shape. The room for error in such a process is vast; everything that can go wrong could/would go wrong. A single forgotten or mishandled step could result in the obstruction of the entire process.

The doll maker’s mentality is that of a highly successful person. The level of attention given to each step is simply unparalleled. Each doll sold from this shop is a promise from the doll maker to the buying customer that this hand-crafted piece is a completely “authentic” piece of work.

But why is it important to have authenticity?

“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process” — Vincent Van Gogh

We are humans. Each time a person attempts to do an activity, regardless of the context, he leaves a piece of himself in that activity; a part of his soul.

The Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, discussed this in his short story, The Way of the Bow, in which an archer grandmaster called Tetsuya is teaching a child about the types of shots that an archer could attempt to make.

“The first is the shot made with great precision, but without any soul. In this case, although the archer may have a great mastery of technique, he has concentrated solely on the target and because of this he has not evolved, he has become stale, he has not managed to grow, and, one day, he will abandon the way of the bow because he finds that everything has become mere routine.
The second type of shot is the one made with the soul. When the intention of the archer is transformed into the flight of the arrow, his hand opens at the right moment, the sound of the string makes the birds sing, and the gesture of shooting something over a distance provokes — paradoxically enough — a return to and an encounter with oneself.
You know the effort it took to draw the bow, to breathe correctly, to concentrate on the target, to be clear about your intention, to maintain elegance of posture, to respect the target, but you need to understand, too, that nothing in this world stays with us for very long: at a given moment, your hand will have to open and allow your intention to follow its destiny.”

I believe that anyone can throw a number of hours towards any activity achieve mastery of the technique within a set amount of time. An experienced archer could make a shot with a very high precision, but the ultimate end result would be his abandonment to the entire prospect of archery if there was no authenticity involved. As the author said, it would become mundane mere routine.

An authentic piece of work is one that enriches the soul and makes it grow larger and larger. Authenticity is the reason the Japanese doll maker is able to get up every morning and hand-craft a doll by going through a set of very precise, and very error-prone steps every day and still have the heart to enjoy it.

Authenticity means never having to lie to yourself. It has a very high cost of focus, patience and perseverance, but the fruits of its labour can be observed almost immediately: the enrichment of the soul, the enjoyment of work, and ultimately, self-realization.