The Art of Authenticity

Sarah Jeanne Browne by Danelle Yerkey

Throughout life and its many hurdles, I have always tried to be authentic. I trust that there is good and meaning in the world and I make the most of it. I make choices consistent with my values instead of adopting a “what’s in it for me” attitude. I face problems and solve them by surrendering, a principle I discovered via the Law of Least Effort. Being authentic gives me a WHY that can overcome any HOW. This is the Art of Authenticity.

Authenticity came to me as an ideal when I first saw the Tiananmen Square Tank Man photograph and heard the story that came with it in a high school history class. In June 5, 1989, an anonymous man stepped in front of tanks in Beijing during a protest. He risked his life to stand in front of them. Despite how easily this could have ended in tragedy, it worked. The tanks stopped, and he succeeded through his actions. The famous photo shot by Jeff Widener tells a story of transparency and honesty, of someone with a vision of peace who simply surrendered to the objective of the greater good. He risked everything, his reputation and life, to take a stand for his values.

View the image here: http://100photos.time.com/photos/jeff-widener-tank-man

The Art of Authenticity is about finding ourselves and meaning in life. We are all going to face hard times in our lives but it’s how we react to them that determines who we are. Vulnerability strips away the masks and walls we put up to protect ourselves and reveals our true selves. It is only during times of struggle that we find our real strength.

The Tiananmen Square Tank Man is an example of someone faced with extreme struggle who stuck to his values and came out on top. The strength he found during adversity inspired the world. He wasn’t motivated by fame, success or exposure. He remained anonymous. The greater good was his concern and he acted on it selflessly. He was authentic.

Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, once said, “Those who have a why to live, can bear with almost any how.”

  1. Find Your Why: A Reason for Redemption- My Grandpa’s Story:
Glen Perl, my grandpa, with me as a toddler

My grandpa, Glen Perl, or as I called him, Papap, struggled with two disabilities his whole life and I will call them both disabilities, one a disease: alcoholism and dyslexia.

When Papap was in the army in his early twenties, another young man taught him how to read. Papap appreciated reading more than the regular man because of this gift and from that point on, he was hardly ever without a book. He strongly supported my own reading and writing as well and I am well-versed in both subjects today thanks to him.

Papap struggled with alcoholism for much of his life. He couldn’t break free of it until the day I was born, his first grandchild. He wanted redemption. He loved me so much that he quit drinking cold turkey and never touched another drink until his death. He had a heart attack while doing what he loved: reading. The novel he was reading that day mentioned an alcoholic father. I’ve often wondered if that affected him in some way.

I was Papap’s “Why”, the motivation he finally escaped alcoholism. His “Why” got him through the “How”, gave him a reason for redemption. With his love for me, he was authentic. I try to carry on his legacy today; He became MY “Why.”

Life can be difficult and many of us stumble and lose ourselves. No matter how lost we get, it’s never too late to find our way. There is a reason, a “Why”, to go on and not give up. That reason is the tool we use to find our way again. With it, we turn our struggles into success and walk the road of authentic living.

2. Surrendering in the Law of Least Effort

I was in a job I’d outgrown when I first discovered the Law of Least Effort, a principle on surrendering developed by Deepak Chopra. I felt stifled and overwhelmed there with no potential for growth. I thought I was stuck at that job but eventually I realized I could leave at anytime and I was doing myself a disservice by staying. I left and I have no regrets over it to this day.

This was the Law of Least Effort in action. I kept trying to make it work when I should have accepted it was time to move on to better things. The Law of Least Effort dictates that we should accept life as it comes rather than try to force solutions, accept that life is good rather than try to force it to be good. Surrendering to circumstance and adapting is how we grow and move forward.

In order to surrender, it is important that we stop “shoulding” ourselves or telling ourselves what we should be doing. When I was in my dead-end job, I kept “shoulding” myself. I was too focused on what I thought I should be doing rather than what was best for me, what was appealing to others versus what was authentic.

I stopped “shoulding” myself, surrendered to circumstance and left my job. Later that same day I got a new job as an interior designer which inspired me much more.

Everything changes when you surrender. You begin to look at things from your own angle, rather than what external forces may want from you. Looking at things from your own angle is what enables you to decide what is best for you. It brings us wisdom.

3. Use Your Wisdom

You have the wisdom to change the world.

Life doesn’t always go the way we planned but part of the Art of Authenticity is using every experience to benefit you, not just the ones you want. With every struggle comes not only strength, but wisdom as well.

Years ago I was a student teacher. Over the course of my English teaching, I learned about young adult novels and what teenagers were looking for in the books they read. Instead of simply teaching teens, I was able to use what I learned to begin writing my own young adult novel. This was invaluable to me as I left the position and teaching behind, I gained something greater.

This experience taught me to use my wisdom. I followed my gut rather than success or struggle for survival. I found something greater: authenticity.

There is wisdom to be found in every situation. Every loss can be a lesson if you’re willing to accept and learn from your circumstances. When you can use the hard times and bad situations to your benefit, to gain wisdom, that is when you grow.

The Art of Authenticity is about following your humanity. It is about finding your why, surrendering to the ebb and flow of life and using the wisdom you’ve gained from it to become a better you. There is nothing you can’t accomplish if you follow these principles. It is an art. We fear taking off the mask to be authentic. We fear honest and transparent lifestyles. But the outcome is an awareness of life that makes meaning out of each circumstance.

Wherever you are in life, whatever your trials and tribulations, it is never too late to become the real, authentic you.