When it comes to leading an authentic life, one of the big challenges comes in around clarity. Many of us, haven’t spent enough time figuring out what matters most to us. Or maybe, like me, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this very topic, but the answers that you’ve surfaced don’t ring true. There is the strange sense of misalignment between what we think and what we do, but we don’t have clarity on the connection points between those two things.
At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a particularly vile and destructive word, commonly used in the English language. SHOULD.
Should is the enemy of your Identity. Should is a barrier to being your authentic self.
Should makes us feel guilt, shame, and a sense of obligation to do or be something that we don’t want. And should is very sneaky – we often don’t notice we’re using it. Should disguises what we enjoy and what’s worse, gives us a false sense of being noble when we do something we think we should.
Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical example. It’s late on a Thursday night and my child tells me at bedtime that they need a snack for school tomorrow. I sigh and say, “I should make cupcakes.” I have no earthly desire to make cupcakes. I have no interest. I have a sense of obligation to provide a snack. Making the cupcakes will not result in anything other than misery for me, even if it provides some amount of enjoyment for others. I only thought I SHOULD take on this activity because it’s what a “good mom” would do. It’s the “right thing” to do. Stale pretzels (the only thing left in the pantry) will be judged by the other kids/teachers/parents.
And this is how should gets us to do things. It makes me worry about things outside of my control and guilts me into doing stuff I don’t really care about. Watch out for should as you work to create actions in alignment with your Identity. Your goal is to find the person you are, not the person you feel like you should be.
There are other factors beyond should that can also create challenges in the Identity piece of the ACTION plan. Here’s another example. I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. For me, enduring my own discomfort is far more palatable to me than seeing others unhappy. Besides, I got used to being worried and uncomfortable, so it didn’t seem like a big ask to continue to feel that way. And so began one of the ways that my authentic self began to disappear. I was allowing others to choose what made them happy and going along with it, rather than choosing what would make me happy. Eventually, it got to the point where I didn’t even know or recognize things I would enjoy anymore.
This one small personality quirk (people-pleasing) was one of the factors that created a sense of misalignment in my work and life. I share that story to help you see that inauthenticity can occur as a result of circumstances, personality, challenges, choices, and many other factors. Regardless of how we get there, the author Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “Remember, we did not lose ourselves all at once. But we recover our authentic selves one kind gesture at a time.”
So how do we go about this act of recovering our authentic selves? Or how do we make sure that our ACTION plan is authentically aligned? There are two key pieces that we’ll explore.
First, let’s talk about the best version of you. The version of you that you imagine you are. You know, the one that you want to be, before the craziness of modern living wreaks havoc on that plan! What characteristics does your best self embody?
Second is to assess (or review, if you’ve done this already) your values. You are authentically you when your values are in alignment with your actions. Each person’s values are different and unique to them. They can change over time. For example, until I had some health challenges, I didn’t realize how much I truly valued good health. My actions dramatically changed when I prioritized health.
Any positive action you’re taking needs to help bring you closer to your best self and to your values. On any given day, there are millions of actions you can take, so ensure your actions are creating the alignment that’s been missing.
#PositiveAction What SHOULD do you need to let go of to live and work more in alignment with your values and best self? It feels amazing to let those unrealistic expectations go!
Image from Pixabay