One of the themes that keeps reappearing in my life lately is the concept of authenticity, and what it means. In a society where posturing seems the norm, and many people’s behavior suggests a total lack of self-awareness, I often find myself grappling with this concept as I interact with others in the world.
What makes a person authentic, and what benchmark do we compare the fabric of a person against in order to determine who is, or is not, authentic? What are the benefits of authenticity? Some people might say that authenticity is simply being yourself, and while I agree with that simplistic definition of the term, I’d like to delve deeper than that.
I believe that authenticity is best described as being in touch with the inner self. A person who understands their inner motivations and controls their behavior to meet their own carefully crafted sense of ideals is what I consider authentic. The authentic person is someone who practices a low-level of both self-deception and deception of others.
While this might sound simplistic or even obvious, one need only observe others as they struggle through life to see that almost all of us are our own worst enemies in practice. We are nothing if not sabotagers of our own hopes, dreams and ideals through a self-deception so ingrained that it becomes almost invisible over time.
One of the things I love about jiu-jitsu is its keen ability to expose and destroy self-deception, and it has certainly served that function in my life. When rolling you either meet the grade or you don’t, pass or fail. All the posturing on earth won’t save you from the eventual choice of tap or sleep, and I think this serves as a stepping stone to erasing self-deception in other parts of the practitioner’s life as well.
Nine out of ten problems are the result of our own poor choices, and as we begin to see that we begin to make better choices that couple with better outcomes. I’m living proof of this. The Michael of my twenties practiced more self-deception than I’m comfortable admitting in a public forum such as this. However the fact remains true, and at that time in my life my dreams seemed impossibly far away as a result–I had no concept of what it would take to achieve them in a realistic, non-fantastical way.
My approach suggested that I thought success was something that just happened to a person. Now I see that success is the result of mountains of good choices, and oceans of self-honesty. When we come to understand the ways we are failing ourselves, independent of other people, we start to find our stride in life, and that has certainly been true for me in mine.
Ways such as poor diet, hedonistic lifestyle, excessive ego, inability to accept others’ talents or expertise, etc. all have massive effects on the trajectory of our careers and on the status of our emotional health in general.
Eventually I had to make the choice that I wanted to be happy, and that meant having the guts to reach for what I wanted, but to make sure I was standing on the right platform to reach from as well. My attitude was garbage, and the responses it brought me were garbage. Like attracts like.
When I met my wife I began to analyze and identify that piss-poor mindset. I think subconsciously the need for change had already brought me to writing a few years earlier, and not long after I met my wife it led me to jiu-jitsu as well. Obviously I didn’t just change for her, but she had a profound effect on what I expected from myself.
The need to live with a person who you love, and who loves you, but cannot handle your negativity and explosiveness, drove me to ask myself hard questions, to spend many miserable, sleepless nights counting coup with the results of my actions and attitudes. I didn’t like what I found, so I decided to change. Having things I was passionate about to pour myself into was a big part of that change, and it still is today.
Writing gives me the opportunity to bear my soul, while jiu-jitsu gives me the courage to know myself well enough to determine what that soul means and needs. For me they are necessary practices in my life. When I think back to the person I was before them I feel shame, but also acceptance.
My childhood had a lot of turmoil in it, and as a sensitive person I was deeply wounded by that. I find compassion a natural response to life’s problems, and yet I also recognize that there was a very real force in my early life attempting to cut the compassion out of me, as if it were a weakness.
A violent, insecure alcoholic father will do that, if only because he fears it’s a weakness in himself. Or else maybe it just baffled my father, focused as he was and is on himself at the expense of everyone around him. But at the end of the day I’ve had to learn to take responsibility for my emotions and their application, and to get in touch with the motivations behind those emotions.
It’s a lifelong struggle that I’ve by no means perfected, but I am becoming stronger bit by bit, day by day, and for the first time in my life I’m enjoying the journey, even as I realize it’s much more of a climb than a ride.