"To be authentic is literally to be your own author, to discover your own native energies and desires, and then to find your own way of acting on them." -- Warren G. Bennis
I believe authentic living and leadership do not come from title, social stature, or the size of one's paycheck, but rather from knowing yourself, how you live, and the impact you make around you.
The word "authenticity" comes from the Greek root authentikos, meaning: "original, genuine, principal". Genuine leaders are not just the usual suspects we conjure up - the business chieftains, historic figures, and mega technology innovators. They are all around us, I believe. Each one of us is born to make an authentic contribution.
Truly authentic people lead their lives with their soul. Along with fearless passion and courage, they possess relentless mental discipline. As Marianne Williamson said in A Return to Love,
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Authenticity is about finding satisfaction, contentment and fulfillment in our unique journey. It is living with a purpose and making an impact to the best of our abilities. Being authentic means being you with your purpose every day -- and some days, that isn't easy. And most of us struggle with it everyday.
Along with fearless passion and courage, leading an authentic life takes relentless mental discipline. In this post, I want to explore three mental disciplines (some of which I explored on one of my recent posts on FastCompany) derived from my own experience, and observations that may help you in your own authentic journey:
Fostering Inner Energy
To be authentic one must be "awake," meaning you have the ability to understand who you are, what you want to be, and how you want to fit in the world. From Aristotle to Buddha, Rumi to Steve Jobs, Kahlil Gibran to Paulo Coelho, many revered thinkers and talents have said that the path to an authentic journey is to know thyself, and be guided by an inner voice.
But creating our thoughts, making the journey, ignoring the skeptics and dusting ourselves off every time we fall requires disciplining our inner energy and drive. Often that energy solely comes from within. Here are a few suggestions to foster inner energy:
- Intend your destiny: Destiny results from "intention" -- our spiritual will; something that drives us to do what seems impossible. It nurtures us with hope in our darkest moments, enables us to dream of better days, and resides in a place where we are destined to find our fulfillment. We need to intend to "go somewhere" and make a difference.
Learning to Suffer Well
Authentic people of any kind drive change. Change often involves traveling uncharted territories, challenging conventional paths, and ignoring the traditional need for safety and comfort. This inherently invokes pain, suffering, and disappointments. Accepting and growing through our pain is part of our personal growth. This is anything but easy. Like any other skill, learning to suffer well requires conscious practice and learning. Here are some fundamentals to consider:
- Keep an eye on the bigger picture: A new day always comes. A new door always opens. It is important to recognize that the future is full of promise. Meeting our goals requires constantly imagining and crafting our journey despite the present situation. It is OK not to have all answers right away. They will come. We can't control everything, however we can control ourselves: how we choose to respond, our own attitudes, how we let go, and our outlook -- moving forward by keeping our eyes on the bigger picture.
Leading From the Ledge
Authentic people reach their highest potential by taking risks that are consistent with their ethos and values. They lead themselves by constantly standing on an uncomfortable ledge. Leading from the ledge requires:
- Excellence, not perfection: We live in a diverse and imperfect world. Every single one of us is a work in progress. In many ways, perfection implies something has come to its end. Authentic people commit themselves to excellence in everything they do. They are constantly pushing the envelope and raising their standards. And they have the wisdom to know the difference between excellence and perfection.
Our ability to effectively survive, thrive and lead comes from flexibly riding out our ups and downs. An authentic journey does not always come from blasting through rocks and impediments, rather from having the faith, resilience and adaptability to cope with harsh realities of life.
This path has one very distinct characteristic: it is not prefabricated. It doesn't already exist. The path that we're talking about is the moment-by-moment evolution of our experience, the moment-by-moment evolution of the world of phenomena, the moment-by-moment evolution of our thoughts and emotions. The path is uncharted. It comes into existence moment-by-moment and at the same time drops away behind us. When we realize that the path is the goal, there's a sense of workability. Everything that occurs in our confused mind we can regard as the path. Everything is workable.
This is the mantra of an authentic person who does not follow someone else's footsteps. It is his/her comfort with all the uncertainties that drives his/her soul to make an impact, a difference, a legacy for greater good.
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