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Bear column: Living an authentic life

As a child, I was fascinated by the world of adults. I watched everything they did: how my dad built and fixed things; how my mom cooked and cleaned; how they related to other adults; and how other adults were different and similar to them.

It seemed, through my child’s eyes, that all adults were like Zen masters of their relationships, and of the physical world in general.

How naïve I was.

Now that I’m this age, I realize that no one has it all figured out. Maybe some do more than others, but we all struggle with the same existential questions about the meaning of life and our greater purpose.

I’ve come to realize that the only real advantages an older person has on a younger one are life experience and authenticity.

Life experience is the collection of lessons we learn along the way that become our common sense. If you leave your shoelaces untied you trip and fall on your face, you learn to tie your shoelaces.

But authenticity takes more of a concerted effort to achieve. It requires constantly challenging our own set of beliefs and values.

Psychologists say that parents shouldn’t worry that their children don’t listen to them; they should worry that their children are always watching and trying to imitate them.

Children are sponges, and as a child I soaked in all the beliefs and values of the adults in my life, and patterned my behaviors on theirs.

But at some point in my early adulthood, I started to question everything. It was a painful exercise because it required digging deep into my long-held beliefs. It was an important exercise, though, because the deeper I went, the more I was able to let my actions and words match my true beliefs and values.

We are all influenced by what we hear, see and read, and those things become the set of baggage that we carry around. Left unchallenged, we can walk around thinking that those outside influences match our own beliefs. But do they?

These days we are inundated with so much information that it’s easier to simply accept what seems true than to separate the truth from the rhetoric. We’ve all become calloused, intellectually lazy and less discerning because of the sheer volume of information we’re bombarded with every day.

That’s why the only messages that most people hear and understand are the simplest ones — the memes and soundbites. But the world and all its myriad issues is far more complex than that. That’s why the process of searching for your authentic self involves parsing all the information you receive, and examining your reaction to it. What do you believe or don’t believe and is that belief valid? Why?

Our own insecurities are some of the most difficult issues to accept. Through self-examination, I’ve noticed that my insecurities are usually revealed through my negative judgments of others. By acknowledging them, I’m usually able to squelch them before they turn to anger or resentment.

But searching for the authentic self is rewarding. Each time I go deeper within myself, learn a new skill, or release myself from the bondage of an old message, I evolve again and a new side to my authentic self is revealed.

Another rewarding aspect is finding out where my authentic self feels the most alive, free and unburdened — and then having the courage to live there.

I spent years living on, and hating, Colorado’s Front Range, with all its traffic, crowds and lack of recreation opportunities. But living here in the Roaring Fork Valley, I’ve discovered my community and a way of life that suits my wants and needs.

Famed pschologist Carl Rogers believed that authenticity was the best foundation for an emotionally mature life. He said that when you become more authentic you become more empathetic — more accepting of both yourself and others.

When I’m finally able to fully accept myself and everyone around me for who and what we are, I will discover the true nature of my relationships.

I’m not there yet, and the truth is that I still sense a long journey ahead before I get there. But I’m making good progress because I’m owning my reality, facing my fears, and chasing wholeness over happiness.

So join me in standing in your truth, your own truth, and live an authentic life.

Jeff Bear is a reporter and copy editor for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You may reach him at jbear@postindependent.com.


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