Life was so simple when we were kids, wasn’t it? It didn’t really matter whether our words and actions aligned, because nobody expected them to.
I sometimes watch little kids argue, and they say the typical, harmless threats of childhood: “You’re not my friend anymore!” It lasts for about five minutes until both of the little gladiators are bored, and then they get back to playing happily with each other.
But at some point we grow up, and start to notice whether or not people truly mean what they say. We notice if our parents’ warnings and consequences are empty, or if they have teeth. We sense whether our teachers have a backbone or not. We test our peers’ resolve, to see where they rank in the “pecking order.”
We learn to read others’ behavior, or at least sense what they’re feeling. If only we were taught to understand ourselves as well, and if only we could see past our ego and emotions enough to learn. We’d find access much earlier to the true keys of life – the ability to choose who we’ll be, how we’ll show up and what we refuse.
Instead, we become social critics and finger-pointers. Do you still doubt this, living in the times we do? Do you think this has nothing to do with the hatred, character assassination and discord of 2020 that’s wreaking havoc on our hearts and minds?
And all the while, we could be having a much deeper impact that genuinely does change and catch fire in the hearts of others.
Why It’s Not Enough To Be “Right”
We’re headed into a difficult season, with a presidential election, a prolonged pandemic and hatred from racial issues. In all of these categories, it happens within moments – we draw lines, and stand on one side or the other. Stand for the flag, or kneel. Wear the mask, or refuse it. Vote for one candidate or the other.
Everyone taking their stand feels themselves to be “right.” I have opinions on them too, and I also feel right about those opinions. But, I’ve learned, life isn’t all about believing the right things. This is especially true if one of the “right things” you believe is that you are always right, and that your philosophy is never wrong.
Without the ability to self-reflect, and understand the intentions behind your actions … being “right” is meaningless. You can believe what you think is right and still become a cruel savage. You’ll be amazed where zeal for your opinion will take you; it can end up costing your most treasured relationships.
More importantly, it’ll end up costing your character. This goes way beyond political or cultural fights. In your home, unwavering commitment to your “way” of doing things will lead to frustration, resentment and a lack of connection. In business, you can destroy your strongest assets (relationships) by steamrolling people. In your community or church, you can become synonymous with making things unpleasant, uncomfortable or completely embarrassing.
It’s through authenticity that you’re truly “in the right,” because part of being authentic involves owning your weakness, folly and failure. How can you possibly have facts mixed up or a bias, when you honestly confess to something you did wrong? How can you be accused of something you’ve already admitted to doing? Authenticity disarms the accuser, and leaves the suspicious person feeling totally safe in your presence.
How To Restore Authenticity Through Self-Reflection
One thing you have to credit to little kids is they aren’t being dishonest, when they say “You’re not my friend anymore!” As far as a little child is concerned, “anymore” is just a word. They don’t know anything about burning bridges, so this phrase from them is authentic. They just lack the language skills to say what they really mean.
But you’d have to agree it means something different when an adult, in a serious tone of voice, makes a similar statement. If you’re going to say something like that to anyone old enough to understand it, you’re saying something the world takes very seriously. It’s sort of like a woman with a broken heart telling her former lover, “I never want to see you again.”
When it comes to training your “authenticity muscles,” the object of the game is to go from “saying” to “doing.” Over time, by doing this, you’ll beat the path to a lifestyle and reputation where what you say rings as loud as what you do. But for now, your actions are the loudest statements you can make.
- Write down and reflect on your authentic characteristics
When I began to unpack how some of my painful childhood and adolescent memories affected me as an adult, a strange thing happened. I became more honest about my own behavior, but I also got better at understanding others’ motives as well.
As we grow into middle age and full adulthood, there’s a lot of research to confirm it – emotional intelligence takes center stage. We figure out, sometime after leaving college, that cognitive skills are only so valuable. This is why many companies prefer to hire someone with less or no experience, who’s good at getting along with people. Your EQ is far more valuable than your IQ.
Learn to write down one characteristic you want to maintain for an entire day, and then reflect at the end of the day whether or not you maintained it. This develops your EQ, especially if you can be honest with yourself and say things like, “Today, I failed. Tomorrow, I will try again.”
- Ask someone close to you to describe your top 3 personality traits
You may need to create special circumstances for this, if you’ve been living outside of authenticity for a while. People may be afraid of your dominance, or weary of your pride. They may feel it’s not worth giving you an independent assessment of who you really are. Or they may have an inflated view of you, and put you on a pedestal because you’re in authority.
The best people to do this are coaches and mentors, because their role is to see the “gold” inside you, even if you’re oblivious, or busy trying to cover it up. Personality tests and assessments can also be useful. The purpose here is to discover what’s so abundant in your personality that it “leaks” out, even if you try to suppress it.
- Take note of a confrontation
When was the last time somebody told you that your actions were having the opposite effect of your intentions? You were upset, forceful, persuasive, overbearing – and it only served to cause further damage to the relationship? But I was just trying to get the job done, you might object. Too late … now you’ve lost credibility and connection, and it will take you even longer to rebuild them.
The hard part about this is your emotions, in a moment like the one I just described, feel very authentic. You truly were upset, forceful, persuasive or overbearing. You knew you were behaving that way. You might even have seen other people do the same thing, get great results and thought to yourself, “That must be how it’s done. Just yell and insist on getting your way.”
You need “mirrors” in your life to help you see where you need change. I shudder to think now of the days when I was so angry and resentful toward my wife, because I can still remember the scenes. I’m grateful to God they aren’t on video somewhere. I read my journals from a few years ago, and I’m horrified by the way I thought at the time.
Life can be a lot better than this, especially if you’re willing to surround yourself with strong coaches, mentors and peers to help you grow in authenticity. Foundations is a great place to begin.