As most of you know, I’m a believer in what I call “Authentic Living.” This is a topic that really speaks to me because it affects so much of our life either positively or negatively. I’ve learned this through experience, so I thought I’d share a bit more of my journey of discovery. By my loose definition, authentic living is living a life that works for you. It is finding satisfaction, contentment and fulfillment in the present. And, perhaps more importantly, it is a life where we are useful to people around us because we are able to give of ourselves in the way we want to. It can be a life filled with dreams, hard work and determination, but at its foundation is authenticity to both who we are and what is appropriate for us at any given point in life. It is like a compass, it helps us to determine if we are spending our time and money appropriately. It is living well within our means not only financially, but emotionally, physically, time-wise, and in other ways as well.
Learning to live authentically has been a lifelong process for me, as I think it is for most people. What was “authentic” while growing up in our parents’ house is different for what we think is authentic in our 20s or 30s. And often times in those early adulthood years, we don’t know what is authentic for us. We might think we do, and some might even have a firm grasp on who they are, but for most of us, we are “just learning the ropes” of who we really are, separate from our parents. We are still trying out different hats, different paths and really learning who we are and what works for us. With each life change (careers, marriage, children, moving, empty nests), we have to adjust our way of living life.
As I find myself in my 40s, I feel that I am poised now to be living my most authentic life, because I have had more experience with what works for me and what doesn’t. While authenticity is something I always believed in, it has taken time, trial and error to really grab a hold of what it means to me and how I live that out. That is not to say I have it all figured out, I’m still learning and adjusting. I’m still on the journey of discovery and growth.
When I was a young wife, I thought my authentic self was destined to live in some sort of dreamy environment. You know, if I worked hard enough at it I could have the spotlessly clean house, cute cherub children, the perfectly decorated home. It seemed natural for me, as I had grown up in a few homes that were close to most people’s definition of perfection. I had dreamed of my perfect fairytale life as a wife and mom ever since I was little. That was all I knew and it seemed like a realistic option! But as my husband and I carved our own way in life, it became clear to me that life was different in my new family than it was in my original one. Not better or worse, just different. I had some adjusting to do.
The difficulty I ran into with the perfection route was something always suffered when I tried to achieve it. Contrary to my original assessment of what life as an adult would be like, I was not in a position to do it all. And usually what suffered were things I held dear. I lacked the time and/or money for my expectations and that led to feelings of discontent and frustration. It took awhile for me to realize that I was running ahead full steam in a direction that I thought was important, when really it wasn’t what I valued the most or was capable of achieving. My priorities confused me and left me wondering if that was how life was supposed to feel.
So, in the process of refining how I live, I had to reconcile the parts of me that loved a beautiful environment and the parts of me that couldn’t keep that up! I wanted to live a “beautiful life” and it was important to me to do so for many reasons, but I didn’t always have the money or the time to do things the way I wanted to. I wanted to be true to who I was, but I didn’t know how.
As time has marched on, I have had to redefine for myself what a beautiful life looked like. Again, this process was a part of learning to live authentically. My husband and I moved quite a bit in our married years, I think each time we moved we were seeking more authenticity. A bigger house, a smaller house, a different neighborhood, digging out of a rough financial patch. While we were able to pay off debts, earn equity in our homes, accommodate career changes and build up our assets, the moving took a toll on our life. We kept working hard on our houses only to move and have to start over. We’d get our life organized in one house, and then had to re-do it the next. We’d fully landscape one backyard and move to a home that needed the same overhaul. It began to feel like we were on a treadmill and never were arriving at our destination.
It was an exhausting exercise in trying to find authenticity. Looking back, I thought if I got everything arranged in life just so, the right house, the right career, the right yard, the right decorating and the right size of house, authenticity and contentment would fall into place. True, if where you are at in life is completely inappropriate for you (your house is way too expensive for your income, for example), then switching homes might be a good idea. But still, many times in life when I made a decision to move or re-do something, my focus might have been off. I would solve one or two problems and create a half dozen more.
What I have learned for myself is that the goal is not always to make everything perfect around me, but to LIVE fully, to the best of my ability, wherever I am. It is being content to balance my life with what God gives me! I have had to change my focus and perception of how I look at life. Yes, sometimes that means moving to a new house, remodeling or getting a new job in order to live more fully. But sometimes that means projects remain undone for years at a time (my backyard, for instance, GASP!) so I can redirect my time and resources to something else that is more important to me. Sometimes living authentically means I give my kids the master bedroom for a teen hangout while my husband and I use a regular bedroom. Other times, like now, it means I take that master bedroom back and use it as a retreat for my husband and me as we are both in need of time away from the world. Sometimes living authentically means I work harder than I want to and sometimes it means I work less. Sometimes it means I start a business, sometimes I quit one. Sometimes it means I drive a new car and sometimes it means I am stuck for years on end driving a mini-van.
Circumstances will ebb and flow, but now that I am fully embracing authentic living, my intent remains the same in spite of my circumstances or whims. Authentic living isn’t necessarily being frugal in every way or living simply, as some people do, it is living on purpose and with purpose according to what I have been given. I have to make sacrifices in order to fully live with contentment in the moments I have. I can’t chase down authenticity or find it somewhere else, nor can I have every duck in a row at all times. Authenticity looks different at my house than it might look at your house. You can’t necessarily spot someone who is living authentically just because of the car they drive, the kind of house they live in, the things they have, or the place they buy their groceries.
Authenticity is a series of personal decisions I make every day. While I sometimes think it would be great to go back in time and make life a “do over” I’m content where I am today. Life isn’t perfect, struggles still loom over us and some uncertainty of our future remains. But I’m happy to just fully live in the moments I’m given.
So, in a nutshell, that is my journey towards authentic living.
Stay tuned for an upcoming related post:
Creative Concealment (my solution to achieving a beautiful home and still having money and time leftover for living)