Some writers confuse being authentic, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about- W.H. Auden on being a writer.
I came across this quote the other day and stared at it for the longest time; It was almost an instant epiphany for me.
For the longest time, I never really understood what it meant to be authentic, whether in my writing, or in my daily life. For a long time, I thought being authentic, meant being different from others, going against the crowd and being a rebel to all that was traditional or already established. So many times, I would do things not because I liked it or thought it was what I wanted to do, but rather, because others were doing the opposite and I wanted to distance myself from them and be different.
In essence I thought it meant being original and boy was I wrong. The more I think about it now, the more I understand how much of a horrible ideal to have that was.
So many times on social media, influencers tell us to go against the crowd, or to not be afraid of being different and while that’s all good to some degree, it does seem to me like that is where the main emphasis is put on and I think that’s a problem. I think it’s a problem because, there’s nothing inherently right or good about being different from others or even going against the crowd and that idea is becoming more and more the holy grail. We focus so much on trying to be original that we end up pushing away the things that could truly make us happy or fulfilled, all in the name of wanting to be different from others.
Now, I’m not saying that going against the crowd, or being different is necessarily a bad thing in of itself, but aiming at that is where I think we start to get it wrong. You should only go against the crowd if you truly believe that they are wrong, or be different because the thing you value happens to be different to those around you and not just for the sake of it.
After a lot of time spent on trying to be original and a number of somewhat brutal and unhappy years, I’ve now realized what true authenticity means, it’s not going against the crowd or being different or a rebel; no, it’s discovering your values, and trying your utmost to live in light of those values.
It’s trying to live every year, every month, every week, every day, every hour, every minute and every second the way you really want it. Living the way you want your life to go and not worrying so much about what others think or what they might say. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t listen to people or take others into consideration and hopefully you do build a well developed sense of morality, but you need to remember it’s your life and you’re the one who gets to live with the decisions you make and the consequences and so you’re the one who has to make the decision.
There will always be people, ideas, thoughts, rules and ways of being coming at you from all angles and you need to stand firm, and in other to do that, to be able to say I know who I am, what I want and what I want to do; you need to genuinely know yourself and what you value, if not; all you’ll be is a nylon by the side of the road pushed into every and any direction of the wind.
There are so many ways to be in the world, grounded in reality of course and you need to look for that which suites you and work to become and embody that.
And, If you start to even try and live an authentic life, you’ll discover as I found, that it’s a full time job that I sometimes fail miserably at. It’s one that requires me to be constantly questioning and prodding myself. Am I in line with what I consider to be my values and standards. Am I doing what I believe to be good by my own standards and am I living my life the way I really want it to be, true to my own ideals and values.