One of my favorite movies is Good Will Hunting. If you haven’t seen it, the movie is about a troubled genius (Will, played by Matt Damon) and his relationship with his therapist (Sean, played by Robin Williams).
Struggling with Authenticity
One of the reasons I like the movie so much is it is a beautiful illustration of the struggle with living an authentic life. A big part of Will’s growth in the movie involves accepting and owning the fullness of who he is—both his gold (e.g., his intellect, love for his girlfriend) and shadow (e.g., being an orphan, past abuse, propensity for violence). (By shadow, I mean those parts of us that we hide, repress, and deny.) Interestingly, Sean has his own process in the movie toward authenticity, as he has mostly checked out of his life in the two years since his wife died of cancer.
Out of Touch with Ourselves
Authenticity has consistently been linked to understandings of well-being or “the good life,” and most of us want it. But it can be hard to live authentically. One reason for this difficulty is we can be out of touch with what we are actually thinking, feeling, experiencing, and wanting. In other words, we can be cut off from our true selves.
A second reason why authentic living is difficult is that even if we know what we are thinking, feeling, experiencing, and wanting, it is sometimes hard to act in accordance with what is happening inside us. We might feel pressure from our family or religion to act in a certain way that is different from who we truly are. We might be drawn by the 3 F’s—fame, fortune, or fashion. Each of these F’s involves changing what we are doing because of something external to our true self.
Back in Touch
How can we overcome these barriers and live authentically? First, we can get more in touch with our inner selves. We can give ourselves space to look inward and consider what we think about various things. We can work on identifying and talking about our emotions. We can sit with ourselves and determine what we actually want. This work is critical if we want to live an authentic life.
Limit External Influences
Second, we can limit the external influences on our lives. Everywhere we turn, we have people telling us what we should believe, think, feel, and do. Everyone has their own set of ideas and values, and they think we should believe the same thing. However, if we want to live authentically, we have to turn down these outside voices. When someone tells us what they think we should do, thank them for their input and then forget about it. Be wary of people or institutions who want too much conformity from you—your authenticity is at stake.
Follow Your Beliefs and Values
Finally, as much as possible, act in accordance with your own beliefs and values. You only have your own life to live. Be 100% responsible for your own choices. Figure out what you want—and then do it! As you keep moving in this direction, you will likely achieve a sense of peace and satisfaction that only comes from living your own life authentically.