Taking off the mask will give you fewer, but better, opportunities
You have core motivations – things that drive a feeling in you to take action and do whatever it takes to push through adversity and resistance. These could include your paid work, providing for your family, or other obvious drivers. But often there is an underlying motivator that runs deeper. This might involve having enough money to afford a return to your love of art, writing, music, sports, food, or anything else that you lost time for over the years.
As we progress into adulthood, our authentic self gets beaten down and discarded in favor our “useful” self – the self that makes us seen as productive contributors to society and the workforce. Another way of saying it is it shifts our motivation from internal to external, an ironic shift that you would think should go the other direction with more life experience and wisdom.
Odds are you haven’t been your real self since you were young. Actor Michael Keaton hit this point well in his 2018 commencement speech for Kent State University. You can see the full speech below, or forward to about 12 minutes to see exactly what I’m referring to…
Keaton’s point is perfect for the audience. The typical university commencement speech from celebrities tends to focus on students being inspired, kind, ambitious, and impactful. While all those characteristics are admirable, Keaton’s angle was particularly poignant because he wasn’t necessarily driving an aspiration to be better versions of themselves, but rather acknowledging that they are currently the best versions of themselves and need to protect and nourish it as the world tries to knock that version down over the decades of tribulation they will face.
This is an incredibly powerful narrative that brings a life lesson which people often discover in their 30s, 40s, or later, and instills it in young adults who can leverage the insight with their whole lives ahead of them. A beautiful seed of wisdom to plant in young minds, and one I wish I could tell a 22 year old version of myself.
A very select few are able to keep their adolescent motivation as their calling into adulthood. A childhood love for music, art, or sports translating to an adulthood profession of musician, artist, or athlete, for instance. If you’re reading this, my guess is you are not one of these fortunate few. For the rest of us, a lucky subset is able to revisit these old motivations once we’ve established enough financial security to comfortably take risks in the chase for greater fulfillment. That’s the aspiring group to which a psychological regression of sorts has profound value – a return to who you used to be.
Authenticity and Opportunity
As I’ve re-wired my thinking to bring authenticity, choice, and candor into all aspects of my life, I’ve noticed certain opportunities fade. But I’ve also noticed the opportunities that come through are far more enticing. I don’t take a job simply because it’s there. I don’t misrepresent my qualifications to get hired where I know I’m not a great fit. As this mindset takes shape, the funnel of opportunities shrinks at the top, but the ones that get through are the ones I actually want.
It’s like you see fewer pitches to hit but they’re all fastballs over the middle of the plate.
Since I decided to take a separation from corporate work for family reasons, perspective, and general wellness, conversations to get back into full-time work have been interesting. Some have fizzled. I am not so delusional and entitled to assume this couldn’t possibly be due to my qualifications, though it’s hard not to believe my life decision didn’t play some part in a negative perception of my abilities.
One the other end of the spectrum, those who wanted to engage after learning of the choices I’ve made have had noticeable interest in further peeling back the onion to understand my points of view. There is an element of taking the road less travelled that, in and of itself, conveys a value of authenticity. Where authenticity has been valued above other key traits, my personal journey has been perceived as an asset rather than attacked as an indictment.
Being Inauthentic Should Terrify You
Most people are inauthentic. That’s not a cynical or pessimistic worldview, but simply an observation that it’s easier to be inauthentic. In the long run, this is why so many people are pissed off all the time, buy crap they don’t need, judge the choices of others, lack civility, and damage relationships. It’s not because they want to do any of those things. It’s because external pressures drive them away from authenticity, and being driven away from authenticity puts you on edge.
When EVERYONE around you has the same challenges and succumbs to the same external pressures, the problem only perpetuates in your life until you consciously make a change to prevent it. Then and only then can you make your mark on the world, help others, and find some peace in virtue in how you live. So get back to who you used to be.