Don’t be a Sellout: A Guide to Staying Real

Being true to yourself is not easy. In magazines, we’re shown images of flawless airbrushed bodies. Luxury and celebrity lifestyles are worshipped. In our culture we’re judged for what we own and what we do. Not who we are.

It’s hard to remain true to yourself when our culture encourages competition. I don’t think competition is a bad thing necessarily. Our economy’s livelihood depends on it. The problem is we define everyone as winners or losers. He’s a janitor, he must be a loser. She’s a fortune 500 executive, she must be a winner.

We judge people based on their outward appearances, the cars they drive and the restaurants they frequent. Have you ever been nervous to approach a person because they have a more important title than you? Have you ever avoided someone because they looked homeless?

Judging others based on their appearances and job titles is kind of inevitable though, as backwards as it may be. After all, it’s the first thing we see, and the first thing we hear. But I think we abuse this system.

In a perfect world, we would judge people based on the contents of their character (or not judging at all, for that matter). I think the more we practice doing this, the more comfortable we become with ourselves. The more we accept ourselves, the more we accept others as well.

Because the truth is, the level of your happiness is exactly proportional to the amount you’ve sold yourself out. The amount of contentment you experience is directly related to how authentically you’re living.

The main source of this problem is:

The Domestication of Humans

When we are born, we’re completely authentic. We’re wild. We think, but not in symbols (words). We know what’s right and wrong, but it’s not based on knowledge. It’s based on our integrity.

As we grow up, we’re taught (through language) what’s right and what’s wrong. What’s acceptable and what isn’t. We start to think of the world in symbols. Instead of experiencing life directly, we have series of thoughts and judgments about it. Thinking is essential to our success as humans and much of our lives depend on it. It’s allowed us to build cities, create technology and all sorts of conveniences.

The problem with thinking in symbols, is we judge everything. We judge ourselves. We judge the things we do right and the things we do wrong. We start to want everything we do to be right, so we create an image of perfection.

We’ve Sold Ourselves Out to Knowledge

I’ve talked here before about the importance of not taking things personally. That’s because what other people do isn’t about you, it’s about them. Well, in the same way, if you want to regain your authenticity, you have to not take your thoughts personally. You have to stop identifying with your thoughts. Because your thoughts are not you. Your spirit is not an idea or a concept.

Sometimes to stay true to yourself you have to:

  • Stop caring about being defined by erroneous status symbols. Such as: job titles, credentials, college degrees, and the contents of your resume.
  • Not care about how much money you have, how productive you are, or how popular you are. Instead you care about how much you control your time and how much you own your own mind.
  • No longer live your life based on a template.
  • Spend your time in unconventional ways (like long-term world travel) that cause other people to disapprove. The reason they don’t approve is probably because you’re forcing them to question their own values.
  • Stop caring about what other people think.

I admit that it’s not always easy for me to stay true to myself. I often find myself editing what I say because I’m afraid of what other people will think. I find myself trying to make a certain impression, because I want people to view me a certain way. I want to be seen as someone “who matters” or something who is “interesting” or “important.” Every time I do this, I feel like I give up a little part of my soul. Every time I act a certain way for the sake of popularity, I sell myself out a little more.

It’s not easy being authentic. You have to be able to take some harsh criticism sometimes. That’s because authenticity isn’t popular; “fitting in” is. But have you ever noticed the most successful, admired people are the ones who have vehemently gone against the grain? Those that have blazed their own trail and followed their own path? I’ve noticed this. That’s why I live every day consciously following my heart as much as possible.

To help you live more based on the way you want to live and stop sacrificing your integrity, here’s what I’ve learned. I hope this will help you in some way.

  1. Reject the idea that you can’t be consistently happy. Yes, it’s actually possible to be consistently happy. If you don’t take other people’s actions personally or your own thoughts personally, you can be consistently happy. The easiest way to do this is to stop caring.
  2. Live based on your own values and not for the approval of others. We all do things to please others, that’s natural. It’s part of the give and take of life. What isn’t natural is living your life based on the expectations of others and society as a whole. If you can stop caring about what other people think, your happiness will increase instantly. This means having the courage to be corky, embracing your inner geek and be brave enough to just be weird. What one person thinks is weird is completely normal to someone else. It’s all about perspective.
  3. Work toward your own goals and not to further someone else’s agenda. This one of the hardest ones to follow because many of us have no other choice but to work for someone else. You can start building a business now though, one day at a time. Within a year or two you can quit your day job. This is something that’s very important to me that I struggle with daily. I hate going to work having someone pay for my time. But ultimately it’s a temporary sacrifice I have to make right now (if I don’t want to be homeless). I work daily to try to build this blog so I can fund the ownership of my time. What can you do to afford the ownership of your time? Can you find a place where what you love to do, what you’re good at, and a viable source of income intersect?
  4. Reject popularity as a primary source of happiness. It’s true that everyone wants to be liked. It’s a basic instinct of life. But if you can’t be happy without dressing a in the latest fashion, driving a mercedes or owning a louis voughton purse, that’s a problem. Who owns your happiness, your or some brand? Living based on a certain lifestyle is fine, as long as that’s what resonates with you. If you’re following a path, it’s not your path. (Although sometimes a dot is better than a path.)
  5. Make freedom and authenticity your highest ideal. It’s difficult staying authentic. Illusory fears have an uncanny way of getting in the way of us. That’s why it’s important to make being authentic you’re highest aim. If you can make considering this value an auto-response it will be easier for you when it comes time to make a decision. When I think about the value of being authentic vs. conforming/popularity it helps me to realize what matters most me. It gives me the extra push to choose what will make me sleep easier at night.
  6. Follow your integrity. Integrity, conscience, intuition, whatever you want to call it, listen to it. Whenever you make a decision, follow your integrity. This seems like such common sense, that it’s not even worth stating. But the truth is, we have a tendency to value logic more than how we feel.
  7. Stop trying. Probably the most important part to being authentic is that you don’t try to be authentic. If you’re constantly thinking about being true to yourself, you’re trying too hard. Real authenticity is about being natural. You’re not trying, you’re just being.

This is just a starting point of things that have helped me live more authentically. Everyone’s path to staying real (or unreal) will be different.

Have you ever sold yourself out to try be more popular? To try to fit in? What do you do to stay authentic? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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