LONDON – A friend of mine – a well-known and well-respected self-help guru in the States – once told me that New Year’s Resolutions should never be vague and all-encompassing. “Don’t pick something like: Be more virtuous,” she said. “Choose something actionable like: Recycle every day.”
I immediately saw the wisdom in her words. At my job, we are constantly taught to set SMART goals for our projects because the more specific the objectives, the easier they are to implement. As a big fan of To Do lists, I myself have been known to generate not only lists of new year’s resolutions, but lists for how to keep them.
But this January, I’m embracing a radically different tactic: I’m going to set myself a concept, not a list. My watchword for 2016 is – drum roll please – authenticity.
I know. I know. It sounds horribly new age-y and as if I’ve listened to one too many Adele songs lately (which I have, BTW. Huge fan.). So by all means feel free to roll your eyes. But before you dismiss me, let me tell you how I got there.
It all started a month or so ago when I did a two-day management training course at work. As part of this workshop, they had us do a bunch of exercises designed to help us identify our “core values” – the idea being that the more you can figure out what motivates you as an individual, the more you can bring those qualities out in others. So let’s say that your top values were “family,” “accomplishment,” “community,” and “productivity.” Now I tell you that you’re about to get on a train that’s leaving the station and you can only take one suitcase (value) with you: which one do you choose? You do a pairwise comparison until you whittle your list down to your one, over-arching value. It was a deceptively simple – and, to be honest, gut-wrenching – exercise, but ultimately a very useful one.
Guess what I ended up with? Authenticity. What does that mean? For me, authenticity is about being true to who I am. It’s about matching who I am to what I do and, in particular, using my voice more in both my life and in my work.
As soon as the penny dropped, I began seeing authenticity everywhere.
I saw it in something as trivial as my Facebook status updates. While I fully accept that, for many, social media is nothing more than a never-ending mundane stream of narcissistic clap-trap, I love Facebook. And in a very busy life where I sometimes feel that I don’t have time to breathe, my status updates are one of the few, easily accessed places where I have the space to be my authentic self in the course of daily routines.
I also realized that my favorite radio programme – BBC Radio Four’s Desert Island Disks – the one I can’t wait to listen to each week – is really all about asking famous people to narrate how they got to be their authentic selves. (My interpretation, not the show’s strap line!) This is partly done through relating pivotal moments in their lives to music and partly through the concept of being asked to imagine themselves as a “castaway” on a desert island. (“What one book would you bring with you if you could only choose one?” the host asks every guest at the end of each programme. Now *there’s* an authenticity exercise to try out in the next management training workshop I attend…)
I saw authenticity when I read Erica Jong’s scorchingly funny and honest debut novel, Fear of Flying, over Christmas break. Most people read this book (correctly) as a treatise on female sexual emancipation. But it is equally – to my mind – a book about one woman’s journey towards authenticity: about figuring out who she wants to be in the world with respect to her work, her family and – most obviously – men.
Most of all, I saw it in a holiday present I bought for myself to jump-start more creativity in my life: Elle Luna’s The Cross Roads of Should and Must. This self-help book is all about authenticity and while I’ve only read the first couple of chapters I can already see why the original essay on which it is based became an instant sensation. As Luna writes in the introduction: “All too often, we feel that we are not living the fullness of our lives because we are not expressing the fullness of our gifts.”
I was hooked.
None of which is to say that there is anything wrong with having a list of tangible goals you’d like to achieve this year. In my own case, “authenticity” itself can be unpicked into a series of discrete actions: It can mean blogging more – both here, at The Broad Side, and at my own blog about adulthood, RealDelia. It can mean experimenting with podcasting and possibly even returning to writing fiction. But it’s also about reading what I want, not what I think I should read. It’s about spending the time with the people I want to spend time with and not giving a £$!* about everybody else. In short, it’s about investing more in who I really am and less in who I think I need to be.
But thinking of my resolutions as a package – a gestalt (if you’ll allow me an Erica Jong-like moment of my own) – feels more manageable right now, and more appropriate. It reflects a spirit and an attitude, not simply a list of activities to tick off my To Do list.
Oh dear. I do sound new-agey now. But hopefully also more authentic.
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Guardian. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com.