10 Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life
Getting Real by Susan Campbell was the first book I read when I started coaching school. Of the scores of self-help, psychology, neuroscience, coaching theory, and coaching practice books I have read since then, this one remains the most valuable. Every few years, I reread it to keep myself honest.
Getting Real is the instruction manual for authenticity; for being straight with yourself and the people in your life. Being straight means letting them know how you feel, what you think, and what you want in such a way as to open up a relationship—instead of closing it down.
What does authenticity buy you? Deep, fulfilling, and intimate relationships. It also buys you freedom and power—for when you have nothing to hide and have nothing you need to control—nothing can knock you off your center. You can wade into any situation, no matter how fraught, and not lose it, be manipulated, or made a victim.
When we are not being real—authentic—we put constraints on ourselves in service of staying safe. Yet, ironically, staying safe causes suffering. The more we hide, control, and dissemble, the more pain we bring into our lives and the lives of those we live and work with.
The Payoffs of Inauthenticity
Why then do we prefer to stay safe?
We are inauthentic to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings—for example, to avoid the feelings of looking foolish, being rejected, or failing. We develop an entire suite of behaviors, strategies, and ways of thinking to keep ourselves from feeling uncomfortable.
But when we give up our inauthentic, unreal ways—we run into a second problem: How to be authentic skillfully? Too often, our unskillful attempts at authenticity make matters worse—we cause upsets and fights and ultimately drive ourselves back into our protective cocoons.
Susan Campbell’s book is the instruction manual for achieving authenticity. She offers ten truth skills for getting real; ten steps to authenticity. While they require courage to implement, they are not difficult to understand—and the result will be less suffering and more serenity, presence, and compassion.
What is Authenticity?
Being real or being authentic means that our inner world is aligned with our exterior world. It also means that we’ve done our work so that we know what our authentic inner world is. It is not uncommon—in fact, it is likely—to lie to ourselves about who we are and what we feel. Too often, we mistake our lies about ourselves as the truth and then try to be authentic on top of those lies—and consequently, we produce inauthentic results. For example, if we think we’re not good enough—which is an interpretation—not the truth—about ourselves, then any attempt to be authentic on top of that will likely be some strategy to compensate for or hide our feelings of inadequacy. No authenticity there.
What is a Control Pattern?
A control pattern is any behavior we deploy to shield ourselves from feeling uncomfortable. Telling your spouse that you liked the dinner they cooked for you when, in fact, you did not is a control pattern. You are controlling their feelings so that they don’t feel rejected or hurt, and you are controlling your feelings by avoiding having to experience her upset.
Campbell’s 10 Truth Skills
1. What Is
Humans interpret everything that happens around us. Said another way, we give the events and circumstances of our lives meaning. This meaning is not the truth—it’s our interpretation of the truth. Authenticity comes from stripping the interpretations from events and circumstances and dealing with the world as it is—or, as Campbell calls it the “what is.”
For example—you send an email to a buddy, and he doesn’t respond. The “what is”, is that he didn’t respond. You make it mean that he doesn’t like you, he’s a jerk, he’s playing power games—whatever. Those made-up meanings are control patterns that provide you with a sense of control, a sense that you know what’s going on.
Authenticity comes from just relating to the “what is”—that he didn’t respond to your email.
Being transparent means expressing what you feel (in regards to the “what is”) instead of hiding out or pretending you are feeling something else. If you have trouble being transparent you are likely suffering from a false belief about yourself (e.g. “I’m not good enough” or “people don’t like me”).
Acknowledging feelings—esp. fears—is liberating; hiding them or pretending they don’t exist tends to be debilitating. When you are fully transparent, you are fully free. You circumcise your freedom to the extent that you need to hide or protect yourself or to control how others see you. The more you have to hide, the more imprisoned you are.
3. Relate or to control?
You try to control others so that you don’t feel uncomfortable. You want the world to be predictable, to conform to your views, you want others to do things your way, and to protect yourself from conflict and your uncomfortable feelings. Controlling keeps you distracted (not present), unable to clear uncomfortable feelings (which go around and around in your head), and constantly strategizing how to protect yourself.
Control patterns keep us from being real and suck the joy right out of life.
When you decide to control, look at what the control pattern is protecting you from. What fear are you avoiding?
The alternative is to “relate” to others. Relating means to be known, present, and connected to yourself and the others around you. This requires expressing your feelings authentically and being comfortable in an uncontrollable world.
4. Welcome Feedback
Being open to and inviting the reflections and thoughts of others about you invites others into your life. It deepens your connections, builds resilience in you, and provides you with data about how you appear to others.
5. Making requests
It is one thing to know what you want; it is another to assert it—to make requests of others so that you can obtain it. How to do it in such a way that it engages the other person—instead of pushing them away, causing upsets, etc. is a key Getting Real skill. It means putting aside feelings of victimhood or dominance; not accusing the other or diminishing yourself.
Projection is the psychological term for attributing to others feelings or behaviors that you don’t want to acknowledge in yourself. We all do it. The problem, of course, is that if you think the problem lies in the other person—it gives you permission to judge that person and you can’t address the problem in you. Outer struggles almost always mirror our internal and often unconscious struggles.
Projection is another control pattern. Examine the judgments you make of others and then examine yourself—what you are judging in others is something that you need to address in yourself.
Developing the truth skill of the “Do Over” enables you to keep the conversation alive until you are complete with it; that is until you have no more energy or unwelcome feelings about it. The Do-Over allows you to re-start a conversation at a later date. It enables you to revise, dig deeper, be more real than you could be when you first initiated the conversation. Keep coming back until all parties are complete.
8. Holding Differences: Seeing other viewpoints without losing your own
A fact: No two people will agree on everything. If you are coming from control, you have two choices. You can out-argue or out-dominate the person you disagree with so they see things your way or you could submit—and surrender your beliefs and adopt the other person’s.
Notice as you go about your life how important it is for you that others think the same way as you do. Notice how much greater a feeling of comradeship you have when you agree with another and how distant or even antagonistic you feel when you disagree.
Holding differences is the skill of accepting differences without needing to control the other, yourself, or the situation. Instead, get curious about them. What makes another person see the world so differently? What do you have to learn from them? What can you learn about yourself?
Be present to the differences.
9. Sharing Mixed Emotions
So, life is complex. In many situations, you’ll feel many different emotions, have many different thoughts, and both will change over time.
That’s okay. Modern life likes to wring all the nuance and complexity out of things. But it’s unlikely that you go through life seeing it as either black or white. So, notice it, accept it, and communicate it.
10. Silence and Not Knowing
Jumping to fill a silence is another control pattern. Silence can be uncomfortable—far better to fill it than to feel uneasy.
But silence allows you to be present, for feelings to change, insights to grow. Learn how to let the silence be so that your conversations become richer and more meaningful.
Similarly, with not knowing. Pretending to know or making excuses for not knowing are control patterns used to cover for a fear that you might be lacking because you don’t know. Give it up. Get comfortable with not knowing—you might learn something.
Inauthenticity is generated by fear—fear of not being liked or accepted, of failing, of losing, of being wrong, or fear of being rejected. Authenticity requires living with courage—the courage to risk feeling these uncomfortable feelings in exchange for living a life of freedom and deep connection.
If you’d like to start down the path of Getting Real—contact me today.
Getting Real: 10 Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life
J. Kramer Book, 2001