Start living in integrity and authenticity | Welcome the pain and be the change
Integrity and authenticity are two of my most important values in life. But it didn't just develop over night, and I definitely wasn't born with it. It required a lot of inner work to make it part of my life, moment to moment.
Let's start with how I define these two values.
Integrity is the self-awareness of your true self and what really matters to you (values and what you stand for), regardless of what other people or society defines for you. It's being in connection with your own nature and knowing this is the inner compass that you can trust.
Authenticity is the honest expression of your true self with others, regardless of what is expected of you from other people or society. It's being able to let down the walls and masks to show what and who is really present (even if it's unpleasant).
While these definitions are put into a few neat sentences, building this into a reality has been a three-decade process that is still being refined to this day. It was a journey through pain and suffering that taught me the lessons and practice of living integrally and authentically.
Get ready for some storytelling, one of my favourite ways to learn & grow from:
Like all of us, I learned my first examples of integrity and authenticity from watching my parents. Looking back I got a very sober picture of how you can both succeed and fail at it simultaneously.
For example, my heroic parents didn't let other people or society define what they valued when they got married and left for Canada together with my young sister and me as a baby. Yet I've also seen my father let someone sway him to be a financial advisor when that was not something he was passionate about. I've also seen my mother repress her hurt feelings with her family saying that, "I can't just tell them how I feel, that's not what Chinese people do."
The next earliest memory of role models of integrity and authenticity was my teachers. Maybe not being their children but their students and having more distinct boundaries would mean less mixed signals.
I fondly remember and honour one teacher, Mrs. Lavery in 7th grade, that I truly felt was integral and authentic as a teacher. After every Friday class she'd stand by the door as each kid left class and we'd bump fist and thumbs as we said, "respect" on the way out. She was a genuine earth protector, creating travel programs for students to go build eco-communities in developing countries. Sticking to her true nature of love for nature, she even passed away from a falling tree. She was truly a heroine of mine.
But there have been many teachers along the way who did not have such a positive track record. Including a teacher whom I had an inspiring relationship that spanned almost a decade that ended with a sexual disappointment (but that's a story and lesson for another day).
For better or worse, these childhood experiences imprinted some serious programming into my mindset and behaviours. And so I had a very confused understanding of myself that resulted in conflicted extremes internally and externally. The breeding ground for inauthenticity and un-integral way of being.
These early experiences mirrored themselves in me, very literally. In school, I was diligent in standing up for my values and had no fear in speaking my truth in class. It was no surprise I thrived here. While outside of school and at home I was a complete mess. Pretending everything was fine when really inside I was suffering from rage and depression. As long as I was doing well in school then the world could leave me alone, and no one had to know who I really was. Fast forward through some serious dark night of the soul, my rage and depression pointed me in the very direction I am in today. Gandhi describes it best, "Be the change you wish to see."
After realizing that there was no one there to teach me at that time, I began to teach myself. I let the very thing I didn't want to show that was true... out. I let my rage and grief out, I gave it a voice, I gave it pages in my journal, I painted their vision late in the night, I gave it space in my relationships, and I listened to my Self. It was anything but perfect, I hurt some people along the way as I fumbled along. But I was determined to know myself and express what was alive, and putting faith that at some point a deeper truth of what really mattered to me would appear. I decided to take responsibility and ownership for healing and save myself.
My first real lesson in integrity and authenticity was to welcome my shadow, my darkness, my pain, and suffering to share itself with me. They are the voices that speak up for all that is hidden away from the light, and if we can give them a safe space to express we can begin to hear our truth. We are practicing authenticity.
And by being able to speak freely and truthfully, we begin to make a healthy space for integrity. Be honest with yourself, and expressing what matters to you (even in pain and suffering) with others is how you begin to practice integrity.
So slowly but surely, I began to know myself and what I stood for.
Slowly but surely, I began to live in accordance with that truth more and more.
Slowly but surely, my actions began to align with my core.
Slowly but surely, I was living with more integrity and authenticity.
And tomorrow is another day to keep practicing.
Disclaimer: We can fall out of alignment often. Especially when we step into new phases of our lives and we're transitioning into the unknown. You might lose your orientation and your values might change or get challenged. This is where guidance and coaching with someone you trust can really assist you in the refinement process of what stays and what goes. Change is part of the journey of integrity and authenticity, think of this uncertainty as a chance to upgrade and check which foundations are still solid.
For your reflection:
Who is someone you've learned integrity and authenticity from? Do you still resonate with that story?
What are your top 3 values in your life that haven't changed?
Rate yourself between 1 - 10 (ten the highest) on how integral and authentic you are now. What is one small thing you can do tomorrow to bring you closer to where you want to be?
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