Creating an authentic life

“If we are to have any hope of practicing true, deep acceptance, we must become authentic beings.”
—Dan Clark

Part of accepting others instead of passing judgement is learning to live with authenticity. This word gets tossed around but the true meaning of authenticity is to be real, present, vulnerable, open and filled with self-discipline and self-love.

True authenticity creates self-acceptance, a willingness to embrace the ways we’re unique in this world, including our imperfections and limitations. Authenticity allows us to set a powerful and positive example for others to follow—because we acknowledge everyone is struggling on their own life’s path.

Significant individuals are able to empathize, forgive and teach, rather than judge and punish. They encourage growth in others because they understand that everyone is always growing and changing.

Authentic people understand growth’s unpredictable nature. Some of us have growth trajectories like the Chinese bamboo tree: No sign of growth for the first eight years, then 98 feet of growth in four months. When we don’t appreciate this larger picture, we often give up on ourselves when we don’t reach our perceived “best” status by a specific time. We disparage others as they grow, especially those moving at a lower rate than ourselves. However, we often don’t realize they’re poised to grow 90 feet high!

Cassius Clay had his first official boxing match at 12 years old, winning by a split decision. He weighed less than 100 pounds, but declared, “I am the greatest. I will be the greatest fighter who ever lived!”

A child classmate of his recalled how Cassius was just one of the kids. Everyone would push and shove each other, getting into normal boyhood fights. There were days Cassius won and days he lost. So when he was set to fight Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship, his friend laughed and said, “He’s not even undefeated in the neighborhood. How can he be champion of the world?”

But Cassius won the championship, converted to the Muslim faith and changed his name to Muhammed Ali.

I had the opportunity to visit with Ali and asked him how an inferior opponent often knocks out a heavyweight champion. His reply was profound and has stayed with me for decades.

He explained when a competitor plays not to lose instead of playing to win, he gives up the advantage over his opponent. Every champion knows to never accept complacency, but to keep improving through hard work and discipline.

An awareness of this underlying principle prevents us from judging harshly, and prompts us to empathize and understand others as they are—and ourselves. Once we start judging or viewing ourselves as superior, that is when we cease to be champions.

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