9 Mar 1998 (participant in this class are
identified only by the date of the e-mail)
Is there a middle way between conformity and authenticity?
Most people buy their life
off the rack. They usually are too
afraid to customize their own life. The herd instinct over takes them,
freeing them from the responsibility of figuring it out for themselves.
It's obvious from reading your book, Becoming More Authentic, and
visiting your Web site that you have committed your life to the noble
and valuable goal of helping others to compose an authentic life and
I also was deeply influenced
by the existentialist thinkers,
especially as a college student. I read Sartre, Camus, and struggled
through bits of Heidegger. Then I read several of the interpreters, such
as Robert Solomon, William Barrett, and Frankl. Afterwards I read Harry
Browne and David Seabury. Even so, I have to confess that I have either
lacked the courage or perhaps the desire to live these ideas as fully as
you have. In fact, I don't think the existentialists lived as
existentialists. Most of them had regular jobs, and Heidegger was as
much of a burgher as possible. While I realize that I don't need as much
as I have, I am also not prepared to take a vow of poverty as you have.
(I realize that you're not advocating that this is necessary to live an
existential life.) I would also find the single mindedness to one's
project as potentially too alienating.
That said, I still believe
that an individual has the free will
to choose his life and that perhaps that may be the only the only thing
one has. I often find myself taking the nurture position in then
nature/nurture debate. My stand is: yes, there are things that are
genetically determined, perhaps many things, but I can't worry about
those things; instead I focus on what I do control and that's more than
one life can handle. The question, as I see it, is degree. I am
searching for a middle ground (perhaps none exists) between the single
mindedness your life has taken and the mindless rat-race, consumerist
life that many others, including my own, take.
I started my adult life
strongly desiring to become a mystery
writer, a desire that still lures me. That's not where I find myself
today. I did write two mysteries a few years back and even landed an
agent, but was unsuccessful in finding a publisher. Perhaps I could
have published the books myself, but I was seeking external validation
for my efforts. I made my living as a financial journalist for several
years, but chafed under the lack of autonomy and the routinenization of
the work. After I married and started a family I jumped over to public
relations, first for a non-profit, do-good organization and more
recently for a firm that specializes in financial public relations. My
compensation is generous and I enjoy being able to provide my family
with the toys of an upper-middle class life: private school, nice
vacations and regular visits to amazon.com. But I am the first to admit
that this is a compromise and I keep struggling to find that elusive
middle ground, which would give me more time to pursue my writing and
I'd appreciate any suggestions
and again congratulations on your
JAMES PARK RESPONDS:
Yes, it is possible to
find a middle way between
conformity and Authenticity.
This is why I entitled my book BECOMING MORE Authentic.
You have already made some changes that illustrate
that you do have a free will
and can re-shape your life—within limits.
That is what we mean by becoming more Authentic.
It is never possible to
see one's whole life in advance.
But if we keep looking as far ahead as we can,
we will live better than if we just watch our feet.
We DO need to watch that next step,
but in addition to that,
to become more Authentic means planning our lives
as comprehensively as we can at any given moment in the journey.
You have already read about
building the bridge
across the river with only enough materials for a dock.
You take your life apart at one end
and use the salvaged material to build at the other.
In your case, you see TIME as a basic limitation
—as do most people.
In order to become more
we need to reclaim some TIME
that is already going for some other projects.
If you take a time-inventory,
you will discover where you are wasting the most time
—according to your current values and priorities.
That is the place to salvage some time,
which you can then devote to
one of your fundamental purposes in life
which has not been getting enough time
—again according to your current values.
Next, in the process of
pursuing these new values,
you may decide to revise them in ways that you cannot foresee.
But being already ON THE WAY
will help you to see WHERE YOU ARE GOING better every day.
Good luck in re-creating yourself.
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