Authenticity is not a fixed point on a map. It’s fluid, much like your identity, and shifts over the course of your life.
It’s easier to trick yourself into believing the feel-good advice that your voice comes from a sudden revelation. You just have to wait for that moment. And once you’ve found it, the entire picture comes into focus and remains that way for life.
But authenticity is found through fragments. It evolves over time. It’s a moving target that falls out of focus and can be lost to the chaos of life.
Authenticity is less about identifying a singular purpose and voice that should define your entire life. It’s about finding and trusting your voice today. In other words, embracing the impermanence of your identity, knowing that it can and will change.
How you live your life–your interests, principles, and priorities–will evolve over time. As you grow, you’ll add depth to your voice. If you remain the same for too long, that’s when you know you’ve stopped learning or are clinging to an expired version of yourself.
It’s easy to get caught up in the expectations you hold for yourself or that others project upon you– who you should be, where you have been. If you fuel these doubts, you can opt out of the unknown and find comfort in your plateau. But you won’t grow through the familiar, and you won’t find alignment.
Your sense of authenticity–your now–is something that’s all your own. It’s discovered, developed, and deepened, by the obstacles you face, the uncertainties you navigate, and the inspiration you find along the way.
If you want to create something that matters–to both yourself and others–you have to create from where you currently are in your life. That’s how you build momentum and depth. Trust yourself.
It’s the difference between artists and entrepreneurs who get lucky once and those who sustain success over decades. If you cling to what got you there in the first place, you’ll fail to evolve and render yourself irrelevant.
Artists who reinvent themselves fight for projects that allow them to grow, stretch their abilities, and discover new things. In doing so, they create from a place that resonates with them at a single point in time.
Over the course of years, a series of single brush strokes reveals an evolving sense of authenticity.
Bob Dylan, one of history’s great songwriters, has reinvented himself time and time again throughout his career. He’s altered his voice and bridged various genres, beginning in folk, shifting towards rock, and experimenting with country and Christian albums along the way.
Five decades later we can step back and admire his trajectory–how he’s pushed himself to grow, defy expectations, and channel that into his art. Time makes this seem inevitable, as if all he had to do was fall in line with destiny. But that fails to take into account the years of criticism, outrage, and uncertainty Dylan faced.
Authenticity–creating from who you are today, despite expectations tearing you in different directions–is not for the faint of heart.
Dylan threw the folk community into a fit of rage when he “went electric.” He could have stuck with what was working and fallen in line with their expectations, but validation was never his primary motivation. He sought meaning over influence at each step of his career. As a result, he achieved exactly that–lifelong influence.
Dylan resonates with people because his songwriting tracks his own development as a human being. His songs reflect who he was–his observations, experiences, and imagination–and who he refused to be at each point in time. Dylan’s career is a master class in embracing the impermanence of identity and authenticity. The fragments of himself that he brought to life shows he understands this in a deep way.
There were a lot of better singers and better musicians around these places but there wasn’t anybody close in nature to what I was doing. Folk songs were the way I explored the universe…Bob Dylan
There’s no single template for finding your voice as it exists today. It’s different for each person. Legendary director, Steven Spielberg, was quite different from Dylan. Dylan had unusual depth which he developed at an early age. Spielberg developed his own sense of depth over decades.
Spielberg’s progression from Jaws (1965) to Schindler’s List (1993) demonstrates this. In those eighteen years, he grew by finding projects that spoke to him at a specific point in time. What felt authentic to him in 1965 was entirely different than 1993. That doesn’t negate his early work, he was just creating from a different place.
Spielberg’s voice evolved through his films, just as Dylan’s did through his albums. That’s why they’ve remained relevant for so many years. They’ve changed, adapted, and grown. But most importantly, both have had the courage to speak from where they were in each present moment.
Both faced criticism along the way for unpopular decisions, but that’s the irony of the whole thing. People are enraged by change, but if you stay the same you guarantee failure. You lose touch with yourself, a sense of fulfillment in your work, and a deeper connection to your audience.
Before you release your work into the wild, fight like hell to make sure it first resonates with you.
No one gets it right each time. There will be times you lose your sense of authenticity. Not even Dylan and Spielberg are immune to the chaos of life. But when the intention and awareness are there, it’s easier to rebuild and rediscover a sense of momentum.
Life is motion. Authenticity is about finding harmony in that motion.
It’s not always easy, but it’s meaningful. Allow yourself to evolve through uncertainty. When you find the courage to speak from this place, you add unusual depth and clarity to your voice. That’s what draws people in.
Start by reflecting on what resonates with you at this point in your life–experiences, interests, observations, values. Authenticity is your now. No matter where you are, trust yourself to create from who you are today.
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*Originally published on www.alexjhughes.com