THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT
“Look around everything changes,
It feels like I’ve been buried alive.”
At one point in time, people greatly feared being buried alive. Without the current technological advancements we have today, there were certain cases where it was difficult to determine whether or not someone was actually dead. If someone was incorrectly pronounced dead, this living person would be placed in a coffin, lowered into the ground and covered in dirt to live their final moments in the dark, suffocating.
Sounds dark, I know, but imagine surviving. There are stories of people who were misdiagnosed and placed in coffins after seizures or severe accidents and buried prematurely. After hearing knocking on the coffin lids, they’d uncover them, open the coffin, and reveal a person who was very much alive. In one case, the young girl they had presumed to be dead sat straight up and looked around at all those who had gathered for her funeral. Story says she lived another 47 years before she revisited that coffin.
In a more recent case, a man was attacked and buried under several feet of debris in a basement. The stench of a rotting body encouraged authorities to investigate. They discovered the bruised body of a young man who was still alive, but quite disoriented, and the body of another woman who unfortunately did not survive. The young man who survived was wrapped in barbed wire when they found him. He suffered a concussion, had several other injuries, and was severely dehydrated. Thankfully, he made a complete recovery.
Ring the Alarm
“Under your greatest places of pain,
you find your greatest sense of purpose.”
After a few cases of premature burials, an alarm system was invented. Coffins started including a piece of string that was attached to a flag or bell above ground. If someone had been buried early, they could pull the string to wave the flag or ring the bell. Once the bell sounded and the groundskeepers were alerted, they could begin the work of uncovering the person who was buried. After the person was brought to the surface, proper medical attention could be given, and the person restored to health.
If you’re anything like me, even thinking about being buried alive makes you panic. The stories above are cringe-worthy, but the truth is most of us are walking around as humans who are buried alive. Buried under fear, shame, misconceptions, disappointments, failures and so much more. Our pursuit of cultural authenticity has come crashing down on us and left us buried under a pile of rubble. The character we tried to portray has been discovered to be a fraud, the expression of unhealthy emotions like fear, shame, and anger have driven us straight into the ground. The desire to prove our families wrong and the pressure to become more than what they said we could be has crushed us. We’re wrapped in barbed wire, we’re concussed, suffocating, and thirsting for a way out.
A young woman I worked with faced a similar situation. She wasn’t literally buried alive, but she was buried under fear, shame, and disappointment. She grew up sheltered by pretty strict parents. She was always talkative and energetic with dreams of acting on screen or on stage. She was also intelligent and athletic. Growing up, she was asked to be quiet. After a few instances of being told she talked too much, she learned not to share her ideas. After being told her dreams were unrealistic, she learned not to dream. The path to productivity set before her was one of athletics and intellect. This path was also the one that brought her father’s affection, attention, and approval, if only momentarily.
So, driven by a broken desire to win her parents’ approval, she excelled at sports and graduated at the top of her class. Fear of disappointing her family and fear of failure drove her to leave behind her dreams of the arts and pursue a career in medicine. Shame kept those dreams quiet, and after years of education and a few years into her medical career, she found herself confused, frustrated, and disillusioned. She had worked all these years for approval and affection yet was still so unsatisfied. Her family defined her by what she did, and she felt trapped by her career. Exhausted from trying to do as she was expected, she rebelled, in pursuit of cultural authenticity.
She took on a form of herself that was contrary to her faith, contrary to the morals her parents raised her with, and even in violation of the character she had formed. She turned to alcohol and dead-end relationships to numb herself from the pain of disappointment and dreamed of what it would look like to disappear completely. Yet culture applauded and accepted her, telling her she had never looked more free as she’d toss yet another empty bottle aside. Those who loved her tried to speak to her, concerned because she didn’t seem like herself. As she rejected their questions and advice, culture applauded her yet again. By cultural standards, she was growing in authenticity as she more “freely” expressed herself, refusing to allow wisdom, external authority, or the “outdated” institution of Christianity to tell her what was right. She was deconstructing and destroying that which bound her, right?
She was, in fact, attempting to destroy that which bound her, but the way she did it only buried her further. To get a real breakthrough, she’d have to go through the pain of addressing her problems head-on. She’d have to go down into the basement of her soul to address her broken emotions and desires that got here there in the first place. She’d have to evaluate her motives. In order to get a breakthrough, she’d need to be self-aware, and develop the resilience to remain self-aware. In order to get a breakthrough, she’d need to grow a healthy expression of her character, emotions, and desires and allow that to fuel her motives. Only then would she be able to become free and fully alive, authentically her.
Understand this, the unhealthy expression of our character, emotions, and desires - if left unchecked - will morph into assassins that corrupt our motives, keep them hostage, and buried. This team of assassins will kill your purpose and future, suffocating authenticity and all chances of an impactful or meaningful life. We have to take out the assassins.
The Great Assassination
Have you ever played assassin games? Maybe it was a video game? Or maybe you grew up with an active imagination gathering all the neighborhood kids to create some sort of rescue mission. Winner takes all! Or more like, the winner gets a days’ worth of popsicles, and the loser has to do the winner's chores. Like all great rescue plots, you’d have to take out the bad guys, and rescue your friend who’s trapped. You knew you were close to the end of the game when the only people left to defeat were the assassins that guarded the door where your friend is held captive. As a highly trained 7-year-old assassin, you’d pick up your weapon of choice and charge at the obstacle keeping you from rescuing your friend. Opening the door, throwing on the lights, and rushing down the stairs to the bottom of the basement, you would untie your friend and celebrate the sweet victory! Now you have an ally and the game continues.
We are on the same journey. The only problem is, the assassins are much more deadly than a 7-year-old holding a lightsaber. The stakes are higher than endless popsicles or getting stuck with someone else's chores.
The assassins we will face are highly trained. There are two, in particular, we need to face: Corrupted Emotion and Desire. Emotion and Desire know you intimately. Corrupted Emotion was born out of some of your most significant life events. These life events created a specific pattern of brain activity which led to a variety of feelings, bodily responses, expressed behaviors, and even a sense of purpose5. The problem is, certain life events have negatively impacted Emotion making it the prime cause for a villain in your story. Dressed in all black, masked, and armed to the teeth with daggers and knives, Emotion knows your weakness.
The daggers kept in hand for quick use are feelings like fear and shame, reckless behavior, and a false sense of purpose birthed out of a need to stay safe and comfortable. This is Emotion’s very own one, two, punch, so to speak. Like a witch who can put you under a spell, Emotion will convince you feelings are true enough to guide you; destructive behaviors set you free and bring life; and a purpose driven by the need to avoid discomfort is freedom. Emotion has pulled the wool over your eyes unless you become self-aware enough to understand your feelings can only offer you a single perspective. Your quest for freedom and comfort is actually a coping method that has become your functional savior from a hell of pain or discomfort.
Corrupted Desire, our second assassin, loves to remind you of what is not. You are not great, so you set out to become so. You are not special, so you seek to be extraordinary. You are not smart, so you desire to be the smartest person in the room. The desire for approval, the desire to be liked, the desire to be right every time. Nothing you do ever seems to be enough. Dressed in red, rope in hand, Desire binds us and lures us into unrealistic longing, lusting after the unattainable. As long as Desire keeps you focused on who or what you are not, you’ll always be trapped.
Yet, here you are. Just like in our neighborhood game, you've entered the house, rounded the corner, and seen the assassins guarding the door. Desire and Emotion are keeping you from rescuing Motive. They brandish their weapons. Desire pulls its rope closer, a noose readied to hang. Emotion is spinning daggers prepared to pierce. Now is your opportunity to grab your weapon and charge.
But we have to put the right weapon in your hands. It’s time to learn how to use the sword. Like all great swords, it has a name. No, not Excalibur. This sword’s name is, “Why.”
Remember, authenticity at its core is growing in self-awareness and the resilience to remain self-aware. Self-awareness has to do with the healthy expression of your character, emotions, and desires which drive your motives. The assassins we have to kill are the unhealthy expression of emotions and desires which are corrupting our motives and holding it hostage. Once Motive is free, it can become our ally.
“Why?” is the question that will cut to the truth of our motives. It’s ability to cut through the unhealthy expression of emotion and desire, with the accuracy of a scalpel in a surgeon’s hand, can begin to cut away the corrupt parts of motives.
Only the sword of “Why?” can begin to dissect Emotion and address the fear, anger, or shame that is corrupting Motive. Only the sword of “Why?” can open up Desire and expose it for what it truly is. “Why?” will allow you to drive these assassins further and further back into the basement until they lay dead at the feet of Motive. Only then, will Motive be free from the hunger for approval, lust for popularity or fame, and free from fear, rage, or shame. Motive will become our ally.
Simply put, motives drive us. Often, what we share with the world are not our true motives. If we stop at the surface level, where Emotion and Desire stand guard, we end up in places we were never meant to be. For example, you choose a career as a doctor. From the outside looking in, you think you chose this career because you want to save lives and make a positive impact on the world. But, as you enter the house, and round the corner to the door of the basement, you’ll find Emotion and Desire. Weapons aimed for your head and heart, they will remind you, you chose this career because you were afraid of disappointing your parents who sacrificed to give you the educational opportunity they never had. Guilt corrupts Motive and drives you down a career path you weren’t wired for. You might enjoy it, but at the core of your being, you would have rather given your life as a teacher, inspiring, educating, and raising up the next generation. Teaching is your real passion. Yet, the daunting task of taking down the assassins and entering the basement to rescue Motive has kept you from what you were ultimately designed to do.
Motives themselves are binary. They are not inherently good or bad. What drives them is what we’re after. At our most basic human level, our physiological needs will manifest as a psychological drive to satisfy our physiological cravings. According to most psychologists, we feel increasing tension until the need is satisfied. This is why most people constantly feel anxious. Their underlying needs are not being met or fulfilled correctly. One of the ways our deeper needs are met is living a fully authentic life, walking out your original design. The more time we spend in inauthenticity, the greater the tension morphs, as we seek to satisfy needs with the wrong things. The tension becomes unmanageable; anxiety grows; dissatisfaction grows, and depression takes root. Put simply, there are two parts of you: how you were designed and how you are currently operating (or living). If how you are living is contrary to how you were designed, you’re living an incongruent or inauthentic lifestyle. This creates tension. The tension will continue to build and manifest as anxiety, shame, depression, fear, and more until the source of tension is resolved. The only way to resolve the tension is to meet the need for a congruent or authentic life. It’s only when you live according to how you were originally designed that you’ll experience the abundance of life you’re craving.
In order to get there, it’s time to take an honest look at our motives. If our motives have become broken, corrupted, and inauthentic, our lives become inauthentic. If you are not honest with yourself, you’ll motivate yourself to a destination and still be unsatisfied. You may have achieved everything on your list, but you will not be happy, you will not be fulfilled, and you will have lived a life that is not authentically you.
You have to keep asking “why?” Why does a certain feeling or emotion drive you? Why are you afraid? Why do you feel shame around a certain topic? Why do you want to be successful? Why do you want to prove them wrong?
How to Get to the Basement
In life, we can always choose to say the truth, or we can choose to say what we think is the right thing to say. We can identify our motivations at the level we are comfortable admitting, or we can be curious and take a deeper look into what we truly feel. Why are you nice to people? Why do you avoid conflict? Why do you want to be an entrepreneur? Why do you want to be married? Why do you not want to be married? Why do I want to start this business? Why do I want my church to grow? Why do I want my kids to be good at school? Why do I want my wife to be happy?
The questions of our motivations are endless because we spend our entire lives making, or not making, decisions. What if the true reason you want to be a stay-at-home-mom doesn’t stop at “because you want time with your kids”? What if the basement reveals you are afraid for your children to go to school because you won’t have control over their lives to the extent you want? What if you don’t want to be single and you enter into a relationship, not because you have met someone with who you want to build a life with, but because you are terrified of dying alone? What if you serve the homeless not because you want to love others well, but because you crave significance through the praise of others?
These honest answers are the things that bring freedom. As you learn to take out and meet each “why” question with the honest truth, you allow yourself to face each motive and course-correct as necessary. Imagine the freedom you’d finally experience if you admitted you’ve spent your whole life in a career to prove someone ELSE wrong or appease people who don’t even matter. Will it be a difficult and painfully harsh reality? Yes. Will you need grace to navigate that moment? Absolutely. But are you freer to pursue the deeper purposes you were designed for without the fear of man and a need for approval? You bet. THAT is what we’re uncovering at the bottom of the basement. This is why killing the assassins is important, why penetrating broken motives matters, and why having the resilience to press past pain is important. Braving our basement brings us to the edge of authenticity and allows us to discover our greatest sense of purpose.