Volunteers come to the school where I work in Thailand nearly every weekend. They stop by and play the same games, give out the same prizes, and take hundreds of self-promoting photos showing how their organizations affect the kids.
One Saturday, I watched the somber kids walking around slowly for another routine game of musical chairs. “Win,” the student who won musical chairs that day, received a paint set. But, instead of taking pictures with the eager volunteers, he set the paint set down and cuddled up in my lap. I asked him, “Win, reean (study)?” His face lit up, and he dragged me toward the classroom, abandoning his unwanted paint set and the strangers with cameras. That day, it dawned on me that these events were actually hurting the kids.
I have started taking the kids out of these group activities if they coincide with our organization’s class time because I realized these events aren’t about them—they’re more about the volunteer organizations and making the kids fit each group’s purpose.
If we want to live authentically, we have to change our mindsets. We need to reconsider how we spend our time, our motivations, and what makes us feel secure.
It’s a struggle to break away from the status quo. It’s even harder when we feel a need to justify our reasons for doing so—to ourselves, our friends and family, and society. Can this shift in mindset feel lonely? Yes. Will we feel misunderstood? Absolutely. But pleasing everyone is an impossible goal. We have to come to terms with ourselves, as well as what’s meaningful to us.
Four Steps Toward a New Mindset
If we’re lucky enough to make this shift, our time becomes our own. Think of the years we’ve spent in classrooms or at 9-to-5 jobs on the long path to retirement. If we can repurpose this time back into something that allows us to cultivate skills of our choosing, we can accomplish so much.
We can produce quality over quantity. Saying “yes” to opportunities based on our true feelings instead of our financial circumstance means we’ll pursue what we really want instead of what we think we “should” do.
Sounds appealing, right? Here are four steps we can take to shift toward authentic living:
- Decide how you don’t want to spend your time. Before coming to Thailand, I hadn’t taught in a public school, so I spent my first year here learning classroom management and lesson development in order to work effectively with my students, parents, and other teachers. But now that I have those skills, I can do it my way.
Instead of spending nine hours a day at school, I run my own program for two or three hours and have time left to do what I love: running my charity and freelance writing. We have to cut out aspects of our lives that seem wasteful to make room for those that are valuable.
- Be brutally honest about your limitations. Giving up a traditional career is controversial and threatens our personal security. I realized this when I gave up mine. If we forgo the normal job, traditional family, and financial wealth, society has no metrics to gauge our success. By default, we’re considered unsuccessful.
We often work toward what looks good on paper (or on Instagram these days) without being honest about how we measure our personal achievement. Decide what success looks like to you, and live within the confines of that without a need to be understood.
- Get comfortable with solitude. Being alone helps us highlight the differences between our words and actions. If we say something is important but find we never invest in it, maybe it isn’t actually important.
Or maybe it is, but obligations are getting in the way. The best time for us to sort out our priorities is when no one’s looking.
- Know what motivates you. These days, when I teach private lessons, I choose students based on what they want to learn, not what they want to pay. It was scary at first, and I make less money, but the work is more satisfying (and the relationships are more meaningful).
I’m constantly getting unsolicited advice about what a great tutoring business I could have if I just charged more, spent fewer days at the orphanage, took international students, or made my class sizes bigger.
This advice is absolutely right if you are looking at external motivations, but completely wrong for me in my internal motivations for tutoring. Building a business around private tutoring would take away from the things I love most about it in the first place.
So the advice, though it is likely meant to be encouraging, just tells me the person offering it doesn’t understand my motivation for doing things, and that’s OK.
They don’t need to understand. But, if we ever get to the point in our lives where we ourselves no longer understand our motivations, it’s time to re-evaluate.
We will never come to terms with ourselves by trying to please society, friends, or family. If we want authenticity, we need to be bold and pursue what we really want to do. Being honest about our time and motivations will lead us to new, selfless lifestyles, and we’ll never look back with regret.
Photo by Štefan Štefančík
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- Say ‘Goodbye’ to the Status Quo and ‘Hello’ to Living Authentically - August 9, 2016