Feeling lost about the next step in your life? Nervous for an approaching date? Not sure what to wear out tomorrow night?
Don’t worry. Just be yourself!
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve received that advice in my life… But c’mon, let’s be honest. What does that even mean? Nobody really knows, including the person who advised you so thoughtfully. One 2010 study even found that being true to yourself often means… drumroll please… NOT acting like yourself!
Authenticity is not a noun. Ok- technically it is a noun, but go with me here. Authenticity is an ideal; it is something to which we strive. It is a philosophy by which we try to live at Loyola, being a University founded in the Jesuit tradition. Authenticity is an operating system for the mind, helping us navigate the complex world in which we exist.
And authenticity is not a checklist. The folks at wikiHow and eHow seem to have boiled things down to convenient Top Ten-style lists. But it is not very authentic, or rational, to think that we all will follow the same, generic, cliché steps to achieve authenticity.
The Jesuits figured this out years ago. The way to know yourself- to reconcile your values and behaviors; to find focus in your life plan- is through reflection, or discernment.
In Residential Life and at Loyola, we beat a pretty consistent drum about the power of reflection. Through reflection and with time, we discern the path that we are meant to choose.
Don’t over-complicate this. Reflection can take mere minutes from your day. You may prefer to reflect by writing in your journal, reading a spiritual text, while listening to your favorite music, or while running on a treadmill at the gym. You can make time for reflection first thing in the morning over coffee, at bedtime, over lunch in the dining hall, between classes as you enjoy the sunshine from a bench, or in that moment after you’ve climbed in your car but before you’ve pulled out of the parking space.
In those moments, consider your day; the decisions you made; the moments that made you smile and those that didn’t; or questions left unanswered.
There is no intended outcome here. You cannot fail at this. You only have to make the time to consider some piece of your day that moved you. Sit with it and be honest with yourself. Many of your questions will answer themselves. These are the questions that become you, and when the answers develop themselves, the need to try to “be you” drifts away.
Learn more about Ignatian Prayer from the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province and about the Lunchtime Examen from IgnatianSpirituality.com.