"You don't have to become something that you aren't to become better than you are."
~ Sidney Poitier

“You don’t have to become something that you aren’t to become better than you are.”
~ Sidney Poitier

The Neuroscience of Authenticity

This is another quote from Sidney Poitier’s autobiography, “The Measure of a Man,” that I have found to be especially profound. The reason that this idea resonated with me is that in my role of counselor or helper, I have noticed how often people seem to think that in order to find happiness and/or create a more fulfilling life, they must change their basic nature. This concern or belief not only seems overwhelming, but also sets up an internal struggle between the vision of themselves as good enough, versus the vision of themselves as flawed or damaged goods, and in need of repair.

Unfortunately, regardless which side of this either/or equation is chosen, the answer is incomplete. If we choose to believe that nothing needs to change, then we continue to react and respond to life the way we have been conditioned. If, on the other hand, we choose the second perspective (“there is something wrong with me and if I don’t change, bad things will happen”), then we are using fear as a guide and a motivating energy for change, which will almost certainly produce frightening (fear-based) results.

I am going to suggest a third alternative where, as Mr. Poitier says, “You don’t have to become something (or someone) that you aren’t to become better than you are.” Let’s begin our understanding of this alternative by imagining a baby lying in a crib. Anyone who has ever spent any time with a newborn knows that this little miracle could never be described as damaged goods. Even if for some reason the child’s body (or “spacesuit” as I like to call it) is less than perfect, there is an essence of “who they are” that shines through with such clarity that the vision of them as “not enough” is unthinkable except by the most frightened among us.

On the other hand, many of us can relate to the experience of coming to the realization that our life is less than satisfying, and that something (maybe even who we are) needs to change. So which is it? Are we perfect from the beginning, or will we need to change at some point to become all that we can be? The answer, of course, to both questions is “Yes!”

We are perfect when we are born, and if we were all to grow up in environments that celebrated that perfection and nurtured the qualities of joy, wonder, love of learning, and a general fascination with life so prevalent in small children, we would very likely grow up to be joyful, loving, creative, and confident adults doing what we loved, and being who we are. I say “very likely” because, as you know, this perfect upbringing is very rare.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming parents for the fact that children are unwittingly taught to question their value. Often parents are doing the best they know how, and are acting out of only the best of intentions. However, given that this perspective on childrearing is so prevalent, I suggest we work with it, versus just wishing it were different.

In other words, If we find ourselves questioning our value (wondering whether we are “good enough” and whether we have to become someone we are not to become better than we are), then maybe our challenge as we mature isn’t to become “someone else” (or who others want us to be) in order to be happy, but to actually rediscover that unique combination of interests, loves, talents, and potential that was present when we were very young, and cultivate this essence to become who we really are. Therefore, as we continue to improve on these natural talents and unique abilities, we actually become “better than we are,” or more skilled, successful, and accomplished at defining ourselves in terms of our authentic nature.

If this perspective appeals to you, I would encourage you to give some thought to who you would be right now if your natural talents and worth as a child had been celebrated as you matured. Or, who you are at your best, meaning the qualities and characteristics that make you a gift to your family, relationship, job, friends, etc. Once you have created this vision, you will then have a sense of how to become “better than you are” by becoming more of who you have always been. In fact, I wonder if “The Measure of A Man” couldn’t also be a good measure of “Man” (meaning women, men, humanity, in general) in that, as we strive to become who we authentically are, and become better and better at living through this authenticity, we become more a gift to ourselves and those with whom we interact. Not a bad mission on the planet, don’t you think?

~ All the best, Dr. Bill