One theme of my memoir “Whispers from the Valley of the Yak” is my quest to live an authentic life. Just what do I mean by this term?
I like the explanation offered by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and a New York Times best-selling author. “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
For me, authenticity means living in a way that reflects my values, who I am, and what I believe.
As a child I unknowingly repressed both my spirit and desires to avoid triggering my mother’s angry words. Mom was a dedicated physician, beloved by the parents of her patients. But at home she was distant, prone to rages for reasons related to her own upbringing. I didn’t understand this until much later in my life.
The bitterness of her words the few times I spoke up for myself reinforced in me a pattern of pleasing others. I paid attention to what others thought, to others’ needs, and ended up not knowing what I wanted in life. That pattern continued even after I’d graduated from college and was married with small children.
My life changed when my husband was assigned to the Kodiak Naval Air Station as a flight surgeon. We lived in Alaska for five years, first on Kodiak Island and later in Anchorage.
There, amidst Alaska’s spectacular natural beauty, I experienced the healing power of nature. I also discovered a passion for outdoor adventure and environmental work. For me, these became important building blocks of authenticity.
I’d always known deep inside I wanted a career that allowed me to contribute meaningfully to society. But I’d never voiced that to anyone, not even my husband. The work I began in Alaska as a volunteer eventually led me to a thirty-five-year career as an environmentalist.
My marriage ultimately did not survive, although our situation was far more complex than my simply wanting a career. I finally realized I couldn’t pay attention to the needs of others at the expense of my own. I had to feel fulfilled to create a home environment that led to others’ happiness. Self-fulfillment is another building block of authenticity. This is just one of the life lessons in my memoir. I’ll share more about living authentically in future blog posts.