The other day, while I was making my way up one of the Blue Highways in north central Florida on my way to Osceola National Forest, I was listening to one of my favorite interviewers, Terry Gross on her show "Fresh Air." Terry was interviewing David O. Russell, the screenplay writer and director of the movie, "American Hustle", currently nominated for 10 Academy Awards. The interview itself was very interesting and I enjoyed learning about Russell, his biographical information, thoughts on his past movies and his philosophy of filmmaking. But, Terry Gross has an amazing way of really getting past the facade and superficial, pretty much stock questions and answers and getting inside the mind of those she interviews. She is very informal, laid back and doesn't mind exposing her own inner workings and idiosyncrasies to relax her guests and set them at ease.
However, beyond the overall interview, I listen for the little nuggets and pearls of wisdom that pop out. In this interview with David Russell, Terry reached a point where an appropriate topic for this particular interview was whether Russell was living his real or actual life or a fake life. I almost slammed on my brakes to pull the van over to write that down. It's not that this was that earthshaking a question or thought, it was how many people don't know the difference between their real life and their fake life and even deeper, how many people never reveal their real lives to even themselves? So, after the Interview, I spent the rest of the drive thinking about that question and how it applied to myself.
What Is Your Fake Life?
So, what is your fake life? The way I interpret it is that your fake life is the facade or mask that you put on for the outside world (anyone other than yourself) to see. This is the life you want them to view you by. You might even say that this is what you think they think of you and how you can fulfill that impression. The funny thing is that this fake life or self is often how you see yourself. In other words, you're not living the life of who you really are, you're living the life you want to believe you are and how you think want others to believe you are. I've referred to the idea of conforming to "The Committee of They," "they" being the ones who believe you should live your life a certain way. These are related issues. Even more interestingly, you may actually have more than one fake life or self. Let's examine a few examples of fake lives we may be living.
First, is your work life. Who do you want your manager, supervisor, boss, the business owner, fellow employees, (if you're a business owner) employees, vendors, customers/clients, etc. to see. Just in that short list you may be representing yourself as several different lives or selves. If you're an employee of a business, you want to come across as the competent, capable, confident, efficient, productive worker to your manager, supervisor and boss. While at the same time, to your fellow employees, you may want to set an example, but you don't want to come across to them as a kiss-up brown-noser who separates yourself from the rest of the pack. Of course, in the middle management segment of the corporate world, you may want to be the do whatever it takes, aggressive, step on anyone necessary, survival of the fittest to climb the corporate ladder type person.
If you are a business owner you want to display yourself as a strong, capable leader who will build your business at any cost including using and abusing those you employ. Or, you may want to be a strong, capable leader who recognizes that your employees are your most valuable asset and do everything within reason to make their working experience a positive one. This means you must be an assertive and sometimes aggressive businessman, yet show compassion for those who are accomplishing the mission for you. I always liked the idea that a good leader was one who gave credit to his employees when things went right and accepted the blame and responsibility when things went wrong - and then, addressed the specific issues that went wrong privately with the individuals responsible and not in public.
But, these are examples of the fake life that you may be displaying in the work environment. The same holds true for athletic endeavors and military organizations. The question that pops up in my mind is how much of what my employees, vendors and customers saw of me was the fake life I wanted them to see and how much of it was the real life, that is, who I REALLY am, did they see.
Move the scenario to the life you display in your religious organization, clubs, civic groups, volunteer work and your other activities. Don't we usually show ourselves as who we want others to see us as? Let's face it, no one is perfect. Not one of us has talents and skills in all areas of endeavor. How often do we want to become involved in something that we have little or no real experience or knowledge in and don't want to be rejected because of that factor so "we fake it until we make it?"
Let's take this home, now. I see so many husbands and wives who are at odds with one another after they've been together five, ten, twenty or more years. Why is that? Could it be because when we were young and looking for our perfect mate we did the mating dance and courting ritual? I captured a shot of this bird just recently showing off.
What was the bird saying? "Look at me! I'm cool! I'm cocky! I'm confident! I'm THE one!" When we see that young guy or young gal of our dreams, don't we do the same thing? Don't we want to put our best face forward and impress that person? Aren't we displaying the person we think they want to see in order to attract their attention and move to the courting ritual? Of course we do. But, is that the real you? No! In most cases it's the you you want that other person to see because that's what you think he or she is looking for. If you displayed the real you without the cool clothes, the make-up, the great hair cut or hair style, your brunette hair instead of your colored blond hair and whatever else we use to put on our best face, you might not be noticed.
Then comes the courting game, we call it dating. Once again, if both parties are interested in each other, they will do their best to keep their best face showing and hide any blemishes, actual and figuratively. Then comes the real test by fire, when you peel off the layers of clothing and share a bed together. If you get through the night, what will happen in the morning when the hair is all messed up, the make-up is gone and, well, you both may have morning breath. If you both get past this level, then comes the stress period before the wedding and more of the true you may start to be revealed. Finally, you reach the time when "the honeymoon is over." By this time pretty much most or the entire facade is gone and the real you is pretty evident or at least that which you are relaxed enough to reveal. Although, even at this period, you may both still be doing your best to put forth the best fake you. Amazingly, I've met both men and women, who after 15, 20 and more years, still haven't seen the real life of their mate. And, of course, when the children come along, both mom and dad want their children to see who each parent believes the children want to see, as well as the children's friends, their friends' parents and the teachers at school, dance teachers, little league coaches, etc. So, for all practical intents and purposes, the fake life is still the you that people see and know.
As an example, when my former wife, young son and I belonged to a very active and a bit less conservative Southern Baptist congregation in Annapolis, Maryland, she and I were members of a special Sunday School group that was formed because we were all a bit less than traditional Southern Baptists. It was an interesting, very active and pretty close-knit group of folks. After two or three years something happened that shook us up pretty significantly. One of the couples was a military couple. The husband was a Marine captain who was an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was a handsome guy who did the uniform proud. The wife was a very pretty woman (all of us were in the later 30's to 40's age range) with peaches and cream complexion that was contrasted by her dark hair and she was a full-time mother and homemaker. Their two kids, one pre-adolescent and the other an early adolescent, a boy and a girl, were as attractive and well mannered as their parents. Then one Sunday, we saw only the wife and the children in church and the wife was sporting an extremely obvious black eye. Of course, we learned that all these years her husband had been abusing and beating on her in such a way that it never showed. But, the night before he went after the children for the first time and she got between them and him. She called the Shore Patrol and he was taken away to the brig. We never saw any of them again after that Saturday morning. We had never seen or knew the real husband and wife. We only saw their fake lives.
You're Fake Life As You Live It
So, now we've reached the point where the rubber meets the road. How much do you live in your fake life? Do you see yourself as someone you're not? Are you so accustomed to living your fake life since you were a child and through all the other phases of life that you now believe your own public relations? Were you afraid to disappoint your father and/or mother as a child by not living up to their expectations or what you interpreted as their expectations. How often have you met a woman who still acts like a "Tomboy" because her father always wanted a son and never had one and she had to fulfill that requirement to be accepted by him, or worse yet, maybe even then not be accepted by him? Or how about the young boy who just didn't meet up to his mother's expectation that he be a perfect gentleman, the young man she had hoped to marry, but was later disappointed in her choice.
Perhaps you didn't inherit the genetic cocktail that would result in you being 6'7" and able to leap 9' and slam-dunk a basketball so you could be a star basketball player (or football or baseball, etc.). Perhaps you just weren't cut out to be athletic and were always either left for last or sat out the sandlot ballgames on the sideline, yet you had an above average IQ, an analytical mind and could beat the pants of most others in debating or playing chess, but you didn't because you felt robbed that you couldn't be an athlete. Maybe you really aspired to be a rock or country musician and be part of a popular band, but you just weren't born with the "chops" to cut it in that field. But, through it all, you continued to deny the real you and kept trying to be someone you were not.
The same holds true for women. You thought all the girls with blond hair or red hair were prettier than you so you let that play on your self-esteem and as soon as you could, you became a blond or redhead. Maybe you wanted to be a downhill Olympic skier, but your parents wanted you to be a schoolteacher, get married and produce grandchildren. You developed a love of cars and wanted to take Auto Shop classes to learn to be a mechanic, but the school said girls aren't allowed to take Auto Shop, yet all along you kept telling yourself you'd just have to be what you were "supposed" to be.
So, have you kept living that fake life all these years? Are you in a marriage that isn't exciting and doing things that you've accepted as your fake life because you don't want to see behind the closed door to who and where the real you are? Do you say you're happily married because in your fake life you're trying to believe you're happily married . . . when you're not? Do you tell people you love your job, because you can't accept the real you would be guiding rafting tours down the Colorado River, but that's not going to happen so you just keep living the fake life.
I guess the really big question is - does your fake life make you happy and fulfilled? Or, do you feel like life is empty and you just move from one day to the next expecting nothing more than the day before? I dare say that you are not alone if that's where you are. I believe more people in our society and our world have convinced themselves that their fake lives are their real lives because they don't want to open that door and see whom they really are and what they really want to do. Why?
Terry Gross said it herself during the interview I described with David Russell at the beginning of this article. Terry said she resists change. Terry is not alone. I believe everyone resists change. Yet, change is constant in our lives. Okay, some changes come along and we have no choice, they happen and we accept them, often reluctantly, though sometimes joyfully. However, making changes that only we can make are often very painful. Yet, most often, those who realize that in order to find, realize and accept their real life they have to make extreme decisions, choices and change and the, often painful consequences of those changes.
The list is so long that to enumerate the entire list here would turn this into a book (maybe an idea for a book, huh?). But, here are some that will illustrate the point. We may have to move from our current home to a smaller or larger home. We may have to stop owning a home and rent a place to live. We may have to move from our current location (town, city, state) to another location a significant distance away. We may have to sever our marital relationship. We may have to take our kids out of traditional schooling and home school them. We may have to quit our job, take a pay cut and find the work that is really your life's work. We may have to sell off everything we have, gather all the money we can and start our own business, perhaps in another place or even a foreign country. Do you get the point? Change can be painful, but the results may provide the happiness and fulfillment that has eluded you for your lifetime.
Your Real Life
So, do you know who you really are? What is your real life? Are you courageous enough to open the door, see your real life and who you really are and accept it? And even more important, once you open that door, are you ready, willing and able to manage the changes you'll have to make to realize your real life. Life is short and finding your real life and living that life instead of a fake life that is only make believe can be the very essence of fulfillment. But, as I said, it requires courage, breaking down barriers and all kinds of fake beliefs that you've been perpetuating for decades. I keep breaking down my own barriers, making changes and finding out more about who I really am and I'm liking my real life better then pretty much any of my former fake life. But, I still have more of me to get to know. Good luck with your quest.