Finding my Authenticity: Breaking My Chains

When I first had the idea for this blog I settled on the title “The Boy Who Forgot To Live” for the site. This is my journey from being a guy who was not happy with his situation in life – despite many on the outside thinking I “had it all” – to one where I would be very happy. That is still very true of the journey I am on and how I feel, though I changed the name just before launch to “Finding Authenticity” as this seemed more relevant and succinct for what I was doing and what so many others also seem to be seeking.

I am in my 50s now and run 4 restaurants. I live very well by many people’s standards, though many assume I am completely loaded and have it easy because I can take breakfast, lunch and dinner in the restaurant. It’s a blessing in my day to have this luxury.

But, as a restaurateur (and entrepreneur), this is only what you see on the surface. There are a million things to juggle every single day, and there’s always a few surprises waiting to demand your attention. Cash flow, shareholders, day-to-day admin, payroll, legal matters, changes in legislation, insurance, suppliers, prospective suppliers, recruitment, employees, an endless line of utility companies calling you to sell you something you don’t want, marketing, IT, social media, reviews, catering, events, parties, functions, bookings, special dietary requirements, customers trying to get a free lunch. And then you have the afternoon to get through!

My life hasn’t always been this crazy, but there is an undercurrent that has permeated every stage of my life to date. There is this nagging sense of being unfulfilled and having sacrificed some parts of me to be where I am today. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to achieve something you will need to sacrifice something in order to achieve it and that’s perfectly OK, but when you look back and realise you sacrificed your dreams, desires and happiness in order to follow somebody else’s despite putting in the hours you can feel disappointed with your “achievements”.

So I decided to start to read a lot more about business and personal psychology to understand a few key things:

  1. Why do I always feel overwhelmed?
  2. How do other successful people cope with this?
  3. What do they do differently that lets them achieve so much more?
  4. Why do I seem to struggle all the time financially and emotionally?

As I read each book, I gained recommendations from the authors about other books that were helpful to them. These lead me to discover new books and widen my field of enquiry which boiled down to two key questions:

  1. How did I get here?
  2. How did I go off-track?

The Long Reads

Here’s my reading list (to the end of 2019) including links to my reviews:

So, what have I learned? I will let Henry Ford sum it up it nicely:

While that’s very true, to fully understand why we have to go back to the beginning. The beginning of you.

External Programming

Many writers talk about external factors in different ways – environment, conditioning, influence, peers, society, culture – and all are sources of influence on our behaviour and how we operate. Collectively you can call this the Culturescape, as Vishen Lakhiani does in his Code of the Extraordinary Mind.

We are born into the world as an empty vessel and our heads are only filled with things that come from outside. Our parents teach us a set of rules that they conform to. These rules are not wrong or right, they just are what they are, but they may also not be the best for us. Our friends do the same, as do our school teachers and employers, and the many, many others we come into contact with in life. Based on this input, we build our own model of how we should interact with the world and how we think the world expects us to interact with it.

That latter point is very important because it is a program (or set of programs) we accept as sacrosanct and from that point on we run our lives based on them on autopilot. Miguel Ruiz calls them Agreements in his books of the same name and he calls the process Domestication. Here’s an excerpt from The Four Agreements which outlines this process perfectly:

Language is the code for understanding and communication between humans. Every letter, every word in each language is an agreement. We call this a page in a book; the word page is an agreement that we understand. Once we understand the code, our attention is hooked and the energy is transferred from one person to another.

It was not your choice to speak English. You didn’t choose your religion or your moral values — they were already there before you were born. We never had the opportunity to choose what to believe or what not to believe. We never chose even the smallest of these agreements. We didn’t even choose our own name.

As children, we didn’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs, but we agreed with the information that was passed to us from the dream of the planet via other humans. The only way to store information is by agreement. The outside dream may hook our attention, but if we don’t agree, we don’t store that information. As soon as we agree, we believe it, and this is called faith. To have faith is to believe unconditionally.

That’s how we learn as children. Children believe everything adults say. We agree with them, and our faith is so strong that the belief system controls our whole dream of life. We didn’t choose these beliefs, and we may have rebelled against them, but we were not strong enough to win the rebellion.

The result is surrender to the beliefs with our Agreement.

Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements

You may have seen from my review of Home Coming that I have begun to unpick my own unconscious agreements from my formative years so I can decide which serve me well and which do not.

The Effect of My Domestication

Let me tell you my story …


I went to school and studied my GSEs (now GCSEs) across a broad range of subjects, though predominantly science-based. Looking back, I really enjoyed Geography and was pretty good at it but dropped it for my A-Levels to study Maths, Chemistry and Physics because these were “better options” and would provide a more solid foundation for a “better” career.

[Aside: I find it interesting that I now have such an interest in environmental concerns and, had I studied Geography and it’s associated sciences in school, my life today may have been very different and potentially much more fulfilling.]

Culturescape: 1, Authenticity: 0

I did well in Physics; the applied stuff really was a drag but the pure elements were a breeze. Chemistry was fun – at least the elective experiments were – and I always remember making Luminol with my buddy Martin Stroud, in part because it turned out to be one of the most dangerous practicals ever due to risks of explosions from mixing really strong acids deliberately in the wrong order to using chemicals that could bond with anything and take it straight into the bloodstream if you happened to splash it on you. But we nailed it! Much of the rest of Chemistry wasn’t for me, however. Maths played out like Physics – I could do the pure maths in my sleep, but the applied stuff seemed nearly impossible. The result meant less-than-wonderful grades and the envisioned move to university now looked like a pipe-dream.

However, I did get an offer to do an HND in Physics at Middlesex University (formerly a Polytechnic when I was there) and I took it with enthusiasm. There was much discussion with my parents about where I would live and I was persuaded that I should stay in accommodation during the week for University but come home at weekends. At least my Mum could look after me and make sure all my washing was done. Despite the opportunity that University offered me to break from my past and step into my adult life, my fear of change lead me to settle for the advice my parents offered. I had a few weekends away at University (which were great), but it was still much like living at home.

Culturescape: 1, Authenticity: 0

At the end of my two years studying Physics, I discovered that I really liked Astrophysics. This was a natural progression from my love of Astronomy at one of my school’s after-school clubs and I decided that I wanted to go on to study Astrophysics for a degree as it would be really interesting and pretty cool.

However, my parents had other ideas as they felt that a degree in Astrophysics was too specialised and didn’t really afford a good option for a job at the end of it, and why would I want to sit alone on a mountain-top in an observatory anyway? After relatively few conversations, I gave up that dream and settled for their option of getting a ‘good job.’ Nothing wrong with that as such, but (with hindsight) it wasn’t really me and sitting on a mountaintop did sound quite fun.

[Aside: The thing that gets me is every time I see Jodie Foster in the film Contact I think “that could have been me.” OK, maybe not necessarily the discovery of alien civilisations but at least furthering the understanding of our cosmos and our place in it. I’ve always been a big thinker.]

Culturescape: 1, Authenticity: 0

Career … ?

So, I went on my first job hunt and had a number of offers ranging from marketing to software development. There were three contenders: Software Development for Abbey National (now Santander), a marketing analysis role at a boutique firm in central London, and a quality assurance job for GEC (now BAeSystems). The latter was the closest to home, and I think you can guess which job I ended up taking? That’s right, GEC.

Culturescape: 1, Authenticity: 0

I liked the Abbey National position but it was in Milton Keynes and I didn’t like the town too much, but it was an excellent job in one part of banking. The marketing job in central London was my preferred choice but offered the same money as the local job, so I’d be saving on transport. The marketing job seemed more glamorous and exciting, even if it was just number crunching in the beginning. However, I was persuaded to take the local job as I could live at home and not have all the extra costs that working in London would incur. I capitulated and did just that until I was 28 when I moved to Surrey to a different company in the same field, still following the ‘good job’ concept that I had been domesticated with. By that time, my domestication was pretty much ingrained.

Culturescape: 1, Authenticity: 1

Life Outside Work

On the plus side, while I was working at GEC and living at home, it gave me the time to really get involved in role-playing. I had enjoyed it when I was at school and university, and now launched my own live-action role-playing (LARP) club with some friends. It revealed a universe that allowed me to flex my storytelling muscles and enjoy a mixture of fantasy and sci-fi and feed the escapist dreamer inside.

Culturescape: 0, Authenticity: 1

Over time, I played (and story-led*) many systems including Call of Cthulhu*, Shadowrun, Dungeons & Dragons*, Middle Earth, In Nomine*, Bushido, Chivalry & Sorcery, Chill, Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Gammaworld, Hawkmoon, Stormbringer, Immortals*, Marvel Super Heroes, Paranoia, RuneQuest, Vampire: The Masquerade*, and a couple of my own devising (Medieval* and Parody*).

We developed two LARP systems (Fools Gold and Dream Conquest) – and I usually found myself in script-writing or game-master duty, writing over 500 individual live adventures over the period, many linked into the world events of the fantasy land we (as a club) created. I also volunteered for Curious Pastimes and Lorien Trust at their main LARP events (my duties were special effects at the “Ritual Circle” – the focal point for the event throughout the weekend), and also did a little script work, cameos and improv for Curious Pastimes. I was also the South East’s Editor (UK) for the LARP magazine The Adventurer.

We then branched out into more theatrical and themed one-off events and immersive murder-mysteries, as well as doing educational work for the local council and charity work for Fort Amherst in Chatham, Kent for their annual Hallowe’en Horrors events (Artistic Direction). Towards the end of this period, we had an opportunity to take our troupe overseas and travel with an entertaining mix of chivalry and swordplay to countries like America and Japan where there was big demand. Unfortunately, key members of my crew decided not to take to the road, preferring a more settled life and the events went into hiatus. I needed a new challenge (and a change) and took a new job in Surrey. More of the same in reality, just a different county and I still went home most weekends. I continued to write and run occasional events on often grander scales (like a 10-month-long immersive murder mystery set in the modern-day and using multiple locations around Kent). But even that eventually stopped.

Back Into The Machine

After spending a few years in my second job and finally becoming independent, I then switched jobs more often and moved into management consulting after being headhunted from my City job, and then later project management for an Internet company during ‘The Internet Bubble’. Interestingly, my management consulting took me back to Abbey National in Milton Keynes where I worked for a period on a roll-out of new a configuration management system. Good job? Yes. Happy job? Boring as hell! Though I used my spare time to learn the basics of horse riding.

Culturescape: 2, Authenticity: 1

When the Internet company restructured and focused on product development, dropping all the real creative work, I needed to move on so launched my own web design business. It was a scary time as I had just bought my own home but had a little cash aside. However, I made it work but it was still just getting by – like a day-job with more admin!

Culturescape: 0, Authenticity: 1

My design and programming skills were pretty good, and I built my own eCommerce platform from scratch (this was the start of the 2000’s). I became very good at SEO and online marketing which reminded me of the first opportunity I had when starting work after University – that marketing job.

It’s interesting how the universe sends you little signals and reminders from time to time.

Patterns of Behaviour

You can see a pattern emerging here. Essentially I deferred my life choices to others as I did not have the courage to put myself forward and state what I really wanted and find a way to make it happen either independently or with the help of those around me. I had been domesticated in an environment where stability and comfort was the ultimate goal, and pleasing others was more important than challenging the status quo. That’s also known as the Culturescape which won out from an early stage over my own Authenticity. Since we’re keeping score:

Culturescape: 7, Authenticity: 4

I do not see this as wrong or blame others for making me this way; ultimately I now recognise I chose to accept these agreements This was just the way-of-life based on the experiences of those around me and their desire for me to be safe. As I had no other frame of reference for any other way of living I became The Nice Guy.

You may have noticed me use the word ‘settle’ a few times throughout. I picked this up from the Third Circle Theory book and, while I haven’t written a review just yet, you can get some insights into this term and what it means in context to a broader life vision in my post Why Self-Help Books Don’t Work.

How Can You Find Your Authenticity?

Today, the Internet gives you access to almost anything you want. There are a gazillion YouTube videos on any topic you care to mention, and there are so many short-courses you can watch or take for small money or even free on platforms such as Lurn, Udemy, MindValley, Creative Live, DuoLingo, EdX et al. Books are accessible to download or listen to on audio. This is an incredible jump-start to your learning and presents a million options I didn’t have 30 years ago. Sign up to mailing lists such as Friday Forward, the MF Insider, or any of the inspirational reads that are out there, or get some free training from Gabby Bernstein.

Dive in, pick something and start there. It will lead you to new discoveries and help you find your own authenticity and find yourself. If you don’t like it – move on, unsubscribe, get a refund. What worked for the person you are reading or listening to might not work for you, and that’s OK.

Here’s a shopping list of ideas to help you find your authenticity:

  • Do lots of reading
  • Have open discussions with friends (but remember they may not understand your journey and risk ‘domesticating’ you with theirs)
  • Be vulnerable
  • Make hard choices
  • State your dreams
  • Find business or life groups that match your interests (these are good places to discuss ideas as like-minded people will have different perspectives outside of protecting you).
  • Get a mentor
  • Talk with a psychiatrist
  • Find comfort in the uncomfortable

But do start with reading.

I had heard from many sources that the most successful people read a lot and, having accelerated my reading this year, can agree that it is one of the easiest ways to discover new ideas and new ideals that you can incorporate into your own life journey. There is a list of my recommended books at the start of this post, so you can start there and cherry-pick something that looks interesting. Or head over to Amazon or Audible and pick something there. Or Goodreads and see what others are recommending. There’s always YouTube, but watch out for the Pitch Meeting clips from Screen Rant which are Tight! Very distracting.

I curate a list of videos that are more relevant to Finding Authenticity which you can check out here: Create Your Ideal You. I will update this over time, so remember to check back periodically. There is also another playlist which shows animated book summaries which I also recommend.

Getting Uncomfortable

Fear isn’t the enemy, waiting to stop feeling afraid is. Spending too much time trying to “defeat” or “eliminate” your fear will only keep you stuck. Nine times out of ten, our fear is directive.

Marie discusses fear and failure in her new book Everything is Figureoutable and says that fear is directional. It’s there for a reason to either direct you towards the thing you fear or away from it. It’s often unclear to us which one of these directions the fear is intending us to go to, but fear is natural and something we need to embrace and not run away from or avoid.

How do you know if your fear is directive (as opposed to keeping you alive)? One sign is if you can’t get a certain idea out of your heart or mind. No matter how hard you try, it keeps popping back. Ideas like taking singing lessons, opening a bakery, writing a children’s book, moving across the country, learning Spanish, running for local office, saving or ending a relationship—you know, any number of delightful or risky creative endeavours.

Anytime you imagine moving toward that idea, you may feel afraid. But fear doesn’t speak with words, she’s doing her best to send a message by making you feel. And this is where we often get it wrong. We interpret any fear-like sensation to mean, “Danger. Stop. Don’t move ahead.”

The result? We take no action. Zero growth occurs. Comfort zone intact. But what if we misinterpreted the signal? What if fear’s message wasn’t “Danger” but “DO IT!” Fear was jumping up and down, waving her hands and causing the biggest ruckus she could: YES! YES! YES! This is important!! Go ahead—do THIS thing! Fear did her job and sent her signal. It was our interpretation that was off.

From this perspective, our fear is supportive and directive, not shameful or weak. Certainly not something to ignore. In fact, we should appreciate the fact that we’re getting such clear, visceral guidance. We’ve tapped a vein of gold. Think about it. If an idea in your heart invokes that much visceral reaction, doesn’t it mean there must be something worth exploring?

Marie Forleo
Everything is Figureoutable

From my own experience, I have looked to find ways to mitigate life to avoid fear appearing instead of using it as the tool it’s meant to be. But fear is complex as it’s a program that’s built from all the inputs (agreements) we have made over the years since our birth. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to it, but it is something we can address and there are various techniques that work (there are also lots of books discussing solely the topic of fear as it is complex).

Marie offers a number of techniques in her book from analytical to intuitive to look at the fear and determine if what it is and how to address it. She also goes on to say that because fear is a raw feeling, it is possible we mislabel it and we call things like excitement and anticipation fear and become misguided as a result. I like the intuitive approach as it’s something I feel I have a good sense of and I have always leaned towards this side of my methods over the years. I’ll let Marie explain it:

Here’s how it works. Get in a comfortable seated or standing position. Close your eyes. Take a few deep, full breaths (at least three) and allow your mind to settle. Be present in your body. Then ask yourself the following question and pay careful attention to your instant, involuntary interior body reaction:

Does saying yes to this make me feel expansive or contracted?

Marie Forleo
Everything is Figureoutable

This technique requires you to tune into the energy that manifests immediately after the question is asked. It’s not what your mind thinks you should do, or how you start to analyse the situation afterwards (though there is a practical exercise in the book for approaching fear this way also). It’s about whether you feel an opening up or lightening vs a contraction or shrinking. You’ll know it and your intuition is usually right.

Whichever way you approach fear – analytical or intuitive – you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s the place where growth happens, where doors open into greater things (despite the pain you may feel while you’re going through it), where doors close on things that no longer serve you, and where life teaches you valuable lessons.

I win or I learn, but I never lose.

I’m learning this now – some may say a little late, but that’s just an excuse not to change, not to grow and not to live the life of your dreams. Plus it’s another of those niggling ‘fears’ – a fear of change – that keeps you rooted in your comfort zone, your ‘settled’ state instead of growing into the person you could imagine yourself to be.

I hope you found something useful in this article. Leave a comment below and start the discussion if something resonated with you.

Here’s to my next chapter in an authentic life. And here’s to you!

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