Words & Artwork by Kristi Chua
I’ve always desired the personal freedom and confidence to follow my intuition, to aspire to my ideas and goals. And as I’ve grown from a girl to a woman, I’ve desired to inspire others and myself with my personal choices. Witnessing someone fulfil their desire – their needs – and follow their passions, can be as pleasurable an experience as fulfilling my own desires, needs and passions.
As a young girl, all I wanted was to be an artist – and yet I found myself putting that dream on the back burner because it ‘wasn’t a real career’ and I would never ‘make a living’ from following that dream. Throughout the years, the underlying message given to me was that anything I do must be career-driven, money-motivated and meet society’s ideals of a successful woman. The world (or rather its people) that surrounded me were paving a defined path informed by the economic state of the country, the importance of an academic education, the unfulfilled desires and wishes of adults around me, and the misguided but well-intentioned mixture of love and fear.
I survived high school (thanks to a great art department), and enjoyed the challenges of gaining a higher education. I then persevered and developed some excellent skills due to launching myself on a career path within the government. Every morning I would put my uniform on; smile politely as I was made an example of what a dedicated and intelligent Aboriginal woman could achieve. But the praises fell flat – because deep within me whispered a voice that needed to be expressed. I began to wonder if this is what life would always be like. It felt…empty.
Quietly yet persistently, my heart, mind, soul and body yearned to express myself through art. Eventually I left my government position and immersed myself within a community in the country. Here I thrived amongst the cottage crafts of a small town and the hands-on interaction of working with an Aboriginal community. I felt this allowed me to be ‘myself’; allowed my authentic self to come forward and speak directly.
Yet…after a while I found myself looking for a distraction from this ‘selfish indulgence’. I enrolled in a Masters degree and decided on an alternative education for my son (home-schooling). While I enjoyed the reading(s) and critical process of writing a thesis, it wasn’t long before I realised I was not drawn to the outcome of the degree. Did I want to teach at a university? Did I want to be an education consultant? When I let those questions sit with me, an answer bubbled up from deep within. It was a resounding ‘NO!’
As much as the university system talked about critical thinking and cutting-edge education, it was clear to me that once again this was about ‘career’ and ‘career choices’. While it wasn’t explicitly expressed at the time, one important aspect that rose above all was: if I was so busy teaching and writing about education while home-schooling my son, when would I have time for art? I wouldn’t. So I turned my back on the Masters degree despite receiving high marks for my work. Why? Because I felt it wasn’t authentic, it wasn’t the ‘real’ me. The university and those around me were moulding me into something that wasn’t true to my inner self.
I made the scary decision to try something else, to follow a dream.
I no longer hid my paintings; I sent them out as images for people to see, and after encouragement from friends I did the vulnerable thing of listing them for sale on a website. To my delight, many sold and I furthered my confidence by entering competitions.
Five years later, I was ecstatic to be in my own studio, sharing a building with other artists. I began the delightful practice of sharing my authentic self and newfound knowledge with other women and young people through journaling workshops.
“For the first time ever I felt I was on a great path, walking as my true authentic self. Now I’m fulfilled, joyful and live life in wonder and appreciation. I can find gratitude in the smallest things. When anything feels bad, my authentic self tells me the medicine I need: to use my heART. My authentic self tells me that my heart needs to express itself through art.”
Your authentic self will tell you your medicine.
This is the power of authenticity; to live true to ourselves. When our minds, hearts and bodies are aligned (I refer to this as my ancestral core, but others call it their inner wisdom), we can access the power of our intuition. We have the ability to use our voices to speak our desires and needs. We gain the freedom to make choices that lead us down a defined path of personal growth. This experience is challenging at times, and at other times overwhelmingly joyous. It results in deep personal growth and development that point to a happy and rewarding life.
But what does being authentic look like?
Being authentic takes personal courage as well as accepting a level of vulnerability. It can be scary when we use our authentic voice to declare to the world: this is me and this is what I want. Ask yourself, what would your life look like if you listened to your inner voice? If you truly spoke what your soul desired to speak? If you followed those passions and desires that others think are insignificant, silly or unrealistic?
When we make peace within ourselves, we have the quiet space necessary to create and manifest our true desires. And when we give ourselves permission to follow our true dreams and desires, we give permission for others to do the same. We can all empower one another while empowering ourselves; such is the power of the authentic self.
Kristi Chua is an emerging professional artist of Kitja descent from Western Australia who has worked with Aboriginal organisations and communities in and around Perth. Her artwork has been exhibited in collections throughout Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Sweden.