Written by Michael J Theron, 03/07/20.
What does it mean to be authentic? How do I become more authentic? How do I know if I am authentic? These are just some of the many questions people ask when thinking about or discussing the authentic self. Why is being authentic even relevant is probably the more probing question that needs some consideration.
According to author Jennifer Beer ‘from a psychological science standpoint, a person is considered authentic if they meet certain criteria’. She writes that ‘authentic people have considerable self-knowledge and are motivated to learn more about themselves. They are equally interested in understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and they are willing to honestly reflect on feedback regardless of whether it is flattering or unflattering’ (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-inconvenient-truth-about-your-authentic-self/, March 2020),
In her book, The gift of imperfection (2010), Brene’ Brown suggests that authenticity is a choice that requires courage, compassion and connection. She goes on to say that authenticity is a daily decision, to be honest, to embrace our vulnerability and not care what others think. Much of what is required is the need to let go of certainty and to trust your own intuition. Believing in yourself and your experiences is very much a part of moving towards a more authentic self.
What can be detrimental is the need for perfection and believing that being authentic somehow translates into a state of martyrdom. Or the ability to rise above everyday challenges and maintain a state of perpetual calm and wisdom. Perfectionism has its roots in fear of shame, which makes us reliant on the approval of others. Perfectionism is also addictive and self-destructive by nature. This can result in us having a fear of being ourselves and preventing us from any challenge that is outside of our comfort zone.
A quintessential part of being authentic is to embrace your uniqueness and individuality. One way to do this is to cultivate your creativity, be it through writing, baking, gardening sewing, woodwork- the list is endless. Each of us has gifts and talents unique to ourselves, and it is our responsibility to share those with the world. Jordan Lee Dooley (Own your everyday: Overcome the pressure to prove and show up for what you were made to be, 2019) believes that stepping out of your comfort zone is essential. She suggests that for thirty days, you stop criticising yourself and instead compliment yourself. The next time you catch yourself saying something negative about yourself, ask the question ‘would I say this to my best friend?’. If not, then why on earth would you say that to yourself? Stop obsessing about how you are seen by others and focus on how you see yourself.
Comparing yourself to others is another detrimental action when trying to be a more authentic you. You are who you are and comparing yourself to others only results in added pressure and feelings of insecurity. This is about you, this is about you becoming a more authentic version of yourself; not how you compare to others. Disappointment can be fierce, but it can also be positive and inspiring. Every experience can be an opportunity, so if something doesn’t quite work out the way you expected, choose to see it for what it is – a chance to grow and learn.
On a final note, in pursuit of authenticity, avoid distraction. Social media, TV and a sedentary lifestyle can all lead to a passive life with less purpose and meaning. Why not try the 10-10-10 rule as proposed by author Suzy Welch (Embrace the 10-10-10 rule: A life-transforming idea, 2009). The next time you procrastinate about doing something, ask yourself how will this affect me in the next 10 minutes, 10 weeks, 10 years? Remember if we want to change we have to start somewhere, so even if it is some small habit or daily practice that you change, it is a start. Redefine success around who you are and not what others expect you to be.
I have loved doing the research for this post, as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It certainly has been thought-provoking and has inspired me to keep working on myself. I want to thank each of the respective authors that I have cited for their amazing ideas and suggestions. These are such practical and easy to implement recommendations.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and I wish you the very best on your journey.