How often are you truly yourself? Are you a different version of yourself at home, in public, and at work? That’s normal, but it means you’re not true to yourself all the time. That makes it harder to live a meaningful life. Finding authenticity in your life is a great step toward being a better version of you and finding happiness in life.
Finding authenticity in life
If you act differently depending on the situation, you likely have what well-being technology expert, Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., describes as your “Adaptive Self.” In this state, you prioritize fitting in, getting along, and following rules.
Your parents, teachers, peers, and religion teach this to you from an early age. While it’s taught as a good character trait, your adaptive self doesn’t allow you to live freely. It squashes your happiness and true identity.
It’s happening more and more as social media takes over our lives. There’s a focus on perfection, acceptance, being like everyone else, being superficial, and FOMO (fear of missing out). Look at what you post? Is it who you really are or just a snapshot of your true authentic self?
In today’s social-media focused culture, inauthentic lives prevail. The ripple effect is damaging, both physically and mentally. It can add stress to your life as you try to fit in and be someone you are not.
Mike Robbins is a well-renowned author and speaker. He wrote, “Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken.” It’s true. You shouldn’t try to be someone else. Just be yourself!
Studies indicate there is a tremendous toll taken when you spend day after day suppressing who you are and pretending to be who you think others want/need you to be. And of course, what you think others want/need may or may not be true. In the long run, the result is likely to be avoidable suffering, misperception, and lots of misdirected energy.
Robbins points out that our lives are like icebergs. You probably only show a small percentage of who you are.
Everyone struggles with authenticity, including leaders. Mini-focus groups a colleague and I did for our program, “Leading with Authenticity,” revealed authenticity is one of the most pressing issues for executives.
When you show more of the “below-water” you, you’re on your way to being more authentic. You’re saying yes to the life you have. But, that’s just the start of reaching true authenticity.
What is authenticity?
Authenticity is powerful, both personally and professionally. It’s freeing! We all have the power to find it.
So, where you start? What does being authentic mean?
In this TEDxGreenbrookSchool talk, Robbins talks about how we often mistake what being authentic means.
He starts off asking how many people in the audience are liars? People laugh, as it’s a harsh question, but it gets to the root of authenticity.
You’re likely not purposely lying, but are you acting differently in certain situations? He admits he does it himself. It’s not intentional, but bending the truth happens when you try to get what you want or try to look good in front of others.
Over time, it has a negative impact because a part of you is submerged. Remember, that iceberg?
Why do you do it? Likely because it’s uncomfortable to be yourself in some situations or there’s a fear associated with being real. Fear of not being liked or accepted or hurting someone else’s feelings. What you end up being is phony. That’s not good either.
Robbins points out that authenticity is further down the continuum than sharing your opinions and being honest. There’s phony, honesty, and then authenticity.
When you’re authentic, you’re vulnerable. You’re taking the fear component out of the situation, which gives you power and freedom.
How to be authentic
Authenticity means “author” in Latin. Remember that. Be the author of your life. Rather than focusing just on being honest.
Dr. Nina Burrowes is a psychologist and author. She wrote “The Little Book on Authenticity.” She challenges you to focus on being the author or creator of your book in the article, “Think authenticity is about being honest and open? Thing again,” that she penned for The Guardian.
She points out that when you’re born, you’re given a blank page, and it’s a gift to have the freedom to create yourself.
You can decide who you are. Celebrate your unique gifts and showcase them. It’s not just about revealing who you are but becoming that person.
So, how do you become that person? Psychology Today points out four techniques to be your true authentic self.
- Be self-aware.
- Accept that you won’t be perfect.
- Be present in life.
- Find genuine connections.
When you do these things, you’ll begin a journey toward authenticity and happiness.
Consultant and writer Tchiki Davis, who talks about your “adaptive self,” says a life focused on authenticity focuses on your values, purpose, and passion. Find the things in life that bring you happiness, so it’s a focus every day.
Take a moment to reflect on your actions at work, in group settings with friends, and at home. Be mindful of the different ways you interact with others, and take note of when you feel most comfortable and most uncomfortable.
Self-awareness is the first step toward becoming a better version of yourself. It’s an essential step in personal development.
If you need help becoming more aware, try these mindfulness techniques. It’s a great way to focus on the present and mentally move beyond the worries of the past and future. Focus on today, and how you’re reacting, breathing, and thinking.
Focus on your passion and ask yourself “why” you do certain things in situations. This will help you find a more profound sense of purpose in everything you do in life. Evaluate all aspects of your life.
Also, be aware of the moments when your public face is different than the one you show at home or to close friends and family members. Identify those situations where you act differently and find the courage to be authentic.
When you’re self-aware and determined to live a life full of passion and value, you’ll stay on track.
Being authentic has always been tough, but perhaps more so today due to technology and social media. There are constant distractions in our lives, which makes it hard to be present.
You can be distracted by a cell phone every minute of your day if you let it happen. When you live in the moment, you’ll be self-aware so you can be authentic in the moment. You’re saying yes to the life you have, embracing it, and showcasing “you.”
It’s so much more than sharing your opinions or being honest. It’s so much more than that. Let go of all your inhibitions, even if painful situations in the past shaped them. Let those circumstances go and show who you are. You have to be true to yourself and that may be difficult.
Accept that you won’t be perfect
Stop worrying about the past. Let it go like a balloon that floats in the air. Release it because holding onto the past will hold you back. Focus on becoming a better person today and tomorrow.
Part of authentic living means accepting that you won’t be perfect. That means moving forward and accepting past mistakes and decisions. When you’re focused on a greater sense of purpose, you’ll live life without regret.
You’ll also gain a new sense of confidence that will allow you to be more authentic.
When in doubt or during a vulnerable moment, remember this saying by Oscar Wilde goes, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
You don’t have to be that perfect person you see on social media. Just be yourself and be ok with the fact that you will make mistakes, and that it’s impossible to be perfect.
You are indeed unique in the world. There is no one else in the world who is exactly like you. And, knowing you have that special gift, why would you want to hide/suppress/selectively reveal so much of the time? Is it fear that’s holding you back – people will not “get you” or potentially harmful consequences to being who you are? No doubt, it may be exhausting at the beginning to “just be yourself.”
Focus on the positive, like your strengths as a person, rather than your weaknesses.
While you reveal more of yourself or that iceberg when you’re real, it’s also about the creative process of authoring that work of art that showcases your qualities and attributes. That’s why you often hear “be your true authentic self” in the context of authenticity.
Authenticity takes courage. Robbins points out it’s easier to be phony and say things others want to hear. However, when you move past fear, new opportunities reveal themselves and you’ll find a new level of happiness about your life.
Find genuine connections
Finally, build real relationships with people. You probably have something in common even with someone who drives you crazy. Find that connection, and seek to understand the other person.
Nurture relationships with close ties, and ask them for help in finding your authentic self. They likely know you better than anyone else, and you’re probably vulnerable in that circle of friends.
While social media can be a challenging landscape to navigate if you’re struggling with authenticity, it can be powerful as Davis points out. There are many supportive social media groups of like-minded people that can uplift you, empower you, and virtually support you through your quest to find your authentic self.
A study of adolescent social media users found those who lurk in social media and scroll, rather than engage with others, tend to be more depressed. Engage with others, and find your tribe!
The bottom line in all of these ways you can be more authentic – “Say It, Mean It, Do It. Don’t Fake It.” That’s what I preach in my authentic leadership workshops, and that’s how you improve as a person.
It may take time and a well-informed “launch” schedule to share “the real you” to various people and at differing times. But, you know how you feel when you are around people who like you for who you are, who are non-judgmental, and recognize each of us is a work in progress and will make missteps along the way.
Despite that Academy Award-winning performance that fools almost everyone except those who truly know who we are, when we deny ourselves, there is a high price to be paid. You likely feel shame, anxiety, depression, indulge in unhealthy habits and addictions, moody behavior, and lashing out. All this extra stress negatively impacts our hormonal balance and increases our risk of a variety of diseases and conditions – weight gain, sleep disorders, diabetes, and hypertension, to name a few.
So, when you’re authentic you’re practicing a healthy stress-management technique.
Only you can decide if/when the benefits of being you outweigh the costs – both real and imagined. See what you think after finding out what others have discovered.
Whatever is holding you back – let it go!
How are you celebrating you, so you’re more authentic?