Telling someone to be “authentic” is probably one of the least authentic things you can say. You don’t have to go very far to watch a video, read an article, or have someone tell you that authenticity is the real key to happiness. Or maybe you’re like me and you’ve realized that the authentic version of yourself isn’t all that interesting, and it might be better to imitate someone a bit cooler and “edgier”. It seems there is some confusion about being authentic. After all, nobody smiles in the mirror before school or work and says, “I can’t wait to be inauthentic today”. So, the starting point: defining what it means to be authentic.
First let’s start off with what authenticity is not. A lot of the time people think that they’re being authentic because they are confrontational, or because they say what is on their mind. In the words of Mike Robbins, author and speaker, you have to ask yourself “am I being authentic, or am I just being obnoxious?” It is true that saying what is on your mind is part of being authentic, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. After all, we still need to have go to classes, have jobs, and maintain relationships, so saying whatever idea pops into your head without considering how it impacts others can get you into a lot of trouble. That’s why asking yourself if you’re just being obnoxious is such a critical question, because if you’re unpleasant, rude, or potentially harmful to people around you, without providing any real positive value, then it’s likely that you’re just being obnoxious.
The reason that it’s such a challenge to be authentic is because authenticity is a consequence of being vulnerable. Another example that Mike Robbins uses to explain authenticity is that of the iceberg. We are all like icebergs in that only a small portion of our true self is being revealed, whereas the rest is submerged underwater. If you want to be authentic, and show who you really are, then you need to be willing to show people that part of you that is underneath the surface…even if that means that people might be able to hurt you.
Easier said than done, right? After all, we are all humans, and that means we are naturally wired to protect ourselves and avoid pain. The problem is that when it comes to protecting yourself from being vulnerable, it often means that we are concealing our real feelings and our true selves. So how can we be authentic, without allowing ourselves to be hurt? Well, the bad news is that you can’t, the good news is that over time it will get easier.
In school, students sometimes misbehave not because they want to be disruptive, but because they want to conceal that they don’t understand the subject. In a situation like this, being authentic would be admitting to yourself and the teacher that you “feel inferior to the other students, and maybe the material is too difficult for you to understand”. This isn’t being weak, it’s letting people know how you feel, and by doing that they can actually give you some guidance. In order for this to happen you need to be willing to be vulnerable.
Okay, the last example was pretty convenient, but what happens when people don’t care, or worse, when they use your vulnerability against you? Well, the reality is that this is something we all encounter in life, and as you get older you will understand to not let these people affect you too deeply. In my experience, whether it is amongst friends, colleagues, and employers, when you’re true to yourself and are honest with others, people will naturally gravitate towards you.
The challenge of authenticity is trying to find out what that actually means for you. We live in a world where being authentic can often mean being outrageous and can border on being obnoxious. The reality is that authenticity is all about being honest with yourself and not being afraid to be vulnerable and speak about the things that impact us deeply.