Authenticity is becoming one of those words that’s been used to the point that some people say it’s cliché. When a word increase in popularity like this, there’s a great opportunity to consider why. Why does it seem like everyone is talking about being more authentic?
Let’s start by defining what authenticity means. Merriam-Webster defines authentic as true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. I think that’s a great definition, but what does that really mean?
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown explains it like this.
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough. Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving—even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
I like to think of authenticity as who we are when we strip away all the labels. The person who remains once you stop striving to become who you think you’re supposed to be and allow yourself to just be.
Or as Rumi put it, “Try and be a sheet of paper with nothing on it.”
As a culture, we’re longing for the freedom to be who we truly are. We’re tired of the filters and striving for perfection. We wish the people around us would let down their guard and just be real.
When we look back at this time 30 years from now, I think we’ll see a clear correlation between our longing for authenticity and the increased prevalence of social media. While there are wonderful things we gain with social media, there’s also a dark side.
Whether or not it’s intended, our social media accounts have become our highlight reels. Let’s compare Facebook to an old school photo album. The space in an album is limited, so we tend to only add the most important pictures from holidays, special events, and once in a lifetime vacations. I remember when my best friend returned from her honeymoon fifteen years ago. I couldn’t wait to look at her photo albums and hear all about it. It was an exciting event.
For many of us, Facebook and Instagram have replaced our photo albums. Unlike a physical album, you can upload and many images as you want, instantly. You can filter and edit your photos with the swipe of your thumb. And you instantly receive feedback from friends and strangers across the globe.
While convenient, it’s easy for the realness of our lives to be stripped away online. We don’t get the whole story like we did when we were looking at the photo albums. Then we find ourselves comparing our lives to highlight reels. And I’ll be the first to admit that can put me at risk of falling victim to not enough.
We might even feel compelled to ratchet up our own social media game. Eventually, we find ourselves logging in 12 times a day to see how many likes our most recent post got. Next thing we know, we’re judging our worthiness by the number of likes and comments we get. Is it any wonder that it’s so easy to get caught up striving to look like who we think we should be?
Searching for your authentic self is nothing new. Lao-Tzu, Nietzsche, and Thoreau were in search of these answers too. The difference today is that the messages about who we should be are becoming stronger and louder. Making us feel stuck between being our authentic selves and wanting to fit in.
I’m writing this not as the master of authentic living but as someone who is on my own imperfect journey. Like most things in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming your authentic self. And as with everything, clarity comes from action. So becoming our authentic selves may involve some trial and error.
While I don’t know it all, I’ve learned a lot on my journey. Here are the three most powerful lessons I learned while becoming my authentic self.
1 – Start Now
Rumi said, “As you walk out on the way, the way appears.” The best method to discover your authentic self is to get in the game; the sooner the better.
Stop waiting until you have all the answers. You’ll never know it all. The more you step out of your comfort zone, the more you’ll learn. The more you learn, the more questions you’ll have. The more questions you explore, the more you’ll discover your unique authentic self.
2 – You’ll Know When You Find It
I spent the first 30-some years of my life trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be. Then one day I realized I couldn’t live like that for another 30-some years. From that
As you start to become that beautiful human you were meant to be, everything will begin to fall into place. You won’t have to try so hard to fit in because your people will begin to rally around you. You’ll feel like you’re in the zone as you create more meaningful work. You’ll feel confident saying, “this is what I believe,” and more comfortable saying, “no.” When you’re no longer focused on what everyone else thinks, you’ll find it easier to make the time to put your health and everything that’s important to you first.
You’ll know you’re on the right path when it starts to feel everything is falling into place.
3 – It’s Not Static
Living an authentic life isn’t a one and done event. As you grow,
A decade ago, the idea of finding and becoming my authentic self seemed overwhelming and unattainable. Little by little I rediscovered who I was, what I’m good at, and what I love. I’m grateful for the discontentment that forced me out of my comfort zone and into becoming. I hope that what I share here, and on Facebook and Instagram inspire you to do the same.