5 (False?) Beliefs About Being More Authentic
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Living an authentic life – the daily practice of knowing, speaking and living your truth – is the core theme of WHYLD.
It is also a trendy topic. Advisors are selling their services to brands who have understood that in order to succeed in their marketing, they need to somehow radiate brand authenticity. Bloggers, content creators, and social media users know that authenticity is key to attracting followers. In the realms of psychology and self-development, authenticity has been discovered for its power to foster (mental) health and fulfillment in life.
Call it being authentic, call it being truthful, call it living in alignment with one’s inner voice – the language used differs but the underlying concept attracts the attention of many people.
In this post, I want to address some beliefs about being more authentic and discuss their validity.
Belief #1: If I Don’t Speak and Live My Truth 100% Of the Time, I Am a Fraud.
Trying to be true to yourself does not mean you have a free pass for throwing all your thoughts and emotions onto others all the time. It is not an excuse to misuse others as witnesses of your authentic expression, to hurt them, or to bore them to death with TMI (too much information). Being committed to living your life authentically also does not mean that you are entitled to having all your needs met and doing whatever you want at any given moment. It is not a battle against others where the one who fights the hardest gets to express themselves fully in violation of other people’s boundaries.
It is also not a battle against yourself. Being authentic is not an Olympic discipline to be mastered, not a race for perfection. You are not a liar if you choose being polite over being radically honest, or if you choose not to disclose something in order to protect yourself. You owe no one your inner truth. However, you can choose to share it if you believe this is valuable for you and others. Only you know – or can learn to know better – what inner truth needs expression so that you can live a healthy, happy life while respecting others.
Belief #2: In Order to Be Authentic, I Must Be the Same Person No Matter the Role.
After a recent talk I gave, I was asked whether it was really desirable that leaders bring all of themselves to their jobs – should they not aspire to be role models and hence avoid display certain behaviours that slumber inside their personality?
Sharing personal information can transmit warmth, open up a path to real connection, and encourage others to return the openness. It could also be perceived as inadequate, it could not be appreciated, or even be taken advantage of.
Being transparent about what is going on in the business, not sugar-coating challenging news, and owning tough decisions is a way to earn people’s respect and give them the orientation they seek. It can also come across as cold, stir up fears, and load problems onto people who aren’t in a position to solve them.
Acting at the company’s Christmas event in the same way you did at that recent derailed Bachelor party might make you seem more approachable to some afterwards, but it might also cost you the hard-earned respect of some others.
So, no – maybe not all of the actions and personality expressions you are capable of will be adequate in all of your roles. You do have quite an array of roles if you think about it. In your daily life, you might switch roles from child to parent to friend to colleague to private person to professional. Being in a role is not a lonely matter. Per definition, it requires other people to whom you appear in that role. Likely, your duty or self-imposed expectation in any given role is to support others to the best of your abilities. Not all parts of yourself, not all words, not all actions can help you achieve that goal, depending on the situation. And even in similar situations – parenting not one but two little ones, being a leader to a diverse group of people – for each person you face in your role, what’s demanded of you might differ widely.
You get to choose if meeting these demands lies within your acceptable range of adaptability or if they require you to abandon yourself. And again: You alone have the responsibility to choose whether expressing a part of yourself is beneficial to you and to others in any given situation. Making mistakes of judgement here is to be expected and utterly human.
Belief #3: Nobody Would Like the Authentic Me.
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
– often attributed to Bernard M. Baruch
While this quote reflects some truth, can you really rely on its meaning? There is no guarantee that letting go of a social mask, coming out of hiding regarding a hidden truth, and bringing your whole self to any table will NOT result in putting people off. Someone who fell in love with your mask might not like what has been slumbering beneath it. People you care about might not know how to deal with the change in you they get to witness. It might turn out that the values of those around you do not go together well with the lifestyle that reflects your true self.
If your authentic expression did not have the potential to change your relationships, you would not have decided to mask it in the first place, would you?
The great news is: It has the potential to change your relationships in both ways. Why should the liberated, peacefully aligned, abundantly alive version of you NOT attract fans – new and old ones? Who would you prefer to spend time with: Someone who is holding back, hiding behind fears of not belonging, not showing their true colours, or someone who has got their own back, who radiates satisfaction, who has a textured and interesting self-expression?
In his book, Authentic: How to be Yourself and why it Matters (page 24), Stephen Joseph writes: “Generally speaking, we admire those who possess self-knowledge, the ability to be honest and transparent and who stand their ground for what they believe in. And we don’t admire those we see as fake or phony.”
Do not underestimate the magic of someone who is true to themselves and others. No change comes without losing some feathers, but I believe what can be won greatly surpasses that which can be lost if you feel the need to give your true self more space.
Belief #4: Expressing Oneself Authentically Is Easy and Available to Everyone in the Same Way.
This one is tricky. Yes, since being authentic can mean things as small as saying “no” to a favour asked, everyone has the power to make changes in this regard.
However… not all of our inner truths will be met with the same acceptance by others in every circumstance. Coming out as gay in Germany is an entirely different story from coming out in Iran, where same-sex sexual activities are illegal and can even be punished by the death penalty.
Showing all the colours of your quirky personality when you already stand out because of your skin colour might leave you extra vulnerable to ill-meaning folks.
Coming back to the allegedly simple act of saying “no”: It might not be such a small feat after all if saying “no” comes with negative consequences, depending on the context you are in.
Striving for self-actualization is an innate human need, but it is one that will not be the focus of your attention when you are fighting to have your more basic needs met.
“Maslow’s hierarchy is a powerful way to understand what authenticity is – it is the behaviours, thoughts and feelings of a person whose basic needs have been met. But, as already mentioned, not everyone has their needs met, in which case their strivings towards authenticity are blocked.” This quote stems from Authentic: How to be Yourself and why it Matters, Stephen Joseph, page 45.
Truth be told: Being able to be and show yourself yourself – at work, in your community, in your family – should be available to everyone, and yet it is a privilege accessible to some more than others.
This brings me back to beliefs #1 and #2: Do not feel pushed to show yourself in ways you do not feel safe about just because you want to own up to your commitment to be authentic. There is no right or wrong and you don’t have to pass a test. You looking after yourself and standing up for your inner truth whenever you can is a great achievement, one which I celebrate with you from my keyboard as I am writing this. You are a champ and I am glad you share some of your colours with the world.
And if it is not you who we are talking about here but someone else whose standing-up-for-themselves you get to witness: Your choice of how to react will make a difference. Do you want to make that brave person uncomfortable and regret their decision to be vulnerable, or do you want to encourage and validate them? Be the change you want to see in the world.
Belief #5: Being More Authentic Is Not a Game-Changer.
‘What’s the hype?’, you may think. ‘Why devote a podcast and a blog to the topic of authenticity, is there even so much to say about it? How is being more authentic supposed to change my life?’
Being in alignment with your inner truth can take many forms.
- Saying no when you feel obliged to say yes.
- Acknowledging an emotion instead of pushing it away because it is not supposed to exist.
- Not pretending to have it all together when you are insecure.
- Saying what you think even if it is uncomfortable.
- Quitting the job that just doesn’t fulfill you.
- Deciding not to have kids because it is everyone else’s biggest dream, but not yours.
It is the big life decisions as well as the tiniest moments in your day. Every word you say, every interaction you have, every deed is an opportunity to listen to your inner voice and align your actions with it.
Maybe you are already very good at this. In this case, chances are you never seek out and read this blog. If you do feel like your inner voice and outer expression are out of alignment too often, I challenge you to practice aligning yourself, starting with the little things.
I suggest you try out the exercise at the end of this article to bring you closer to your inner voice.
As you experience this alignment more and more over time, this will likely come with some side effects. From my own experience, I can say my trust in myself grows the more often I have my own back. This makes me more confident, satisfied, and peaceful. Practicing mindfulness – a prerequisite to knowing what’s really going on inside me – helps me relax and feel in control of my instead of relying on my autopilot taking the steering wheel. I realized most of the stresses in my life come up in moments when I fear that what is demanded of me – what I demand of myself – will be in conflict with my physical or emotional needs. Just by acknowledging the source of my fears and understanding that it provides me with a choice, I am capable of dissolving worry and stress surprisingly often.
That’s just a piece of my story. I wonder how your own will unfold. If you get better at living your life consciously and authentically… how is this NOT going to change much?
Your Turn: Practice the Three Seconds Rule
Internalize the following rule and use it as often as you can:
Before you react to something, take three seconds before your reaction.
In those three seconds, take a breath and observe what’s coming up for you.
In the vast majority of situations in your life, you have the time to take that breath – except for emergency situations that require quick reflexes. At first, you may feel like applying this rule causes awkwardly long pauses. For example, if you are face to face with a person who asks you a question, makes a provocative statement, or demands you do something. In reality, however, your three-second breath won’t seem as long to your counterpart as it will to you. Chances are that this short pause will even make you appear much calmer, steadier, and more self-confident to your counterpart. Not the worst side effect…
What else could you gain from internalizing this rule?
You create a gap between trigger and reaction – and thus the prerequisite for turning your reacting into acting. Taking a breath that opens up this gap does not automatically mean that you are getting to the bottom of your inner truth. But you are preparing a space for it to fill when you are ready to hear it.
In some situations, however, that one breath will be enough to make you act in ways different from what your autopilot would dictate. Be curious about that breath, that gap. Feel what arises in it.
Have fun practicing.
photos: Vitória Santo, Pixabay, Leeloo Thefirst