Last week I was browsing in the self-help section in the only corporate brick and mortar bookstore in town. I noticed many titles about living authentically—how living authentically will make you a better leader, salesman, artist, business owner or spouse. Later at home, I did a quick search on Amazon and found over 7,000 titles on the topic of living authentically.
Living authentically is living in line with your values and beliefs. You are living authentically when your words and actions are congruent with your principles. It may sound like a simple formula, but if there were a simple-to-follow prescription for a happily authentic life there would not be thousands of self-help books with instructions for how to live authentically.
You were born an original. Don’t die a copy. — John Mason
How Did We Forget About Our True Selves?
So . . . how did we get separated from our true selves? Although many people who live in the United States have more freedom than citizens of other countries*, we sense that we are not free to be ourselves. If we lived authentically, we would
- Do what we love
- Be who we really are
- Live with passion
- Have a happier life
- Become remarkable
Societies benefit from having outstanding athletes, writers, artists, politicians, and inventors. As for the rest of us, we are limited by our indoctrination to and acceptance of what is and isn’t permissible, standards set by others for us. Institutions like family, school, religion, and mass media, as well as the legal and economic systems, foster conformity and enforce the status quo and keep unconventionality and rule-challenging to a minimum.
There’s nothing personal about it—all this training and socialization is not set up to bring out either the best or worst in you. In fact, the function of institutions like schools, churches, and others is to use carrots and sticks to teach us how to go along to get along. When we are appropriately socialized, we blend in. We don’t cause trouble, criticize those in charge, or stand out.
An Authentic Life Has Its Risks
While there is a strong current of interest in living authentically, as Amazon’s 7,000+ titles indicate, we hesitate to do it. Most of us are seeking safety not freedom:
- We don’t want to be judged by others.
- We want to fit in and be part of the group.
- We want to be safe and not vulnerable.
Instead, we create personas, a way that we want to be known. Personas protect us against criticism or rejection. Our public personas hide the truth of who we are. And when we dwell in and hold on to our public personas, we become separated from our true selves.
In more personal relationships, we also hide because to be authentic means we risk showing to another person our:
- Failures and disappointments
- Guilt and shame
- Fears and insecurities
- Weaknesses and embarrassments
- Resentments and jealousies
Being authentic is difficult for all of us because it means we have to be open and truthful about who we really are. Authenticity requires us to work at being conscious of our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears. And then take the risks that may bring disapproval from others when we publicly pursue our dreams and passions or speak up about our beliefs and values.
Most of all, being more authentic means being more vulnerable. When we feel vulnerable, we can experience moments of doubt about what others will think of us. No one wants to feel like an outsider or feel like they fail to measure up to those around them.
How to Live Authentically
Authenticity includes how we deal with both the big picture of living a purposeful life and the everyday encounters that are the building blocks of our lives. To understand your bigger purpose, the thing that you’re meant to do with your life, is the gift of discovering or rediscovering your values, talents, and passions. And to live that life means that you show up for yourself in the minutia of everyday relationships in ways that are true for you.
If you want to start the journey back to your authentic self, here are some tips:
- Cultivate self-awareness about when you are being authentic and when you are not. Reflect on your day and whether there were times when you were acting authentically or not.
- Allow that self-awareness to extend to knowing your values, talents, and imperfections.
- Be honest about what you are tolerating: relationships, jobs, clutter, financial chaos, etc. that block you from being authentic.
- Accept everything about yourself: the good, the bad, what you’re proud of, and what you’re hiding.
Ways to increase self-awareness and mindfulness include
- Daily mindfulness meditation to build awareness that carries over to how you speak and act during the rest of your day.
- End of day journaling to reflect on times you felt you acted authentically and times you didn’t.
- Pausing, as a way of centering your awareness in the moment. For example, just stop and look around and say what you see. Or close your eyes and listen, and say what you hear. Doing either for a few minutes brings you back to yourself.
- Living authentically doesn’t have to be work. Notice when you are having fun, whether it is with others or by yourself.
Ways to increase self-acceptance include
- Practice affirmations of self-acceptance, such as I love and accept myself exactly as I am. Louise Hay has created many helpful affirmations that you can borrow.
- End any self-criticism as soon as you are aware of your doing so, and repeat one of your favorite affirmations.
- Treat yourself with extra kindness, as you would a child or a dear friend. For example, if you get tired, accept that you are feeling tired right now and it is okay. Many of us feel that we can’t rest or take a break and so we push through the messages from our bodies. That’s not kindness; in fact, it’s not helpful. Taking a few minutes to breathe or even a short nap recalibrates your body and mind, and you end up feeling more awake and alive.
An Authentic Life Has Its Rewards
When we’re being more authentic, we feel more connected to who we are at our core. We avoid living a divided life where our words, choices, and actions are not in line with our true selves. We can express ourselves more fully and with more confidence. The upside to living life authentically:
- You trust yourself more.
- You get free from other people’s expectations of you.
- Your clarity about who you are brings you peace of mind.
When we reconnect with our own values and beliefs, we also connect with our strength and courage that help us take risks and go for what we truly want. We can now draw on the hidden power that comes with being and expressing our true selves.
When do you feel most authentic? Where do you struggle with being authentic? Please comment below or send me a personal email.
* Rankings from the Cato Institute; downloaded July 24, 2019; https://www.cato.org/human-freedom-index-new