A Simple Guide to Being Authentic

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We live in a time when truth is a nebulous term. Is it fake or is it real? The swirling debates of fake news or propped up façades of Instagram influencers leave us guessing. So much of our world is now crafted for image at the expense of discarded authenticity. While we’re wondering what’s happening in this world, this uncertainty trickles down to our own existence. In such an environment we may ask ourselves: what’s our truth?

The question here is how do we recognize and fearlessly project our own authenticity. To be authentic is to be real. Really real. Genuine. It seems like a simple enough premise but many of us have piled on too many years of doubts, insecurities, and others’ expectations to even recognize this for ourselves. 

How We Slowly Lost Our Authenticity

Before the taunts of the bullies or the mean girls in adolescence, we just were who we were. Life was simple and the perception of ourselves was crystal clear. Clear to the point that it didn’t require much examination. But when social dynamics came into our purview, we began to act differently to satisfy the social order of things. It was probably innocuous at first but then developed into a lifelong bad habit. Slowly chipping away at the core of who we once were.  

And in the thick of adulthood with complicated relationships and opaque workplace expectations, it takes on a whole new level. As adults, we put ourselves out into a world where what is best promoted is the most rewarded. The rewards can be acceptance, prestige, advancement, increased income, and that’s just for starters. Truth and transparency struggle to enter the equation. In fact, it’s regarded as an inconvenient distraction. So day in and day out we proceed while the message is reinforced that abdicating our genuine nature is not only okay, but necessary. 

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The Many Masks We Wear

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Putting on a front has come to be a generally acceptable behavior because it’s a game everyone must play to some degree. We all wear masks to better assimilate to the roles we play. This isn’t intentionally disingenuous or a bogus ruse. It’s a mechanism of functioning. 

So all throughout our days we deal with different façades (ours and others’) and adjust accordingly. Some are thicker than others. Some more colorful than others. We wish these weren’t the rules of engagement because interactions would be so much more interesting and less confusing. The poor guy who just tries too hard to impress would find some rest and relief. Relaxing in the peace of mind that he could just be who he is. 

Deciding to Turn Towards Authentic Living

But for the seekers among us, we eventually recognize the fog of this insignificance. It’s like participating in an alternative reality that doesn’t seem quite right. And it’s then from the lingering feelings of dissatisfaction that we just can’t shake, we begin to ask ourselves deeper questions. 

Questions that propel us back to the basics of who we once were:

How can I (once again) be authentic with myself?

How can I be authentic in my relationships?

How can I be authentic in my work?

To look into this abyss is bold and daunting. It’s about examining the supposed truths of conventional living and making a conscious choice to set off on another path. One far less worn. 

But for the brave who know in their heart of hearts that being unapologetically transparent is worth the swim upstream, there comes a deep inner satisfaction. The life of truth may be hard but it’s infinitely more rewarding. And it’s that profound fulfillment that drives a seeker’s actions to abide by authentic living at whatever the cost. 

Committing to an Authentic Way of Life

When we witness someone living authentically we take notice. We admire it. We wish to emulate such behavior but then have second thoughts when we consider the courage and commitment required to follow such a path. We focus in on the concessions we must make or the bold actions we must take. Then we lose heart. 

But like many things in life, the adoption of authentic living is a process in which small efforts of moving in the right direction count for a lot. It’s neither a one and done nor an all or nothing proposition. And it doesn’t require immediate radicalization. Instead, it’s a slow yet deliberate process with a mix of successes and failures along the way. Probably the most important element in pursuing such a standard of living is the honest intent to do so. 

When you start to live with more authenticity, your energy shifts. You project an assuredness that is a bit mysterious but also very captivating. Without realizing it you come to project a quiet confidence that others can’t help but notice. 

As a natural consequence, you become more attractive of a person finding the right kinds of people moving towards you. This is not necessarily the point of being more authentic but it’s a welcome bonus.

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Ways to Practice Being Authentic

In the pursuit of authenticity, we ought to take one day at a time. One encounter at a time. Shoot for the goal but give yourself grace in the execution. We’re surrounded by a world of make-believe so any glimmer of realness will be an appreciated differentiation. 

Here are some humble suggestions to embody a life of more authenticity. 

1- Understand Your Values

When people give advice about being authentic, a common suggestion is to become acutely self-aware. An important part of this process is to honestly assess what you value. This can be traditional values like hard work or family devotion but it can also encompass your fundamental preferences. 

Are you an introvert who would rather stay home than push through awkward networking events? Are you a creative soul dying a little inside every time you go to your corporate job? Or do you know deep down you’re just different from your social circle and are tired of playing along?

This is just a small sample of questions that probe profound self-assessment. But if approached with honesty and courage, one can arrive at the truth. And whatever the truth is, the truth is. There’s no need to apologize for it even though the world may expect you to. 

2 - Be in the World But Not Part of It

Once we arrive at our truth, the easy part’s over. What?! Not to discourage you but you still need to interact in this world which will constantly be nudging you to forsake how you wish to live. 

This is where the advice of going slow and steady is most important. Chances are within your relationships, both personal and professional, there are deep-seated expectations of how everyone behaves. Abrupt changes to this order probably won’t go over well. Instead, it’s about slowly changing expectations of those around you and that’s best reinforced with consistent action. 

This could look like:

  • Refusing to overwork at the expense of time with your family.

  • Being empathetic and kind when telling the truth that someone needs to hear.

  • Ending the relationship you know is unhealthy or unproductive.

  • Curtailing your use of social media and focusing more on IRL experiences. 

  • Getting up early to find time to practice your art. 

  • Not towing the company line just because everyone else is.

Think of your life and the moments within it where a little effort of demonstrating authenticity could be the beginning steps of a changed life. 

3 - Admit Ignorance

I once had a professor who would say time and time again: most people most of the time are almost always wrong. I didn’t appreciate the assertion at the time but as I have grown into adulthood and interacted with so many characters, these words now ring true. 

In both our personal and professional lives we are expected to know things. Many things. When we’re solicited for information we feel compelled to offer a response. Our answers may come across as the professions of the truth. But in reality, it may only be our interpretation of the truth. With an ego looking for some cover, we may lean into some creative reasoning which in the end leaves everyone feeling less certain. 

An alternative approach is to project humility and, ironically, a special kind of confidence to say the words: “I don’t know.” It’s disarming and refreshing to everyone around you because most others come to recognize that they don’t know either. From such a place of equal footing, much more honest dialogue can occur.

4 - Avoid Distractions

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Recognize that around many corners are people and things trying to corral you back to superficial conventional living. Put your guard up or stick your head in the sand. 

Take a break from social media or heavily regulate its usage. The worst of inauthentic projection is found there. Be conscious of your other social interactions too. Keep your focus when you’re around certain people who have a tendency to bait you into disingenuous behavior. 

In the workplace, practice some independence without sacrificing your professional credibility. Show thoughtful consideration in all your responses and interactions but hold on to your principles. If there’s pressure to conform, prove to yourself and others that you’re not so malleable.

To help steel your resolve, learn to turn inward. Get acquainted with your intrinsic knowing. A good place to start is through the practice of meditation. It blocks out the nonsense of the world while giving you the time and space to hear your inner voice. The voice may start out as a mere whisper but it will grow louder if you give it the time and attention it deserves.

5 - Settle in With Your Tribe

Within our lives, there are usually a few people with whom we can truly let our hair down. These are the ones who know us most intimately and love and respect us for who we are. Recommit time and attention to these people. Being with them will feel relaxing and will reinforce your commitment to being your true self in broader social situations. 

When it does come time to interact with others outside your intimate tribe, establish strict criteria for who could be a kindred spirit. There may be a minimum threshold of shared interests but evaluate more thoroughly for values that support authenticity. See if they, too, demonstrate a commitment to such pursuits. You’ll know it pretty quickly.

6 - Trust Your Instincts

And lastly, trust yourself implicitly. Your gut instincts never lie. They have no agenda and nothing to protect. Move towards what feels right and pull back from what feels misplaced. Know the value in your truth and never feel obligated to justify it.

In time, gravitating towards authenticity will feel more natural and easier. The noise of protest for stepping off the conventional path will get quieter and those around you will come to know and respect the authenticity that you readily possess. Take one step at a time and embrace the conviction that living from the heart of who you are is really all that matters. 

Take Action!

Take an honest assessment of your life and determine where you can be more authentic. What do you want to stand for? And how will you live that out? Think of some ways to exercise more authenticity without disrupting your social and professional relationships too abruptly. Commit your thoughts to a journal and revisit your progress as you move in this direction. 

What are indicators to you that someone is living an authentic life?

Jumpstart the discussion in the comments below!