Right around the time everyone started to use the word “authenticity” and “becoming your authentic self” on the internet, the backlash began–people were sick of the word because everyone was using it (understandable) and at least half of the people using it were using it…inauthentically (which is to say, they were using it as a branding message that they didn’t actually live).
There are some words that I’m happy to toss from the internet lexicon, yet I keep mulling over “authenticity.”
I keep thinking that even if it’s not supposed to be cool to like it…I kind of like it. I actively seek it. Maybe we shouldn’t toss this one away.
In case you haven’t looked it up, lately, here’s what I found:
Authenticity. noun. The quality of being authentic; genuineness (courtesy of dictionary.com)
And isn’t that what we most want in our friends, our jobs, our romantic partners? The genuine experience? Yes. No sense in denying that.
So how do you know when you’re not cultivating the genuine experience and when authenticity is not a core operating principle in your life?
>> You say “yes” to things you don’t really want to say “yes” to. You do this both consciously and unconsciously. You say “yes” to the extra errand you didn’t really want to run, or you say “yes” unconsciously–yes to more time in front of the television even though it doesn’t feed your soul or yes to the person who asks if you’ll pimp their new e-course, because you feel bad saying no.
>> If you got honest, you’d quickly identify the little undercurrents of resentment. Resentment that he won’t help out around the house, more. Resentments that the kids had a meltdown. Resentment that your sister’s life seems easier. Resentment that your life doesn’t look like your Pinterest board.
>> You compare yourself to others. Whether you compare yourself and come out favorably or whether you compare yourself and come out in the red, it doesn’t matter. Both of these are illusions (despite how it may seem, you’re not doing your life any better, or any worse, than anyone else–we all have our own paths) and ticking off the “I’m doing it better” boxes feels just as miserable as ticking off the “I’m doing it worse” boxes.
>> Your outsides feel at odds with your insides. You stand in front of the closet, thinking, “I have no idea what to wear,” because you have no idea who bought that tailored skirt and button-down shirt when you know you yearn for dreadlocks and a maxi dress. Or you walk into your house and it never quite feels like home. Or you find yourself having lunch with three co-workers and pretending to be interested in things that really, you have no interest in.
>> You aren’t telling the truth in important relationships–like your marriage, or with your family or closest friend. Every time you hang out with your cousin, you come away angry at the things that she says–but you never talk to her about it. You feel like you and your hubs are more roommates than partners–but you’ve never initiated a conversation with him about it, or you tried it once and then didn’t do it again because he wasn’t responsive.
>> You aren’t taking responsibility for your life. Check this out: Think of someone you’re currently in conflict with. Whose fault is it that there’s distance between the two of you? Play the situation out in your head. It’s probably “theirs.” If so-and-so’s words bug you, the focus goes to what she says and how she should have said it differently–rather than taking responsibility and owning your reactions.
>> And now, the biggie: You’re tired. A lot. Maybe even all of the time. Living inauthentically is exhausting.
“Living authentically” is often painted as a place you can arrive at, a black or white land of “you’re either doing it, or you’re not.” Most people who embark on uncovering their “authentic self” tend to think that their lives are in need of a complete overhaul.
That’s a wonderful, dramatic, passionate, spicy…fantasy. Starting over with a blank slate is fun, but it’s impossible with “living authentically.”
Why? Because there is no blank slate. Your life’s experiences have become etched upon your soul. You already have preferences, aches, and the promise of new, ecstatic joy to be discovered.
All of this is uniquely yours. You can screw with it to a certain degree. But within each of us, there’s a place where you simply can’t deny who you are.
The work of “living authentically” is not about finding yourself. You’re not lost. It’s about removing the obstacles to truly seeing yourself.
It’s an ongoing process. It won’t be done in one fell swoop. Not one of the so-called “thought leaders” that you might look up to right now are “done” with living “authentically.” It’s a practice, a process.
Removing (self-imposed) obstacles
Stop saying “yes” to the things you don’t want to say “yes” to. Start with what’s easiest and most in your control before moving to the harder stuff (saying “yes” to the boss’s request).
Get honest with yourself about your resentments. Then see above.
Start telling the truth–and tell it clean. Tell it with the intention to connect, not to criticize or make someone else wrong. (P.S. it’s a perversion of the work to criticize someone and then use “What? I’m just telling my truth!” as a fall back).
Clean out a closet. This is an astonishingly potent form of inner work. It will bring up all your stuff (literally and figuratively).
Release the illusion of comparisons. If you’re looking to anyone else as a gauge for whether or not you’re winning at life, you’re looking in all the wrong places.
Finally: take responsibility for your life. It is, after all, your life–your choices. Your happiness. Your ecstatic joy. You get to decide how authentically you live any of it.