When we think about being authentic, we think about being real. Being genuine. We’re always told to “just be yourself”. But, we all wonder, who the hell is that?
So this past year, my sense of identity was pretty much obliterated. Pretty much every aspect of my life that I leaned on for a sense of identity fell apart and was replaced by something new (or nothing at all). While I’ve put most of the pieces back together materially, I’ve still been feeling strongly depersonalized* and disconnected from my sense of self.
It’s from this place that I’ve been desperately asking questions like:
- “What is identity and how do I get mine back?”
- “What is the self and how do I rebuild mine?”
- “Who am I really and is what I present to the world really ME?”
I started trying to imagine what I would be like if I were really being myself. Is it appropriate for me to dress in this goth rocker thing? Is that me? Am I hanging out with a crowd that isn’t anything like me? Is this band thing something the real me would do or am I doing it to be perceived a certain way? If I were being authentic, would I be less kind to people? Would I still dream of being a traveling nomad?
I became obsessed with these questions, but I couldn’t come up with any solid answers. I couldn’t decide whether the real me would dress more punk or more metal. Or if I would stick to music or pursue comics. Would I would get a sex change or fully embrace my feminine sexuality?
I felt totally lost.
Until this one day when I realized I’d been going about this ENTIRELY backwards.
When people say “just be yourself”, the logical response is to want to figure out who that is. But the whole idea of being more you is misleading. As Tyler Durden reminded us, “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.”
And you’re not how you choose to live or even how you think, feel and act. Because YOU are something wholly unnameable, immutable, and unchangeable. You are the witness inside the vehicle. Beyond all the dressings, beyond good and bad, you just ARE.
So being authentic is NOT the act of being “yourself” as opposed to of whatever else you’ve been being up until now. Being authentic is NOT about donning Personality B instead of Personality A. Authenticity is not the magical state you achieve when everything about you reflects “the real you”.
Authenticity is the decision to stop trying to be or do anything other than what feels right for you in the moment.
If you get caught up in trying to be “real”, you’re just staying stuck in the trap. To be truly authentic is to LET GO of whether you SHOULD be this way or that way. It’s letting go of whether or not people will approve if you’re this way or that way. It’s liberating yourself from the tyranny of hustling for approval.
Authenticity is not choosing the RIGHT path, but choosing the path that feels right in any given moment, and risking criticism and failure in doing so. It’s letting yourself be truly seen in you anger, sadness, fear or joy. It’s letting go of trying to seem composed, or eloquent, or on top of everything. It’s doing what you want to do and embracing the unknown outcome. It’s not trying to control how people see us or respond to us.
So basically I had this huge revelation that I was super proud of and like a day later realized I was just parroting the Brené Brown books I read 4 years ago and clearly forgot for lack of practice. Brené describes authenticity thusly:
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.
The ability to be authentic comes from a place of really being good with yourself, and having the confidence that you can handle anything the world throws at you. It results from prioritizing your needs and desires above what might garner approval from everyone, and letting the people who aren’t into that go their own way. Now you can start attracting people that fit the life you most want to live.
And yeah, this is a huge challenge! Just remember, confidence is the result of action, not the cause of action. The more you act with courage, the more confident you will feel.
My therapist said something really interesting to me the other day. She said, “do what you want to do, and do The Work on the outcome”. So you go for what you want, and if someone has a problem with it that doesn’t feel great, challenge your thinking about it (or have them do so).
Stop trying to be yourself! Stop trying to be a particular thing. Kyle Cease suggests that we ask ourselves in any given moment, “does this choices feel light or does it feel heavy?” Go with what feels light, even if it’s scary. That’s authenticity.
If you want to learn more about authenticity and self mastery go read Brene’s books. I highly recommend The Gifts Of Imperfection, which I picked up again last night. It’s incredibly thorough and as with all of her work, is the result of years of scientific study.
* Depersonalization can consist of a reality or detachment within the self, regarding one’s mind or body, or being a detached observer of oneself. Subjects feel they have changed and that the world has become vague, dreamlike, less real, or lacking in significance. It can be a disturbing experience.