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Many people say to be yourself and be more authentic. But what does it mean?

Does it mean being completely honest with everyone you meet?

Or does it mean being truthful to yourself no matter what?

What if you are someone who has low self-esteem and they don’t like themselves, how do they be themselves?

This is the last month of my 2016 Self-Love Project and the theme is “Being Yourself”. Being yourself is somewhat challenging when you don’t love yourself first. Why do you want to be someone you don’t like?

But like many other things, it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Love yourself first, so that you can be yourself? Or be yourself and then learn to love yourself? It’s difficult to determine which one should come first. Instead of just focusing on either one, it’s probably more effective to learn both at the same time — learn how to be authentic as we learn how to love ourselves.

But what does being authentic mean?

What Does It Mean to Be Authentic?

Earlier this year, two well-known authors and experts, Adam Grant and Brené Brown, have an online debate over what authenticity is. Adam wrote in The New York Times column that being yourself is terrible advice in the workplace. He argued that no one wants to see our true self and some thoughts and emotions are better left unspoken, especially at work.

The debate started because he quoted Brené Brown’s definition of authenticity in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

“The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

Brené Brown responded to LinkedIn as she felt that her work was misrepresented by Adam Grant. The nine words which were pulled out of context hardly represented her research on authenticity. She went on to explain that the core of authenticity is the:

“Courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries.”

It’s about staying mindful of our intention.

So what is authenticity exactly? Do we be authentic or not?

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, authentic means:

  • real or genuine,
  • not copied or false,
  • true and accurate.

If authentic means real, does it mean we have to share everything inside our head like what Adam Grant suggested in his article? Or is it about being mindful of our actions, thoughts, and behaviors like what Brené Brown has suggested?

I think the best way to know what authenticity means is to first know what it isn’t.

What Being Authentic Isn’t

1. Being authentic doesn’t mean sharing all your thoughts.

You probably experience this inside your head before. A part of your brain tells you to do something, for example, go for a jog. But another part of your brain says you are too tired. Or a part of your brain wants to eat chocolate, while another part of your brain tells you, “No!”

Every one of us has multiple thoughts a day, and most of the time those thoughts are conflicted. Do you know which thought is the “real” you? When Adam Grant writes about self-monitoring, isn’t it just a thought monitoring another thought? So how could one say that the former is us and the latter is not us?

You are not your thoughts.

Sharing everything inside our heads doesn’t make us more authentic. Thoughts don’t represent who we are as a person. Reflect upon this: If you don’t love yourself, are you the voice that is criticizing you constantly, or is you the person who is suffering from the negative thoughts? Who are you?

Furthermore, there is nothing fake about being private and not sharing your thoughts. You have the choice of who to share your thoughts with. If you are not comfortable sharing your private information with someone else, not forcing yourself to share is actually being more authentic. You are not doing something against your will. You know what your personal boundary is and you are sticking to it.

2. Being authentic isn’t an excuse for not growing.

Unlike what Adam Grant suggested, you don’t have to pretend to be an extrovert, to do public speaking. Introverts can give a presentation just fine being themselves. It’s a myth that only extroverts are skilled in public speaking.

Staying true to your introverted nature doesn’t stop you from acquiring new skills such as public speaking. It doesn’t stop you from learning how to communicate with others. Being authentic shouldn’t be an excuse for not growing and improving ourselves. It shouldn’t be limiting.

Humans grow as plants do.

Plus, we are not born with a fixed personality and are stuck with it. Our personality evolves over time. It isn’t as clear-cut and straightforward as what most people think it is. To cope with the world, all of us have already developed both introverted and extroverted functions in our childhood. There’s no one person who is 100% introvert or 100% extrovert. Introverts can’t live in the physical world without putting themselves out there sometimes. Neither can extroverts survive by putting themselves out there all the time. The difference is just how much extraversion we prefer to do.

If you are an introvert and you know that attending too many social events, exhaust you and you don’t like it. Then, what you should learn is how to reject others, and how to balance your needs for introversion and extraversion. This is much better than pretending to be an extrovert. People can tell when you are pretending to be interested or someone you are not.

What Being Authentic Is

1. Being authentic means being true to the present moment.

We go through different stages of life. Who we are in the past may not who we are right now. What is true in the past may not be true for us now. But most of us define ourselves with the success we achieved from the past or the mistakes we made in the past.

Authenticity is about being, not becoming.

Being authentic isn’t about what you have done in the past or what you will be doing in the future, it’s about being who you are right now. We are always becoming; we are always changing. The version you know me for right now will not be the same version you will see ten years later. If you currently have flaws you are working on, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s no need to act like you are perfect in front of others. What you have done until this point in life shouldn’t be defining you permanently.

Authenticity is also about accepting the present moment. It doesn’t mean you disregard the context you are in. If you want to do what you love, but if the circumstances don’t allow you to do so just yet, this doesn’t mean you are inauthentic.

Being yourself means being true to who you are right now. As long as you are true to the now, you are authentic. Inauthenticity only comes when you are denying the present moment.

2. Being authentic is about being truthful to yourself.

If you are feeling angry or depressed right now, don’t pretend that you are not. Authenticity is self-awareness. It’s about being conscious of your thoughts and emotions, and how they affect your behaviors.

Inauthenticity comes when you deny or suppress your emotions. You are feeling angry or depressed but you don’t allow yourself to feel the emotions. You keep telling other people you’re fine while deep down inside you are harboring resentment. You resist feeling depressed and keep fighting or replacing it with positive thoughts.

I’m not saying that if you feel angry towards someone like your boss, you should argue with him or be disrespectful. I’m also not saying that if you are depressed right now, you should not do anything about it or tell everyone you are feeling depressed.

Authenticity is more for yourself than for other people.

It is more about being honest with yourself than being honest with other people. It doesn’t depend on whether other people perceive you as authentic or fake. It’s not just about speaking the truth. Not everyone will have the privilege to listen in to all your thoughts, emotions, or deepest secrets. As long as you are honest with yourself, you are living an authentic life.

Furthermore, expressing your anger towards someone may seem authentic. But it just shows how unaware you are with your emotions and how controlled you are by your emotions. When you are unconscious of your own behaviors and reacting involuntarily to external circumstances, that’s not being authentic. That’s why some people regret what they do after they reconnect with their authentic self.

An authentic person knows they are beyond their thoughts and emotions. They are the ones observing their thoughts and emotions.

[Read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now to learn more about being the observer.]

Featured Photo Credit: My Heart Is Hers / Sean McGrath