What does it mean to be authentic?
What does being or feeling authentic mean? – According to my dictionary authentic means:
- Worthy of belief
When we talk about being authentic it is about being true to ourself, our values, our beliefs, our feelings, and ultimately living the life you have always wanted to live. When I first started out as an Occupational Psychologist I thought a consultant and trainer had to behave in a certain way that would appear ‘professional' and conform to certain beliefs that clients had about us. I was constantly amazed (and, quite frankly, horrified, at times) by a colleague of mine whom I thought behaved and said things that were inappropriate to clients. With hindsight, I see she was being totally authentic, totally herself and got on famously well with her clients, while I was bound up by a range of limiting beliefs which stopped me from being myself.
Many years later, having undergone a lot of personal and professional development, including mastering my inner critic, I am able to accept and embrace who I really am: my strengths, weaknesses, foibles, and see how I can bring all of me to benefit others through work, and in life, in general. While I match and pace my clients, what they see is what I am – I am not much different if I am running a course, talking to a friend or on a date – although my clothing might be a bit different! Although, even that has changed and is more what I like and feel comfortable in, rather than what my inner critic and fearful child thinks a consultant ‘should' wear.
What does being authentic mean to you? Who do you know who is really authentic? On a scale of 1 (not authentic) to 10 (completely authentic) where are you?
‘Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?'
How do you know if you are being authentic? Do you have different masks that you wear in different situations? Do you feel you can't be yourself with certain people or in certain situations, or ever? Do you hide your true feelings and thoughts? For me being authentic is about being honest about how I feel and what I think, without ‘dumping' on others, and while being diplomatic as appropriate to the situation. It is also about knowing what I want and need and that it is OK to express these desires and to ask for support if needed.
‘Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance.'
How will authenticity benefit you and those around you? From my clients' and my own experiences, being more authentic has brought about the following benefits:
- Feeling more relaxed and confident just being myself, not feeling that I need to be something else. If you wear different masks for different situations this is very tiring, keeping up appearances, versus relaxing and being yourself.
- By being open about myself and my life, ‘gives permission' to others to be open about themselves. This has deepened friendships, working relationships, and helped clients to be more open on both training courses and in coaching.
- Others are not trying to mind read what is going on for you, what you are thinking and feeling which we, quite frankly, often get wrong. Wouldn't it be easier if we were all a bit more open about ourselves so we didn't have to second guess others' thoughts or feelings?
- You get more support and comfort if you let others know when you are feeling ill, down or frustrated (not necessarily with them). They are then able to support and understand you. Otherwise, how can we support each other if we don't really know what is going on for us in our lives?
- Avoid making the wrong decisions – How many times have you made decisions that have not been right for you because you were not being true to yourself? Last year I was going to get involved in a dear friend's new online learning business, creating some podcasts for students based on my work. We had a number of discussions and email exchanges about her expectations, what I would do, etc. Having linked up with many different associates in the past, I was aware of what works and what doesn't. I started to feel uncomfortable about the situation, without really knowing why. It turns out my friend was also having second thoughts. Thankfully, we both felt uncomfortable at the same time, and had a telephone conversation about both our concerns about entering into a business relationship with each other. And we decided that our friendship was more important than doing this work together, and we were both mightily relieved once we had made the telephone call.
- A more relaxed colleague, friend, family member – A colleague of mine, who is now a great friend, once said that when he met me about 20 years ago I was ‘scary', not because I was aggressive, but I was so buttoned up, so much of a control freak. Now that the masks are off, the real me comes out to play, I am much more relaxing and fun to be around!
‘When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.'
What would be the benefits to you and people around you of becoming more authentic?
Can authenticity be an excuse for bad behaviour? There has always been a question in my mind about authenticity, with all the books that have been written on becoming an authentic manager, leader, parent, etc. Surely people who throw their weight around, are angry with others, or sulk for weeks on end and make others' lives hell, are just being true and authentic to their feelings? In one way they are, or at least to their surface feelings. But if they could be truly authentic, they would be able to acknowledge their true wants, needs, and dreams and communicate these in an open, honest, and assertive way.
We seem to assume that authenticity goes alongside a respect for others and their wants, needs and desires. If your beliefs and values are not in line with this you can still be authentic, but the result won't be as positive to those around you. After all, Hitler and are other dictators are being authentic to their own thoughts, feelings and values, they just are not the kind of values that most of the rest of the world values!!
‘We have no more right to put our discordant states of mind into the lives of those around us and rob them of their sunshine and brightness than we have to enter their houses and steal their silverware.'
Julia Moss Seton
Who do you know who is authentic but has a negative impact on others?
How do you work on becoming more authentic? – Even though I have come a long way in becoming more authentic I know that there are still areas that can be worked on. For example, do I truly accept my body shape/weight or tolerate it (of course, being open about this to all the readers of Inspire is one way of being more authentic about it!!). Even though I have come a long way in being open and honest with others, there are times when I hold back from ‘speaking the truth', is this me being diplomatic or not truly authentic? And, of course, it does depend on the circumstances. So how can we work on being more authentic:
- Start off in a safe environment – Julie Hay in her book ‘Working It Out At Work' about Transactional Analysis, says that you don't learn to ride a bike on the hard shoulder of a motorway, you do it in safe streets or an empty car park on a Sunday! So find safe situations and people you feel safe with to start to be more open about your thoughts and feelings.
- Pace yourself – For me, and most people, becoming more authentic is a gradual process, gradually being more open, more myself. For most people, they don't suddenly get out of bed one morning and are suddenly authentic, this might be a bit of a shock to family, friends, colleagues and to yourself.
- Be honest with yourself first – The more honest you can be with yourself about your thoughts, feelings, your fears, hopes and dreams, the easier it will be in being open with others.
- Master your inner critic – It is very hard to be authentic if you are ruled by your inner critic. If it is telling you how you ‘should' look and behave, or what you should and shouldn't say.
- Explore what is stopping you – What are your beliefs about becoming more authentic? Are they helping or hindering you? If you believe that if you are more open and honest people won't like you, or ‘I'll get fired', or ‘I won't know who I am', then these beliefs are likely to hold you back.
- Find role models and observe others who are authentic – Are there people you admire, respect, and feel good around, who are authentic? Use them as role models, see how they behave, what they say. What impact does that have on others and on their success, their happiness?
- Find your own way of being authentic – Being authentic is, by its very nature, a personal process. You will find your own way to live your life, dress, talk about yourself.
- Go easy on yourself – I think that becoming authentic, like becoming more assertive, is a lifelong process. Just as you think you have mastered it, you encounter new situations that test your ability to be authentic.
What action are you going to take to increase your authenticity?
‘Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.'