photo by: Patrick Lanigan
I’ve been having lots of conversations with people about what defines a community. With that conversation, the word ‘authenticity’ keeps coming up. It’s one of those buzz words that we all like to talk about but rarely do well. So what is authenticity? Let’s get a working definition as a frame of reference.
When we talk about authenticity, we need to add words like openness, realness, and vulnerability. I once heard someone describe it as having an ‘unprotected presence.’ That’s a good place to start. In a world where we’ve become so protected, guarded and hyperaware of our social media identities, it’s hard to find places to be real and let our defenses down. It’s almost like we’ve become programmed with these psychological defense mechanisms to exist in a protected way that, over time, we begin to lose more and more of our humanity. We become less of ourselves.
When was the last time you let your defenses down and allowed your imperfections step out into the daylight?
The truth of the matter is that most of the time, we won’t let this happen. We’re scared and for good reason. We live in a hypercritical culture that celebrates the image of perfection even though we know it’s rarely a true picture. We buy into an ideal that doesn’t really exist. To further complicate the situation, I believe that one of the truest desires of us as humans is to be known by one another. So here we are, stuck in a place; frozen between desire and fear.
Before laying out a roadmap towards being open and real, let’s first define what it isn’t. Commonly you may encounter some people that will tell you everything… I mean everything. This is oversharing. Oversharing isn’t authenticity.
I once knew someone who had, for lack of a better term, a massive case of verbal diarrhea. Every idea that came to their mind was offered in abundance to everyone within shouting distance. There was no unspoken thought – it was all out in the open. That’s a classic case of oversharing. When there is nothing withheld, nothing is sacred. Not everything needs to be said. Oversharing can be a defense mechanism. If you unleash every detail and thought out onto the world, it makes it hard to find the real bits. I call this the “needle in the haystack” syndrome. Hide the needle (the true parts of yourself) and everyone will only look at the hay. When cultivating authenticity in our lives, we have to remember that it’s all about context and degrees. Understanding the situation, the context, helps us to know when it’s appropriate and safe to be fully open. Taking that, and processing it through different degrees or spheres of relationship also helps us to know when and how much to disclose to others. A stranger on the bus has a different degree of influence than a close friend. It’s all about appropriateness.
Below is a good example of oversharing. Here, George Brett becomes a true TMI Hall of Famer.
Contains NSFW Language
You gotta hand it to Mr. Brett for keeping it real. But openness like this is more about a lack of self-awareness than being genuine, personal and authentic.
Authenticity comes more from a posture than a single event. Brené Brown says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” So how do we begin to walk it out? Here’s a few ideas for a starting point.
1. Be open
Let the world know you, be open with your thoughts, beliefs and opinions. Listening is also a big component of learning to be yourself. As you learn to open up, you also need to be available to see others in a similar way. To be authentic is to also looking beyond yourself. How do you value the people around you? How can your presence be a gift to those in your life? Part of being authentic is also helping others to do the same. We all have our own unique journeys in life. Embrace yours and be open and graceful to the path of others.
2. Be brave
Do people know the real you? If not, they’re probably missing out. Learn to embrace your own vulnerability – your past, including your mistakes and failures. This can be a tough task, but great things in life are rarely accomplished through taking the easy road. E.E. Cummings put it well when he said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Being yourself can be a huge act of bravery. The world needs less homogeny and more authenticity.
3. Be patient
Authenticity develops through practice. Work on being mindful as you approach each day. It’s about living into those moment-to-moment choices where you have to continue to decide to be yourself. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul so just remember that authenticity takes time. Give yourself a break and learn to laugh as life comes at you.
So what are your thoughts? How are you being authentic?