But first, what are we even talking about? What does authenticity mean? As Christopher D. Connors remarked:
“Authenticity has faced something of a public relations crisis in recent times. It seems the word has lost meaning because it’s now ubiquitous in business, on personal blogs and even in style magazines. Everyone wants to be authentic.”
According to Wiktionary, “authentic” inter alia means “conforming to reality.”
Isn’t that interesting?
It is one of the strange paradoxes of our times (and probably of all human times) that most of us — to varying degrees — are out of touch with reality in one or more areas of life.
Whereas some reality distortions are clearly clinical (for instance, in schizophrenic episodes), many others are deemed to be normal by a large segment of society.
It’s easy to see the reality distortions of past societies, right? One example is the once dominant belief that the world is flat. ” />(←not flat!)
Because we are immersed in our current culture, it is much harder for us to correctly identify present societal reality distortions (for instance, unrealistic beauty standards created through photoshopping).
These reality distortions are not set in stone but subject to change, as this powerful example shows.
What is the difference between these two?
Rigidly held rules can also distort reality and stop you from being authentic.
Of course, it all depends on the quality of the rule.
Some rigidly held rules (for instance, those based on laws) are very appropriate and necessary for a well-functioning society.
Other rigidly help rules (such as “I can never disappoint anyone”) can stifle you. Because the truth is that we absolutely can disappoint other people — and if what people expect of us is unhealthy or inappropriate, disappointing them can be the exact right move.
Question: What are some rigidly held rules you have?
How can you tell the difference between helpful rigid rules and unhelpful ones?
To become more authentic, you need to let go of reality distortions and rigidly held rules.
The reason for this might be simple — throughout its oftentimes bleak history, humanity hasn’t had a lot of good role models for a life of happy authenticity.
The most obvious example for this is that even non-violent verbal disagreements with those in power could have gotten you into very big trouble in past times (and still do, in many places of the world).
Deeply imprinted into our collective consciousness is thus the belief that being who we really are directly threatens our safety.
There is another aspect to this fear: By nature, we are social creatures. Throughout most parts of human history, we wouldn’t have withstood the slightest chance of long-time survival without our group.
In many cultures worldwide, the well-being of the whole (group) is still far more important than the well-being of the individual.
Given our dependence on others, is it thus surprising that we — especially in our early, formative years — will do anything to belong, first to our family, then to a peer group? And that, in this vulnerable state, we are prone to soaking up the values of those who are important to us? And that we, later on, will believe these are our own values?
Ironically, these values are oftentimes not even authentic for the person(s) we learned them from (whether it is an authority figure, an institution, the media or our peer group). Oftentimes, they just perpetuate a cycle of inauthenticity — a cycle of inauthenticity that gets perpetuated until someone finds the courage to break out of the box.
Will you be that someone?
For so many people, it's important to learn how to shine without shame. Below, you'll find a conversation I hosted about that topic. While the conversation itself revolved around women's self-esteem and confidence, I believe the lesson in this video apply to everyone, regardless of gender.