For some time, I’ve thought of authenticity as the sort of end-all-be-all of self-improvement. As if, somehow, becoming truly authentic is the ultimate goal in terms of knowing, being, and expressing oneself.
For me, authenticity meant expressing outwardly (through behaviours, how you speak, how you dress, etc.) the person you truly are on the inside. I thought that by expressing your “true self” across all situations and environments, you could be consistently, and respectably, you. For me, authenticity never meant being brutally honest to the point of being an ass, it meant not changing who you are to please others.
I think authenticity has been such a juicy idea to me because (a) I used to work at a job that didn’t feel like it matched my values, goals, or the type of environment I wanted to be in, (b) I’m someone who tends to be a people pleaser and have made the mistake of saying what I thought people wanted hear, and (c) I’ve always admired people I consider to be authentic; people who don’t put on a certain “face” just to be liked.
I’ve wanted to promote authenticity as a kind-of protective factor against caring what other people think or letting them get in the way of accomplishing your goals. I wanted to write about authenticity, praising it and provoking thought on the subject by asking people if they’ve ever felt like they were lying about who they were or felt like the person they were on the inside didn’t match the person the rest of the world saw. I used to think being authentic meant presenting yourself the same way in every situation; as you.
Recently, my thoughts on authenticity have shifted, in part due to a piece of writing by blogger and Rookie Mag editor, Tavi Gevison (who I will quote throughout this post). I can’t say I don’t still admire authentic people and think authenticity is an honourable goal, but Tavi reminded me that by thinking of authenticity as a need to be consistent, I may be restricting myself from considering another perspective.
“It breaks my heart how often we stop ourselves from knowing an unexplored facet of who we already are—it’s there whether you acknowledge it or not—because ‘that’s not who I am.’ Or when a friend keeps herself from trying something new, not because it’s mean or unethical or dangerous, but because it strays from the narrative of who she’s been thus far.”
I’m not saying that feeling authentic isn’t amazing. Only you have the combination of genes, experiences, characteristics, interests, and habits that you do, and thus being yourself should be highly valued. However, I now acknowledge the existence of multiple sides, or archetypes, in everyone. It’s okay to express all the different, and seemingly incongruent, sides of who you are.
“It’s not “fake” to behave differently with an old relative than you would with a new friend, than you would with a teacher, than you would with a classmate. If anything, it’s an act of courtesy to acknowledge that these are separate people, with whole subjective realities that differ from one another, and whom you might connect with more effectively if you are not concerned with using them as an audience for the consistency of your personality.”
I love that last bit! By being adaptable and responsive to situations, people, and environments, you’re not being inauthentic or inconsistent, you’re expressing different aspects of your personality and connecting on different levels! It’s not about being ashamed of a part of yourself and hiding it from particular people, it’s about understanding that different people bring out different, and equally wonderful, sides of who you are (PS, if the people around you aren’t bringing out sides of you that you respect, make a change, either to yourself or your friend group).
Now, there may be certain sides of yourself that you’re not a fan of, but you can still work them into your identity in a positive way. For example, if you experience anxiety, you have the ability to work on lessening its negative effects on your life while still sharing this side of yourself when it can help others who struggle with anxiety. Don’t spend too much time hiding these bits of yourself, they are usually the ones that make you relatable, real, and able to help others feel less alone.
To find the balance between being authentic and expressing your different archetypes, get to know yourself! Let the necessary sides of you rise to the surface when life calls them! It’s one thing to express your professionalism at work and your playfulness with friends, but feeling like you have to suppress who you really are to succeed at work is not expressing a side of yourself (nor is it authentic), it’s harmful to you. Put yourself in environments that appreciate your strengths and make you feel excited and confident about who you are. Focus on what you like and how you feel and forget the ‘shoulds’ and the desire to be perceived as consistent. Be you, however that manifests!
“There’s so much to be said for following your instincts, not needing to put words to everything you do, not trying to choose one identity or decide how you ‘should’ feel.”
I haven’t dropped the desire to be authentic, I think I’ve just changed my definition of what it means to be authentic. I now acknowledge the importance of giving yourself permission to change over time, to express different aspects of your personality at different times, and to be okay with exploring these different archetypes of who you are. Even in regards to who I am online, I’d rather look back and feel nostalgia because I captured moments of joy and wrote about what interested me rather than having tried to create a persona that I will probably later feel disconnected from.
“Recently I was telling a friend that I felt like an impostor when people would say they connected with something I wrote ages ago but which I no longer agree with, because I’m not any of those people anymore. And he was like, ‘You’re right, you’re not. You’re better. But you had to be all of them first.’ ”
In Bronnie Ware’s 5 Regrets of the Dying, she says that a common regret people have near the end of there lives (she worked in palliative care) is wishing they “had the courage to live a life true to [themselves], not the life others expected of [them]”. I want to look back on life and appreciate how wonderful it was that I was uniquely myself, rather than merely wishing I’d fully expressed everything I was and had to offer. Don’t try to cultivate the ‘perfect’ version of yourself, just live in accordance with your values and do what you love and know is right!
“There is nothing catastrophic about switching out one plate for another. None of them are ever too far away, and living with the mindfuck of their coexistence instead of scrambling to somehow resolve it can feel really good. It’s one of the gifts of being alive. Getting to take yourself seriously enough to examine what’s wrong and celebrate what’s working, but not taking yourself so seriously that any of these moments define you or make any of us all that special.”
All un-cited quotes are from this aforementioned article by Tavi Gevinson.