Most of us know what it’s like to be around a truly authentic person and someone trying to be someone or something they just aren’t. Authentic people instill a sense of trust. You trust that what they say and do is based on how they really think and feel. In contrast, someone acting from a disingenuous place might appear unnatural, insecure, or dishonest.
But it isn’t always this clear-cut. Given the multitude of pressures to conform in certain situations, many of us find that we aren’t always as authentic as we could be in every situation, opting instead to assume many of the attitudes, beliefs, and even paths of our peers without consideration for what we really want or feel. After a while, it can be difficult for us to tell the difference between our ‘real’ selves and what society, our friends, or our work culture is influencing us to embrace and become. This can prevent us from genuinely connecting with others and erodes our confidence and self-trust.
In this article, we’ll examine what it means to be authentic, why it’s important, and why we sometimes suppress it anyway. We’ll also list some practices that help us live a little more authentically every day.
What it Means to Be Authentic
Authenticity comes from knowing what's important to you and remaining true to these values in the face of external pressures and expectations to think and behave a certain way. When you come from an authentic place, you are less likely to allow these external pressures to change who you truly are. This includes how you express yourself, who you connect with, and how you spend your time. It's difficult to define what authenticity looks like because everyone will express their authentic selves differently. It’s very personal. However, in general, the following behaviors are often shared among those who live and act authentically.
- Bringing one’s "whole self" to work or a relationship rather than putting on a fake face to please others.
- Speaking one’s mind and letting others know where they stand on things, even if what they have to say isn't particularly popular.
- Taking responsibility for one’s actions and not blaming them on someone else.
- Keeping promises; following through on the things they say they will do for themselves and others.
Why We Conform
The idea of expressing our authentic selves can be quite different from what it takes to put it into practice. We are wired (for survival) to want to “belong,” and for so long, there has been a real price to pay by veering too far from our organization or peer group’s expectations and norms. When we fear we have more to lose by being ourselves than we have to gain—we might adapt who we are to safeguard our status, reputation, paycheck, or whatever else might be at stake. So, it becomes easier (and seemingly safer) to suppress one’s true thoughts, feelings, or personality than to express them. Unfortunately, this leads to a lack of real connection. Rather than our friends and colleagues understanding who we truly are (and vice versa), they engage with our “persona”—or the false mask we employ to engage with our world.
Conformity isn’t entirely negative, of course. Often, we adopt unwritten social standards and protocols that allow us to meet somewhere in the middle, navigate our differences, and maintain a certain level of social order. However, it can be detrimental to living genuine lives (and to a healthy society) when expectations to conform are so rigid as to prevent us from expressing our genuine selves (including our ability to ask honest questions or express dissenting beliefs) without the threat of retribution.
The Benefits of Authenticity
It isn’t difficult to imagine the advantages of truly understanding ourselves and living on our own terms. Not only are we more likely to exhibit greater self-efficacy and garner respect from others, but we’re better able to realize our full potential and reap the additional rewards that come with living an inspired life. Below are just a few more ways authenticity can benefit us.
Authentic people tend to be more dedicated to their passions because they spend time on pursuits that genuinely inspire them and keep them moving forward.
Authentic people are better able to build deeper, more rewarding relationships because they are built on truth and allow for each person to express their genuine selves.
True confidence stems from self-trust. Those who live from a place of authenticity are more confident in their abilities because they can be honest with themselves. They know what they have to offer and where they need to improve.
Greater leadership influence
Authentic leaders model authenticity for others and earn the trust and loyalty of their team members.
Better mental health
When our thoughts and actions are aligned, we are free from the mental and emotional friction that comes from “working against ourselves.” We are also more likely to engage in behaviors that promote good mental health.
In addition to the personal benefits above, it’s essential to consider the broader cultural benefits of authenticity. A society or work culture where more people live true to their values rather than conform out of fear is more likely to allow people to discuss disparate viewpoints and solve real problems openly and intelligently, neutralizing the tendency toward ‘group think.’ It also fosters an environment where everyone can fully engage, leading to more thoughtful and genuine results from group efforts.
How to Live a More Authentic Life
To start living more authentically, it’s essential to become aware of how you actively counter your authentic self and then begin to cultivate a deeper self-awareness and courage. Here are some tips and practices to discover and develop authenticity.
Be aware of what you’re suppressing (and why)
Is there a part of you that you are not honoring? Interests or passions you are neglecting? True thoughts or feelings you are hiding? What excuses are you using for denying these parts of yourself? What can you do to start embracing more of your true self?
Be aware of what you’re projecting (and why)
Are there mannerisms you are projecting that feel unnatural to you? Are there beliefs you have adopted solely because your group shares them? Are you trying to project a certain identity at work (or elsewhere) that doesn’t quite feel like you? Are you a part of something you don’t completely agree with? Can you begin to let go of those things that aren’t authentically you?
Get in touch with your core values What is truly important to you (family, autonomy, health, truth, nature, personal growth, kindness, etc.)? Don’t think about what anyone else might say or what’s popular. Spend some time getting in touch with your values. Are you living in alignment with these values - or against them?
People tend to take on various ‘personas’ in different situations – at work, with friends, online, with family, etc. If you are never truly yourself in some of these environments, try bringing a little more of your authentic self to each environment or group. You might place reminders of home and personal interests on your desk at work – or invite a family member to spend time with you somewhere you might typically only invite a close friend (and vice versa).
Speak your mind
It takes courage to be honest and express yourself authentically but the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. Start by speaking your mind when you might typically remain silent. And invite others to do the same.
Our interests and passions (especially those not shared by many others) can help guide us closer to our authentic selves. Rather than ignoring pangs of curiosity, follow them. See where they lead. You might take up a hobby that provides an outlet for your unique creativity or enter a profession much more suited to your true nature than the one you’re currently a part of. In any case, the more we follow curiosity where it leads, the more authentic our lives can become.
Authenticity might be difficult for some of us, especially in certain environments. But when we see past the immediate rewards of ‘fitting in’ and, instead, begin to express more of our true selves - we create deeper, stronger connections, live more fulfilling lives, and be an example for others to do the same.