The trap of authenticity


There are many conversations swirling around these days around authenticity, and what it means on both a personal and professional level. Being authentic has become a movement of sorts, one which I applaud, as its rightful place in life and leadership been a long time coming.

However, as with anything, authenticity as a concept can be taken too far.  It can be used as an excuse to unconsciously treat others poorly and to limit self-growth, as I think it’s easy to confuse authenticity with both our comfort zone and unconscious habits.

Let’s start with comfort zone. We all have our comfort zone, and if we’re self-aware and living a life in accordance with what’s important to us, our comfort zone can feel like our authentic zone also. It is, after all, the place where we feel comfortable, including comfortable in our own skin. It also, after awhile, can start to be a bit stifling, like there are some other authentic pieces of ourselves that are not included in this zone but should be. That’s the thing with comfort zones, if we’re on a path of growth, we grow out of them. They require expanding, and in the process of expanding there usually is some discomfort and awkwardness as we’re doing and experiencing new things in new ways. It’s all too easy to confuse that feeling of discomfort with being inauthentic.

As far as unconscious habit, it’s easy to think that your default reactions to certain people and situations are ‘authentic,’ especially when there is a pattern and predictability to how these interactions unfold. “That’s just how I am” is an easy response, and it’s not too far to go from that to “that’s authentic for me.” The question that may need to be asked though is, “is that how you want to be?” It’s important to ask yourself if you feel good about that particular habitual response, does it represent how you see your best self and does it elicit the response from others that you would like?

I would argue that our authentic selves are actually our best selves- that self that we are striving to be, growing into. Not our perfect self, mind you, as such a thing doesn’t exist. But our self that shows up in the way we aspire to be, and our self that makes amends and vows to do better when we miss that mark. Our authentic self isn’t necessarily who we are right now; it’s who we’re becoming, it’s the person who at the end of each day can reflect and be proud of how they handled things, how they reached and grew and how they connected with the people that matter. That is our authentic self.

I encourage my clients not to fall into the trap of thinking that something is not authentic for them, just because it’s new and uncomfortable. You probably need to try something on a few times before you can really tell if it’s authentic. If you’re used to wearing the same outfit most of the time, anything outside of that is going to feel a bit weird, at least in the short run. My challenge to you is to give new ways of doing and being some time and practice, and then check in with yourself on how authentic it feels.

Funny sidenote- when I searched ‘authentic images’ to find a photo for this post, it would appear that images of Vans (the shoes), aliens and angels run the show for authenticity.

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