Authenticity is typically defined as being true to who we are.
Yet this definition misses an important opportunity: authenticity is being true to the best versions of ourselves.
There are certain qualities inherent in all authentic people. Authenticity demands a centeredness, an internal compass that points us towards passions, principles, and purpose. When we lack this compass, we chase what others have or what others think we should have. An authentic person knows their greater purpose and uses it as their driver for change. Authentic people are dedicated to their personal growth, embracing opportunities to develop their characters and contribute to their purpose.
The perspective that we do not know everything about anything and that we will always have room to grow.
A person who lacks humility cannot see options for thought and action outside of their own (often immediate) experience, so they are limited in their ability to solve problems and will hinder their growth. They become their own greatest obstacle.
A humble person knows that they may be wrong, may make mistakes, and can learn from others. Humility opens the door to other perspectives.
The ability to balance what we take in (food, drink, social media, external stressors) and what we put out (what we say and what we do). Restraint, composure, and steadiness in thought, word, and deed. How we allow ourselves to think and believe influences our behavior. A person demonstrating self-control has mastered their mind.
Authenticity requires asking ourselves why we do what we do and whether it is in line with our principles and purpose. A person without a practice of self-reflection is at the mercy of their impulses and insecurities, and is therefore at risk of living outside of their principles and purpose.
Using our will is the greatest gift that we have, and we are given it in equal measure from birth to death. Combining self-control with humility means that we are able to separate our insecurities from our actions, being mindful of over-indulgence and under-nourishment, of forcing action and standing idle, of reacting versus responding. Self-control is thoughtfulness in action.
The ability to act within our principles and values, taking action when duty calls.
Courage is a form of extreme ownership. If being true to our best selves is the definition of authenticity, then we are responsible for both acting within our principles and acknowledging our opportunities for growth. Authenticity is earned by stepping up to the challenge of acting as our best selves.
An authentic person has the courage to own every choice they have made. When we lack the courage to own up to our weaknesses or mistakes, because courage is inseparable from vulnerability, authenticity is impossible.
The ability to hold a vast perspective of time, the confidence that things are happening as they need and when they need.
Impatience is a symptom of focusing on what is outside of our control (certain outcomes occurring on an arbitrary timeline), rather than what is within our control (how we think and what we do). This serves as a distraction from our principles and purpose, and often leads to impatient behavior, and therefore a loss of self-control.
Patience is learned through valuing our efforts and embracing the process, both well within our control.
Consistency in principle, word, and action. What expectations we apply to others we apply to everyone, including ourselves.
Integrity is a form of honesty. It is honesty between what we say and what we do and honesty with ourselves. When we are inconsistent in how we apply our principles, whether in application to ourselves or to selected others, we lack integrity.
What Authenticity is Not
Authenticity is a common claim among complainers, politicians, and narcissists, most frequently for "telling it like it is." In reality, authenticity has nothing to do with what we say about other people (or other externals that are outside of our control). Authenticity is only achieved through what we do have control over: what we choose to think and how we behave. Claims of bravery (for "stepping up" to "say what needs to be said" or "do what needs to be done") are reserved for those who put their lives or livelihoods on the line to tell the truth in service of something greater than themselves. Complaining about our jobs or gossiping about family and friends is not authenticity; it's childishness.
Authenticity is telling the truth about who we are, not about who we want others to see.
Authenticity is embodied in action. It's doing the right thing for the right reasons, accepting what we can change (the way we think and behave) and cannot change (literally everything else).
Authenticity in Our Imperfection
Authenticity is inseparable from our imperfection. The most authentic people are open about their shortcomings, because any artifice intended to manipulate the opinions of others (of even to hide from ourselves) is itself inauthentic. The goal is not to be perfect, it is to learn and value ourselves to such a degree that authenticity is made possible.
People who are living authentically have a clearly defined set of values and principles that they live by. This is their creed, their method of making decisions and of living in harmony. People who are authentic understand on a deep level why they’ve made every choice in their lives and they own those choices, whether they led to success, failure, or somewhere in the middle.
Authenticity is knowing our weaknesses intimately and objectively. People who are authentic are honest in their dealings with themselves and others. They take responsibility for their unhappiness, rather than blaming fate or other people for what is wrong in their lives, and this extreme ownership leads to sophisticated and creative problem-solving, confidence, and contentment.
An authentic person does not need to describe themselves as authentic. It's clear in the way they live their life. An authentic person has clearly defined values and a purpose they are striving towards.
Authenticity is a state that is highly individual.
It takes into account our personalities, our passions, our principles, and what we believe our purpose is.
When we don’t know ourselves enough to know these things, then it’s impossible to be authentic. Therefore, authenticity relies on our self-knowledge.
An invaluable exercise I’ve found is Mark Divine’s 3 Ps and One Thing. Outlined in his book, Unbeatable Mind, we find questions that can help us determine what our passions, our principles, our purpose, and our One Thing are. In knowing these things about ourselves, we clarify our decision making and our direction, therefore gaining authenticity.
Pull out your journal and answer these questions in as much detail as possible:
-What are you passionate about? What do you first think about when you wake up in the morning? What parts of your day or week excite you the most, bring you the most joy? What do you feel you could never have enough time to do?
-What principles and values guide you the most in your decision-making? What character strengths are most inseparable from who you are as a person? What do your values say about your passions?
-What do you believe your purpose in life is? If you knew that you would be successful and had all of the resources needed at your disposal, what would you do? What do your passions and principles say about your purpose?
-If you could achieve One Thing in your life, what would that be? What would you want your legacy to be? If you could contribute One Thing to the world, what would that be?
Once we have begun to define our 3 Ps and One Thing, we need to examine our input and output.
-what and how much media (books, TV, social media) we consume
-what and how much we eat and drink
-who we are influenced by
Are our influences in line with our 3 Ps and One Thing? Do we consume things and spend time with people that influence us into being the best version of ourselves? Do our friends, thoughts, and behavior practices lead to more patience, humility, moderation, courage, and integrity?
-what we say and who we say it to
-what we do and who we do it to
-who we influence
Is what we say and what we do in line with the best version of ourselves? Would we be comfortable having our actions broadcast to the world or do we keep secrets, gossip, and hide what we do? Do we attempt to manipulate the opinions or actions of others, or do we allow people to come to their own conclusions and behave and believe as they see best?
Self-examination is a practice of viewing our input and output from an objective standpoint, asking ourselves if our behavior and thought is in line with our best selves.
How can we address the inconsistencies we see between input and output? Through practicing awareness and developing patience, humility, moderation, courage, and integrity. The road to authenticity is long, but well-worth traveling.