Authenticity is typically defined as being true to who we are.
I will go a step further and say that authenticity is being true to the best versions of ourselves. It is easy to excuse less-than-optimal word and action in politics and in personal relationships by claiming to be authentic, willing to "tell it like it is." The fact is that authenticity is not earned through honesty with others, but through honesty with ourselves.
An authentic person is not ruled by their insecurities, but by well-examined principles. An authentic person is capable of recognizing their failings (publicly and privately), and actively works on them to better themselves. An authentic person knows their greater purpose and uses it as their driver for change. An authentic person does not need to describe themselves as authentic. It's clear in the way they live their life.
With this qualifier of being the best version of ourselves, we need a few principles in place to know what that best version is.
The ability to hold a vast perspective of time and space, the confidence that things are happening as they need to when they need to.
Impatience is a symptom of focusing on what is outside of our control, rather than what is within our control. It is focused on outcomes, rather than on efforts. When we are confident that we are taking the actions we need to, and have developed a mindset based on effort over outcome, we can learn to be patient.
The perspective that we do not know everything about anything, and that we will always have room to grow.
A lack of openness to new ideas or to the unfamiliar will lead us to defensiveness, while reverence for novelty for its own sake will distract us from what is true. Humility keeps us grounded in reality, accepting of change without forcing it.
The ability to balance what we take in (food, drink, social media, external stressors) and what we put out (what we speak, how we speak, and what we do). Restraint, composure, steadiness.
When we lack moderation in any modality, whether input or output (knowing that our input will influence our output), we risk tipping our emotional and mental balance to extremes. Moderation asks us to be mindful of over-indulgence and under-nourishment, of forcing action and standing idle, of reacting versus responding. Being moderate gives us the means to separate our thoughts from our selves, our impulses from our actions.
The ability to act within our principles and values, taking action when duty calls us to.
Courage is a form of extreme ownership. When we lack the courage to be ourselves, authenticity is impossible. When we lack the courage to own up to our weaknesses or mistakes, authenticity is impossible.
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, 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.
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 ourselves to such a degree that authenticity is made possible and to have the courage to be vulnerable about it.
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 self-aware to a degree rarely seen, and 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. This extreme ownership leads to sophisticated problem-solving and contentment.
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.