And why it’s also the hardest.
If you think back to all the moments in your life where you’ve felt the most connected to another human being`… what do they all have in common?
In those situations, at least one of you was being completely authentic. Vulnerable. Raw.
However you choose to name it, the ability to be genuinely true to yourself is one of the most compelling, charismatic gifts you can possibly give to other people around you.
It works both in the most intimate situations – like in the moments you realize you love someone – and on the widest scale, when celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence or Chris Hemsworth are able to charm millions by happily admitting things that many of us might normally hide out of shame or embarrassment.
But it’s also one of the hardest, scariest things that any of us can do.
Why is it so hard?
We as humans are social beings, and we naturally want to be liked and to look good to others. And feeling that this requires us to present ourselves in a certain way means that, on some deep, instinctive level, we don’t accept ourselves. For each action we take, part of us wonders what our father would say; how our mother would react; how our friends would judge us…
We censor ourselves and put on a persona which we think will be accepted, change the way we dress, choose our words, and even begin to move our bodies differently. Over time, these become unconscious habits, and we truly start believing that who we show ourselves as to others is really our true self.
This is a universal human trait which evolves from the very moment we realize that other people think and see the world differently than we do, and it plays an incredibly vital part in developing a sense of individuality.
The problem with this is that if we only ever show part of ourselves to the world, then other people are only ever going to be able to connect to that single part of us. The parts of our personality we don’t show are areas and aspects of ourselves that we don’t fully trust; and if there’s no trust in the self, then that’s an aspect of life that we’re living just for the sake of another person’s opinion.
When we commit to doing things with our life that aren’t for ourselves, part of us knows that we’re doing this because it’s not energizing. We come back home from our workday, that weekend party, or dinner with our parents completely exhausted – because we’ve been playing a role, instead of being ourselves.
In Bronnie Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the number one regret that people had, as they looked back on their lives, was wishing that they hadn’t lived for the expectations of others.
How can you start changing this today?
One Simple Technique
The job of our ego – or conscious mind – is to interpret reality in a way which fits with the story that we tell ourselves about our own lives. And the way that our clever, agile, ever-so-creative egos tend to interpret “be yourself” is actually to limit ourselves… to resist change, to filter out any small details that might tell us that our understanding of ourselves (and how the world perceives us) might not actually be the way we think that it is.
But the path to authenticity isn’t in avoiding the hard thing, it’s doing the hard thing.
It’s asking yourself, in every anxious moment, in every moment that you don’t know what to say or do: “What am I afraid that other people might know about me, that might be true?”
Then admitting that out loud to people you trust. To people who care. The people that are in your life.
Apps and online forums where you can post your truth anonymously are extremely popular, of course, but admitting something in a situation that has zero consequences brings you the equal amount of rewards. Zero.
But by shining a light onto the things you hide, you discover if they’re true or not. The things we’re ashamed of are the things that secretly matter to us, and only by bringing them to light can we ever hope to face them and improve.
The Social Rewards of Authenticity
When you open up about things you’ve been holding back, you might be surprised by the reactions you get. If people have known you for awhile, you will oftentimes find that somehow, they had already suspected.
That despite all the energy you’d been putting into playing what you thought was the acceptable role, people could instinctively feel who you really were underneath, and were going along with it anyway.
Once you admit these things to yourself and to others, you can transform. Now that you don’t have to spend so much energy acting like something you’re not, you can begin putting that energy into growing – alongside other people who value the same things.
If you look back on your life and think about the moments when you were able to let go and fully be yourself, I’ll bet you anything that it felt good.
Funnily enough, it feels good for other people to be around that, too! By showing that you’re comfortable with who you are, you give everyone around you permission to also relax a little more into themselves.
For years, I avoided writing, because nothing impresses me more in other humans than their skill with words. Every time I’d think about starting, I’d find myself in fear that what I had to say could never have the elegance and wit of the people that I looked up to.
This is my authenticity.
All my best wishes in expressing yours.