I joined the Elephant Journal Academy to learn how to become a better writer, and one of the best pieces of advice I received was to write from the heart.
In our eighth week, a quote came up that has stayed with me. It said that writing from the heart means, “You’re telling the truth—maybe for the first time in your life—in an authentic way.”
And there was that word: authenticity.
You know what happens when we bring attention to something, and all of a sudden we start seeing it everywhere? It was probably there all along but we didn’t notice, and now that we do, we can’t stop seeing it?
That’s what happened to me with “authenticity.” It kept showing up, not just within the program, but also in other readings and conversations.
I was talking to a friend about writing for Elephant Journal, and of course the topic of authenticity came up. We agreed that we knew in our guts what it feels like to be authentic, but how do we put that into words? What does it mean to be authentic?
I had to find the answer. The academic, analytical side of me went in search of a definition. Merriam-Webster says authentic means to be “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” Okay, so that was a start. And it made sense. When we are authentic, we are true to ourselves. But, I needed to know more.
I turned to Dr. Brené Brown, who has dedicated her career to researching topics of shame and vulnerability. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she says:
“Before I started doing my research, I always thought of people as being either authentic or inauthentic. Authenticity was simply a quality that you had or that you were lacking. I think that’s the way most of us use the term: ‘She’s a very authentic person.’ But as I started immersing myself in the research and doing my own personal work, I realized that, like many desirable ways of being, authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice—a conscious choice of how we want to live.
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
There are people who consciously practice being authentic, there are people who don’t, and there are the rest of us who are authentic on some days and not so authentic on other days. ”
That was better. I had more to work with.
My right-brain took over and the intuitive, thoughtful side of me sat with this information. I looked for connections. The words that called out to me were personality, spirit, honesty, being our true selves, and conscious choice.
I felt I had the words, but now I needed to understand how to apply them to my life. These are the questions I asked myself to evaluate my authenticity:
1. How can we be authentic, and still play different roles?
Different aspects of my personality and character show up in different situations, as it must be for most of us. I am a planner and organizer in my professional life, but I am spontaneous and fun-loving in my personal life. How can I be different in these roles, and still be authentic?
It wouldn’t be appropriate to be spontaneous and carefree in a work setting, as it wouldn’t be appropriate to be serious amongst friends. And, it is not just about our professional or personal selves, but also about the other roles we have as parents, siblings, partners, friends, mentors, bosses, caregivers, and others.
We show up differently for different people, and we can still be authentic for each of them. We use the appropriate parts of our character, our skills, and our sensibilities for each of the roles we play.
2. How can we be authentic and still meet the expectations others have of us?
I am an Indian woman. Society expects me to act and behave a certain way. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I choose to showcase the aspects of my life that best fit these expectations, so as to appease my family and community. In this way, I am not always authentic. I hide aspects of myself when I am afraid I will be judged.
Our society’s expectations affect our ability to be authentic, and this may take a toll on us. So, how do we reconcile this? Either we choose to be our authentic selves and possibly disappoint those around us, or we choose not to be authentic.
Every time we choose to not show who we truly are, a little piece of us, maybe just a fragment, dries up inside. The simple answer is that showing up as our true selves, regardless of judgement, is how we authentically honor our family, our, community, and ourselves.
3. What about spirituality and religion?
I treasure my spirit. I consider it the most intimate aspect of who I am. I nourish my spirit through my faith. My faith guides how I behave and how I process what happens to me. I am grateful for it when things go well, and I rely on it for strength and courage during tough times. My faith helps me be more authentic.
But, what about those of us who follow spiritual and religious practices without true faith? Perhaps it has been passed down through our family, we adopted it to feel we belong to a community, or we follow it to calm fears and insecurities. Whatever the reason, when we follow practices without identifying with their meaning, we don’t uplift our spirit.
Conforming without true belief does not serve us. It presents a false claim. The more we allow other factors to nick away at our true selves, the more our spirit hurts. Instead, we must find our true tribe.
4. What about fibs and white lies?
I am honest most of the time, but not all of the time. There are times when I fib to get out of social commitments or I tell a white lie because I do not want to hurt someone’s feelings. I know I am not alone in this.
I also know that when we lie, no matter how innocently, it is inauthentic. Is it worth it to be authentic if it means it will hurt someone? Perhaps not. I don’t feel good about myself when I lie, no matter how well-intended. I want to hide under the covers and hope I don’t get caught.
Perhaps it is better to deliver the truth kindly and gently, reducing the hurt to others while safeguarding our authenticity.
5. What if we haven’t figured out who our true self is?
I am still trying to figure out who I am. I have gone through a lot of change in the last few years. I have switched jobs, gotten a new degree, set up my own business, and moved cities. All of this movement has helped me get closer to my life’s purpose, but I am not there yet.
How can one really be authentic if they don’t yet know their true self?
Those who have a strong sense of their true self show it openly to the world with confidence and certainty—this is a show of authenticity.
For the rest of us who are still trying to figure it out, we can only be authentic to whom we we are in that moment, with the understanding that we are a work in progress.
Dr. Brown is right: authenticity is a conscious choice. Sometimes we act authentically, and sometimes we don’t. It is hard to be authentic, especially all of the time.
Every time we make the choice, we decide how we prioritize ourselves. When we are authentic, we put ourselves first. When we are authentic, we honor who we truly are.
Authenticity has helped me find my writing voice so that I can I write from the heart. I can feel the strength of my words coming from my gut. I represent and honor my personality, my family and community, my spirit and religion, and my truest self, and I do so without fibbing. I don’t have to hide behind my words. I can show them proudly and with confidence.
That is how I have come to understand authenticity.
 Brené, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection. Center City, MN: Hazelden. p. 49
Author: Sonee Singh
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