Doesn’t sound that impressive at first, does it?
After all, I exist and have built a life, so that should mean I’m already me, right? Not necessarily. The life we each build isn’t always a true reflection of who we are.
Carl Jung is famously quoted as saying,
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
Consider that Merriam-Webster includes in its definition of privilege that it is a right or advantage. So then it’s our right, or advantageous, to be our authentic selves. He also says this is who you become, which (correctly) suggests that often we are not.
Then what if being my authentic self is actually the advanced option? That’s what I choose to believe.
Being my authentic self means feeling fulfilled. I’m drawing in and connecting with people who are aligned with my values and interests. I get to do the things that bring me joy, like writing, donating my time, or being of service in some other way. I also get to experience those activities with people who enjoy them too. Happiness no longer feels out of reach.
Growing up, we have little choice in activities, classmates, and family members. We learn that fitting in is a priority and not doing so is failure. Sometimes that means hiding what we like and being part of activities and groups we don’t enjoy.
Eventually, we may find we’ve been molded into identities that were born from a desire to feel included rather than fulfilled. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel included, but this is not the same as belonging.
Belonging means being comfortable being your authentic self and not needing to change who you are in order to be accepted.
How might someone know if they’re not being their authentic selves? It isn’t easy. It can start with feeling unsettled without knowing why. Or even a general feeling of uneasiness when around specific people or when certain topics come up. We may shame ourselves out of exploring that feeling, thinking we’re being ungrateful for who and what we have in life.
Rather than push the feeling away when it arises, we can ask ourselves what doesn’t feel good and why.
My first inkling that I wasn’t being my authentic self came when I began to dread activities the main people in my life liked to do. Nights progressed into drinking as much as possible with bragging rights coming from consuming the most. Conversations revolved around gossip and judging others’ choices.
Hangovers feel terrible on their own, but a sense of emptiness exacerbated that discomfort. At first I shamed myself, thinking that I was allowing introversion to take over. Eventually I decreased my spent less time on specific activities and people, not understanding at first why I just couldn’t enjoy all of it. It was lonely at times but also a complete relief not to go.
That sense of relief encouraged me to seek understanding about why I felt that way. In this search, I began to look more closely at what I want and how to get there.
To explore transitioning to being more authentically me, I worked through a 30-day authenticity challenge, created by Josephine Hardman. It can be found on her podcast, Inner Work (episodes start in May 2023). Each episode is around 15 minutes and offers a set of thought-provoking questions and prompts.
I’m including a handful that helped me reconsider how I’ve been showing up in the world.
What does being authentic mean to you?
If you’re not sure where to start with this one, Google is a good starting point for examples of what this means.
What does being inauthentic mean to you? What are physical sensations and emotions that arise within you when you’re being inauthentic?
Google isn’t as helpful here as in the previous prompt. Many results focus on intentionally misleading people with being inauthentic. That’s not what we’re exploring here. The idea is that people often aren’t authentically themselves in order to avoid rejection and feel included.
Mind the past and explore the situations, experiences, or time periods in your life that led you to develop the belief “it is too scary, risky, or dangerous to be my authentic self.”
This was hard to pinpoint in my life, so I’m adding a personal example to clarify. I often hid my own successes in both work and school. Those closest to me didn’t prioritize those things, so I minimized my efforts and abilities to most people.
What do you feel or believe you would lose if you lived as your authentic self?
It’s possible that you’ll lose relationships and find that you have more time alone. This is a scary thought for most of us. It was for me, but then I embraced the opportunity to take several short trips on my own. I was able to do exactly what I wanted the entire time. One was a weekend Book Festival, and I wouldn’t have gone previously because it is something people in my friend-group wouldn’t have understood my interest in.
What do you feel you would gain if you lived as your authentic self?
Although you may lose relationships, there is potential to gain new ones with people more aligned with who you are. Cutting out some relationships forced me to find creative ways to connect with others and build new relationships. For me, this has included live online courses and community education events.
Making the decision to cut out relationships and activities that aren’t aligned with who we are is hard. Just know that exploring authenticity and finding less of a connection with some people isn’t a judgment against them. We can still care about them and move on if we’re not getting what we need from that relationship anymore.
You’re the only person who gets to be you in this life and there is no one else quite like you. The best part about that is you can’t get it wrong because there is no “right” way to be your authentic self.
“To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being…he has failed to realize his life’s own meaning.” ~ Carl Jung
If choices are made based on worrying about what others will think rather than ensuring joy and fulfillment, then our lives will never be our own. There’s no time limit on becoming who we truly are, so now is the perfect time to start.