Authenticity, it seems is the answer to everything. Whether its brands or influencers or the dog in the street, authenticity is the elusive goal, the solution we’re all looking for. But I quickly tire of buzzwords and so authentically revolted from the revolution until I ended up in therapy discussing just that. In truth I didn’t really know what it meant. Aren’t we all being our authentic selves? What does authentic mean even? No. No, we’re not. And in my case far from it. Authenticity is about being real. Being true to yourself and living by the things you believe in.
Carl Rogers, in On Becoming a Person, wrote that most psychological unease is a result of the difference between a person’s reality and their expectation. And sometimes we are so out of whack with ourselves that our expectations are so completely misaligned with who we are that unconsciously we sabotage any attempts to make them our reality. Let me explain. I’m a creative soul. As a kid I was industrious, always hacking about – hammering, stitching, music and dance – anything that took me out of my head and into my body. But as a teen I became very unsure of myself. Very taken in by others and what they were doing. What everyone else was doing was right and I had no real sense of self. I studied business in college and hated every second of it. I’m grateful for the drunken nights and the crab rangoon and some of my bestest pals but truth be told I was bored off my t*ts for 4 years. There was nothing fun about the learning, the whole experience was a chore, one I resisted every step of the way.
When I graduated I was on a high – fat frogs and freedom and anything else that fell into my path along the way.
I took job after job, commercial to the core. Sales and marketing, targets and tantrums. I’d start and soon fail, the 6 month itch set in. Instead of leaving, I’d try harder to prove that I could do it. Proving to who? To anyone but myself. The next job was the one, that was the big break. And 10 years later I felt as miserable as I had when I took that class on Information Systems (yawn). The promise of creativity by all but the deathly reality of routine and emails, politics killing me slowly inside.
But I showed up week after week and bit by bit I began to emerge. Each week as I dug deep – the good, the bad and the ugly shone so brightly I couldn’t avoid them anymore. It was in that growing self-awareness that I saw for the first time the parts of me I had been rejecting for so long. And it turns out they weren’t that bad after all. And I guess that’s what authenticity is about – knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, all the warts and accepting it wholly.
Finally, I started to strip it back and shed the expectations.
I began listening to myself and focused on the things that brought me joy. Doing the things that I enjoyed. A notorious night owl I pushed my start time back. I cooked and cleaned, I wrote. I called friends, ditched the iPhone. The ultimate cliche, I despised myself a little. I had less money than ever, less contact with the world but a weird knowing that I was on the right path. And I looked back in wonderment at the string of shocking choices made – in jobs, in men, in outfits, in life. What the absolute f*** was I thinking?
Knowing your authentic self allows you to take off the mask because you’re no longer scared of what you don’t know. You know yourself – the good points and bad, your freaky little wants and needs and there’s a certain ease that comes with that. The most important relationship you have is the one with yourself. Nail that truly and the rest will follow.