Authenticity. A word I have been trying to understand for a couple of years now (or, in hindsight, for my whole life). What does it mean to live authentically? What happens when we don’t succeed at doing so? What is authenticity at its essence?
I could bore you with the dictionary definition and end my blog post here. Instead, I want to share what I have learned about authenticity and how it has altered my life forever. I hope it will do the same for you.
I’ve been pondering the meaning of authenticity for some time now and this is the conclusion I’ve come to: living authentically means making a conscious decision to live life as you are, as you want, as you feel you need to in order to be your true self.
It means overcoming your fear of vulnerability. It means allowing yourself to see failure as something to learn from. It also means challenging yourself and believing in your abilities. Authenticity leads to growth, peace, and happiness.
This is all nice in theory, but what does it really mean when applied to your life?
For starters, living authentically requires us to make changes in our lives. It means transforming the things in life that do not allow you to be yourself or to grow. For me, it meant overcoming the automatic feeling of defensiveness that arose at any sign of criticism in favour of viewing critique as feedback for improving myself. For you it might mean choosing to end unhealthy relationships that, if you’re being completely honest, you may only have in order to ease the discomfort of being alone. It may mean being alone for some time to get to know yourself better. The thing is, most of us are taught to fear being alone, and some people spend their lives avoiding the possibility.
Being alone can be extremely uncomfortable when you haven’t learned to love yourself. It means time to think, time to feel uncomfortable emotions, and time to reflect. Some of us suppress emotions because we feel that we have to be ‘strong’ and reject vulnerability because it helps keep us numb. But avoiding vulnerability also prevents us from creating genuine connections, challenging ourselves, or growing. We avoid it because it means opening ourselves up to the possibility of pain. We don’t want to feel pain – pain is scary. But as I’ve learned this past year, pain is scary until you learn to confront it. It can hurt at first, but when you grasp your pain and analyze it, when you learn from it, when you grow to be who you want to become, undefined by that pain, you are living authentically. It takes strength and courage to face your pain and be vulnerable, but doing so builds resiliency and changes our ability to handle pain. This ultimately allows us to live fulfilling lives without using fear to guide who we become.
It’s strange for me to look back on the person I was a year and a half ago. I was so afraid of being disliked, I feared criticism and rejection. My whole life, this fear worked to cast me into the shadows, it affected my self-esteem, it allowed me to stay in crappy relationships, to not take care of my body, etc. For a while, it felt like I had spent 20 years of my life living as a product of my pain. I was suffering for so long because I kept trying to live by everyone else’s expectations of me, without ever acknowledging what I truly wanted or what I felt I was meant to be doing in the world.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I decided to follow my inner drive, to be who I am at my essence, no matter how strange I may be to other people. It meant being vulnerable, admitting my dreams to the world, no matter how far-fetched. This realization has helped hold me accountable for the things that I want to be doing in life. I started this blog and decided to put a big piece of myself out there because I feel that I can help people who are learning the same lessons as me when navigating through life. As another example, I spent most of my life avoiding the one thing that I always wanted to be doing: music. My fear of rejection and vulnerability prevented me from being honest about what I desired in life or to show the art that I was creating to the world. But one year ago I decided that it was enough, I announced what I wanted to be doing to the world (assuming an instagram caption counts as an announcement), and I began holding myself accountable for learning what I need to learn in order to pursue a dream that most people would advise me to leave behind.
But that is only my story, and it’s still developing. I tell you this as a reminder that life is a process, growth is a journey, and authenticity is a learned ability that takes practice. If you’re unhappy in your life right now, I invite you to take a few days to be with yourself – meditate, write, do anything that helps you get connected. Allow yourself to feel the discomfort of accepting that you are not who or where you want to be right now, and allow yourself to be courageous and take the step forward into becoming who you want to be.
I truly believe that people will reach true happiness and fulfillment from living authentically. You will naturally be drawn to things and towards people that are good for you, you will thrive at the things that you are meant to be doing; the very things you may not currently be doing out of fear. I acknowledge that it is scary to live as your true self because it means being who you are whether people like it or not. Ultimately, the connections you begin to make when you’re being yourself are a hundred times more genuine simply because people will organically connect with who you are; you’ll never have to question whether someone really likes you for you. You will attract the things that you put out. When you radiate authenticity, joy, and freedom, you will be met with compatible experiences and people in your life. I invite you to take the challenge with me: live authentic, allow yourself to become the powerful source of energy you are.
We are all made up of unique experiences and abilities and we all serve a different purpose in the world. What’s yours?
If you want to learn more about vulnerability and what it means to live authentically, I recommend Brenè Brown’s work, it really inspired me when I first found it. I’d love to hear about your journey or answer any questions. Comment below or send me an email to continue the conversation!