Being authentic (or striving to live an authentic life) is the most important thing to me these days, right alongside my cherished husband and two little boys. After having spent the first 35 years of my life in complete misalignment with the genuine desires of my heart and soul, I finally realised that I had lived my life trying to live up to the expectations of others, trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be. I struggled and pushed myself relentlessly in studies and a career that weren’t aligned with my strengths, but rather what I thought would win me the validation and approval I desperately craved. I became a master of shape-shifting, able to adapt myself to be what I thought others wanted me to be. I played small and dimmed my light, trying to fit into groups who couldn’t see or appreciate the real me. I didn’t feel as though the world could or would accept the real me. It didn’t feel ‘safe’ to be me, and if the truth be told, I didn’t know how to be me.
And while I’ve come a long way, I still find it very difficult in many situations to be the real me. I still find myself shape-shifting to fit in with certain people or groups, and as Brene Brown’s quote says above, authenticity is “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real”. I need to very consciously choose to be real. I often don’t say or do something because I’m worried about how it could be perceived. And sadly, while I want more than anything to be true to my deepest beliefs and desires, quite often I’m not. It’s not that easy. We’ve been conditioned and taught by our culture and society that it’s more important to be liked and to fit in than it is to be who we truly are. On top of that, many of us assume that who we are is not good enough and so we’re constantly trying to act like those who we think are better, or we dim ourselves down to match those around us so that we don’t stand out and attract unwanted resentment or judgment.
Imagine if we could all be incredibly proud of our unique personality, warts and all? Imagine how it would be if we all felt safe to shine brightly and show everyone the beautifully imperfect person that we are? To be courageously and unapologetically ourselves. My vision for my coaching business at Whispering Heart is to “support each other to find our own authentic voices, be true to our hearts and to joyfully bring our unique gifts into the world”. And if this is the case, I need to make a fierce commitment to live authentically myself. And so, for this month’s blog post, I decided to take a closer look at what being ‘authentic’ actually means.
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are”
– Brene Brown
The O magazine recently posted a great article on authenticity by Mike Robbins, author of Be Yourself, Everybody Else is Already Taken. He outlines five guiding principles that I thought serve as great guide posts.
Here they are:
The five guiding principles of authenticity
1. Know yourself
“Knowing ourselves, like being authentic, is a lifelong journey and process, and is an essential ingredient in the ability to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. The more deliberate we are about knowing ourselves, the more we can grow and evolve consciously”, says Mike Robbins. Knowing ourselves means being honest about who we truly are, understanding how our past has shaped our personality and our beliefs, confronting the parts of ourselves that we don’t particularly like and would rather avoid – you know, those bits that we might be a bit ashamed of but nonetheless form a part of who we are and how we think and behave. One of the most effective tools I know of for getting to know yourself deeply is The Enneagram, an ancient system for classifying the nine different personality types; it is an elegant system for understanding your strengths and ‘shadows’, and provides a road map to greater self-mastery. You can find out more at The Enneagram Institute.
2. Transform your fear
“Being who we really are, expressing ourselves honestly, being bold and going for what we want in life can cause a great deal of fear in us”, says Robbins. It’s natural to feel fearful about showing our real selves to those around us, and of expressing ourselves in a way that is unapologetically real. Personally I find it really scary to put my real self out there. The first time I wrote a blog post I experienced a ridiculous level of fear and to be honest I still do each time I publish something. By daring to speak out about our true feelings and views, we put ourselves in a vulnerable possible and expose ourselves to possible attack. There will always be people who love and appreciate what you have to say, who you are or are striving to be, and there will always be some people who dislike or despise what you have to say or do. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. But if you spend your life being fearful of being real and authentic, you’ll never experience the joy and freedom of authentic self expression.
3. Express yourself
Expressing yourself freely is the cornerstone of authenticity. It means speaking up about your views when appropriate and having the courage to challenge others respectfully when you disagree. It means having the courage to express the real you through your appearance, activities, home design and any other aspect of life that is an expression of you. Robbins says “When we’re willing to passionately, vulnerably and boldly speak up and express ourselves, we tap into our power in an authentic way.”
4. Be bold
Being bold, while scary and challenging for many of us, is essential if we’re going to live an authentic life. “Boldness is about stepping up and stepping out onto our “edge” in life—pushing the limits of what we think is possible or appropriate. It’s about living, speaking and acting in ways that are both courageous and true to who we really are”, says Robbins.
5. Celebrate who you are
“From a place of true self-appreciation and self-love, the fear behind our worries and the motivation for our goals dramatically changes from something we have to avoid or produce in order to be accepted and valued, to something we’re genuinely concerned about or really want to accomplish” says Robbins. Give yourself genuine appreciation for all the things you do, how you show up in life and your noble intentions. Celebrate the wonderful person you are, and forgive yourself lovingly for the areas where you feel you fall short. You’re only human after all. Appreciating yourself is a wonderful way to strengthen your ability to express yourself authentically; you’re no longer dependent on the approval or validation of others because you’re coming from a strong place of self love and appreciation. When you’re no longer motivated by the approval of others, now you are finally free to express yourself freely and unapologetically.
In addition to these 5 guiding principles above, Robbins suggests that being authentic includes the following elements.
Being authentic means you…
- Live true to your values, expressing yourself, taking risks, focusing on what matters.
- When you have a conflict with someone, you talk with him/her about it directly.
- When you need help or support, you reach out and ask for it.
- You know what matters most in your life, and you live consistently according to your priorities.
- When you don’t understand something, you admit it and ask for clarification.
- When someone challenges or disagrees with you, you don’t back down if you know it’s your own personal truth.
- You are not strongly influenced by the opinions of those around you – your heart is your most important guiding compass.
- You usually feel safe speaking up and sharing your true feelings, even if they’re negative.
- You don’t worry about making mistakes and letting people down – you certainly don’t let that stop you doing anything.
- You are aware of your strengths and feel grateful for them.
- When you make a mistake, you have compassion for yourself.
- When you don’t want to do something, you say no.
- You go after what you want and you’re willing to take risks to get it.
- You’re willing to admit when you’re wrong, and apologise accordingly.
- You embrace all your feelings, even the ones you don’t like.
And here’s something that feels really liberating to do! Robbins suggests that if you’re serious about stepping up and being authentic, why not write a letter to the old you and tell them you’re moving on – a sort of break up letter to your old, less-than-real self. It can go something like this.
The break-up letter – This is where I leave you
(I’ve written my own specific parts of Robbin’s recommended letter in italics below. If you’re tired of playing small and hiding your true self from the world, write out this letter and substitute your own words in the italic sections!)
Dear Fake Me,
It wasn’t all bad. We had a good run. I know you were trying to protect me when you kept me from admitting that I wanted to break free from the life I had created for myself, that I wasn’t living in alignment with my heart and soul, and that I wanted to make radical changes in my life. And I know you were trying to protect me when you got me out of saying no to that voice in my head that really wanted to drop everything and follow my heart, which would have made life really uncomfortable. (Remember? We just quietly seethed inside instead. Good times!)
Plus, there were all those times we spent running around after other people, doing things we didn’t really want to be doing, to please others. And you stopped me from following my heart, by making sure I was too afraid. That’s what’s really held us together all this time, you know? Fear. Of being seen. Of being disliked. Of not being loved for who I am. Of not making my parents proud. Of not being seen as ‘successful’.
But now – and I hope you won’t take this personally – we’ve grown apart. Remember that time you said I couldn’t show my real self to the world? That’s it’s not safe to be me, fully, that’s it’s not safe to shine my light … even though I wanted to so much? I always thought you were looking out for me. But really, you were controlling me. I was too scared to tell the difference.
And now here we are.
We’re through. I’m ready to start speaking up. I’m ready to be the version of me that shares and shows what’s REALLY going on inside of me, that never says or does anything to try to appease others. I’m ready to stop being inauthentic and start being myself fully, brilliantly, as flawed as I am, in all my imperfect glory. I don’t want to keep my feelings bottled up when I’m with my family and friends, and when I feel as though someone will be uncomfortable with what I have to say, and every time someone tries to shame me.
But most of all, I plan never again to fake it – to pretend I’m somebody I am not, or to pretend I’m OK with superficial, inauthentic conversations, when really I just want to be real, and for everybody else to be real.
You served a purpose in my life, but we want different things. It’s not you, it’s that you’re not me.
So take care of yourself, you won’t hear from me again.
THE REAL ME xxx
Wow – it feels so good to write that! I feel the power surging within me already. It feels amazing to take a stand for nothing less than becoming my true, authentic self.
So come on, let’s start with an intention to be real, genuine and unapologetically authentic. Are you in?
In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,