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In Search of Authenticity

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If you read any popular media these days, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that authenticity is a popular buzzword in many areas. To be successful these days you must be authentic, according to just about everyone. To have meaningful relationships, you must be authentic. Authenticity is being your real self, but are we quite sure who that is? My question is this, how do you know when you are and are not being authentic?

This may seem like a stupid question, but if you think about the way we grow up and socialize, the way we try to please and fit in, then you can see that all these things chip away at our authentic selves a bit at a time. If my parents reward me for being other than I truly am, guess how I’m most likely to behave? If my teacher rewards me for “good” behavior, I’m more likely to be “good” than not. If my role in my family is something I’ve had for many, many years, how hard is that to change?

It’s not hard to see how it is possible to arrive at a later point in your life and realize that your “social self” has pretty much taken over, and your “essential self” is getting kind of blurry. Questions like, “what do I want,” and “why am I doing this,” become pretty hard to answer. It’s hard to remember what you are passionate about, what you really love and what you meant to do with your life.

Thankfully this doesn’t have to be a permanent situation, it’s possible to get back in touch with your essential self, which is also your authentic self, and bring more balance to your life – and a by-product of more joy, passion, love and fun! I know it is possible to get so far away from your essential self that you worry it’s still there, but fear not, it is, it just may take a lot of digging to find it.

I read a blog post recently that used the River as a metaphor for a similar concept, and I think it can apply here as well. A River flows where it does because of the power and energy of the water, it finds the path of least resistance. When you try to dam a river, it takes a lot of work and energy, because you are working against the natural flow of the water. You also have to do a lot of work to maintain the dam, because the river’s flow will be pushing against it. So how does this relate?

First let’s think about your essential self. You were born with it, it’s your natural state, your natural way of being. It’s how you were as a child, prior to being molded into a socially acceptable being. It’s also the key to your loves and passions, your natural flow of energy. Getting in touch with your essential self requires some exploration, some questioning, some remembering. More than anything it’s paying attention to how things feel. What feels good, feels right, what lifts your mood, what brings you joy? The answers to these questions will give you some guidance and direction in getting back in touch with your essential self.

Another area to notice is what takes a lot of energy to maintain, what do you have to really work at? This begs the question, why does it take so much work and do you really want to do it? Are you working against yourself? Things that are in line with your essential self tend to feel effortless, just right, as if they are meant to be. Trying to be someone you are not takes a lot of work, effort, and energy, like trying to make someone like you. Paying attention to these things can give you valuable cues that you are moving toward, or away, from YOU.

So, to me, authenticity requires knowing who the heck you are, and then trying to be that person. We still have to fit in sometimes, or get along, or put up with tough situations, but always knowing it’s temporary. We can figure out just when we’re willing to do this and when we’re not, sometimes it can just cost too much. Because we are human, and life is a journey, we progress at our own pace, we learn what we can, we grow where we can, and our job is to just be the best version of us we can be. And that’s perfectly authentic.

“We forfeit three-fourths or ourselves in order to be like other people.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

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