We probably all like to think we are authentic by nature and that we live authentically. After all, we don’t want to think we are ever viewed by others as fake, duplicitous, disingenuous, or presenting different ‘faces’ or personae in different environments and situations. But what does it mean to be an authentic person? And what does it mean to live authentically?
Selecting an appropriate pick and mix of definitions, appropriate to the context we’re talking about here, we usually understand authentic to mean: genuine, true, honest, valid and real. And in terms of our behaviour, authentic is taken to mean outwardly representing one’s true nature or beliefs and being true to oneself. I’d like to add, that for me, it means being open, transparent, and living inwardly and outwardly according to your own nature, with few hang-ups and psychological blocks which can make you compromise yourself, and that as far as other people are concerned, what they see in you is what they get.
A few weeks back I came across an article on writer, Karen Dowdall’s blog, in which she posted an article on this topic, which I think is by Brene Brown, posted originally on www.thepowerofpositivity.com, entitled ‘Why We Search for Authenticity in People’, which you can read on Karen’s site here
To give you the gist of the article, psychologists attribute the appeal of authenticity in people to three factors:
1. We believe that authentic people are more trustworthy because they seem to be true to themselves.
2. Genuine people often have a sense of individualism and firmness (derived from the habit of being true to oneself, even in difficult circumstances)
3. And in that vein, they remain true to themselves, which requires courage, strength and tenacity, which others admire.
And so authentic people are viewed as speaking their own mind, appreciating the unimportance of material living, making their own way, taking personal responsibility for themselves and their life, setting their own goals or values in life, acknowledging their faults and mistakes, not being judgemental, and not being frightened of failure.
If you pushed it a bit further, you could say they shine like a diamond, illuminating their own life and the lives of those around them with their inner glow. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But just how achievable is this, and what can get in the way?
Certainly, if you care too much what people think of you, being authentic will be hard to sustain, because being true to yourself in this sense can get you hurt (I know this one!). It also requires a great amount of self awareness and self knowledge which takes time, maturity and lots of practice to cultivate. There’s not much room for the ego here, let’s just go for healthy self esteem, and that needs some delicate balancing work. And how does being authentic work in the 9-5 working world when the collective of teamwork is deemed so important, where individualism is of far lesser importance or indeed relevance? Just how authentic can you be with your boss, if they have the power to fire you from the job you need to earn a living? How authentic can you be when dealing with an arrogant difficult customer who’s insulting you? Is the customer really always right? Of course not. How authentic can you be when you work in advertising, marketing, telesales? And for us creatives, who may stand a decent chance of cultivating authenticity because we’re largely working for ourselves and from inside of ourselves, with no one to answer to a good deal of the time, can we be totally authentic when trying to sell our work?
If you think it’s easy, just remember the hyperbole some artists end up using to sell themselves, all that gloss because they feel they have to take this approach because others are doing it, all that got to learn ‘to sell yourself’, and then there’s the dilemma of whether you create for the market and produce what sells, or create for yourself and retain your artistic integrity, there’s all that advice about being the agent of your own success and how you must never give up on the dream…even if pursuit of that dream is making you miserable, or where the cream has turned sour on you and you’d be better off cutting your losses and moving on to something else instead.
So I’d say it’s far from easy. But I do think it’s worth pursuing for even more personal reasons. In my reading I’ve come across a slightly different sense of what it means to be authentic and to live authentically. Jungian psychology argues we must work through our ‘complexes’ which we all naturally accumulate in ourselves: those expectations and deflations of hopes that have beset us since childhood; those chips on our shoulder; those protests from within which plague us; those social rules of life we’ve inherited or ‘received’, like if you work hard, you’ll reap the rewards, which we find out aren’t necessarily true; those reactive recurring patterns of behaviour born of injustices and grievances; and a host of other dissonances and triggers which give us angst, which especially by the time we get to midlife begin to rear their ugly heads with more assertiveness. But the argument here is that we should work through our hidden ‘stuff’ in order to come to a place where the inner us matches the outer us, in our feeling, thinking and behaviour, where there is no need for different faces and personas, so reaching a place of personal freedom, a kind of liberation for the soul. Self acceptance is a huge factor in this, and if we can accept ourselves (faults and all) we can accept and have empathy for others so much more effectively, we can give more to others. And this in turn, is better for us as individuals. If we have to suffer to get to this place of what is often termed increased ‘consciousness’(where the unconscious troublesome patterns are made conscious) and do a hell of lot of self reflection, monitoring and dialoguing with ourselves for a while, then so be it. No pain, no gain, as they say, and we can work through it to come out the other side refreshed and in a kind of way, cleansed.
I’m very aware I’m just scraping the top of the iceberg of this subject here, feeling a little like the penguin in the picture…
so I just can’t cover all of what I intended to say when I sat down to do this post (and even if I did, you’d probably get bored half way through the reading!), but I think for creative people, who frequently may well be of a sensitive nature and think more intensely about themselves in relation to society, and who have to counter self doubt and procrastination and a host of other ‘wee beasties’, as we say here in Scotland, to be productive in doing what we love, then reaching a place of authenticity is particularly important, for ourselves, for our inner peace and for our work.
I’ll finish with a quote from Jungian psychologist, James Hollis, from his book, The Middle Passage:
”If our courage holds, the Middle Passage brings us back to life…for all the anxiety there is an awesome sense of freedom as well. We may come even to realise that it does not matter what happens outside, as long as we have a vital connection with ourselves. The new found relationship with the inner life more than balances losses in the outer. The richness of the soul’s journey proves at least as rewarding as worldly achievement.’’
Interestingly, the Taoist philosophy of going with the flow, actually means living according to your own true nature. I really love it when philosophies collide from different places. So here’s to the journey!
And on a lighter note, as June says to Lucy in On Turtle Beach, ‘I’ll leave that with you, then’’ ;>) (sorry for the indulgence, but it’s a favourite line of mine now!)
(Pics from pixabay)