What Does it Mean to Be Authentic? My Personal Quest
Like most Aristotle’s Cafe sessions, this question leaves me with more questions than answers.
I’ve been mulling over the idea for a while now and instead of packaging it neatly in a bullet point or two, I've decided to show you the thoughts that came up in the process of thinking over the question, what does it mean to be authentic?
- Does being authentic mean saying no to more things than I’d say yes to?
- Is it the same as knowing what coffee order is uniquely mine?
- Can anyone ever really be truly authentic? Aren’t we all social creatures?
- Does authenticity come from choosing the right things or people or both?
- Or is it about making choices about yourself instead?
- Is authenticity a choice or a way of living?
- How do you know what authenticity means to you? Do you only find out when you’re being inauthentic?
- Where does authenticity show up in our daily lives?
- If I am one thing, can I ever truly be another?
My Search For Authenticity
I properly started thinking about living authentically about 5 years ago now…
But if we’re being honest, I believe I can trace it back to when I would watch a certain TV show as a kid – about a teenager living double lives, and think – but which one is she, really? Who is she referring to while singing “This is real, this is me. I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be?” Will I ever be able to say the same?
What does it mean to be authentic?
A journey that began there, led me onto a path of chasing the concept of “being fearlessly authentic” – a slogan I was so enamored and perplexed by, that it quickly became my theme for everything in life – be it my leadership style, love letters or 3am conversations.
Recently, I came across this definition, put forward in Psychology Today:
“Authenticity is about congruence between our deeper values and beliefs (i.e., a ‘true self’) and our actions. When there is a lack of congruence, this leads to an emotional force that seeks reduction.
This posits a scientifically elusive but recognizable concept—the notion that there is an ‘authentic’ or ‘true self’ from which this lack of congruence is being generated (Harter, 2002; Sheldon, 2004; Strohminger, Knobe, & Newman, 2017).”
This particular definition made me wonder – as a child with no grasp of the concept of a “true self” or as an adult who doesn’t have enough time to spend thinking about “one’s deeper values”, will we ever experience this congruence? And how will we then sustain it?
In the world I grew up in, there was no time left in a day to spend on any of this “self-reflection” business…
The closest we were allowed to come to this introspection of “the self” was when we were asked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Without fail, no matter what we replied, we would be met with the statement “that’s great, just remember to be yourself.” Great advice but, myself who?
This made me think about all the times I experienced inauthenticity, be it through cold hugs, dead-end conversations, dissatisfaction after a long day of work, dissociation, or a general sense of disenchantment with the world.
Did I know I wasn’t being myself? Was this another trade-off people made in order to be good at life?
How do we take back the power of allowing our authentic selves to drive our lives and avoid the opportunity to trade it for a “better life”?
What Does it Mean to Be Authentic? – Starting Your Journey
Have you ever looked in a mirror and thought, “Who am I? And do I like that person?”
I believe that the journey to authenticity starts there.
It’s all about those moments that we take, to look at our literal or metaphorical reflections and think – how am I living my unique truth today?
In a world where trends are aplenty and “not fitting in” is the new fitting in – are we acting from a conscious choice led by our inner knowing or are we choosing the options that merely influence our place in society?
When everything is optimized for efficiency, it's these moments of silent reflection that begin to clear the path to authenticity…
But, what does it mean to be authentic?
Being true to yourself, in my experience, means being able to hold a space for that truth. To be compassionate in its handling, and non-judgemental in its findings. Looking inward with kind attention and an open mind is a habit, cultivated with the intention to merely explore our inner selves without any expectations of what we hope to find.
Be brave enough to sit with yourself and your thoughts and pay kind attention to them. All too often we try practicing meditation or mindfulness with the goal of thinking clearly, only to be met with a mess of tangled and intrusive thoughts.
As Shauna Shapiro says in her TEDx talk – “kindness gives us the courage to look at those parts of ourselves we don’t want to see.” Real courage lies in taking what we’ve found and allowing ourselves to shift or pivot without worrying about it compromising our integrity.
Courage, however, is simply vulnerability in action…
Take a moment today to ask yourself a strange question, something as simple as – What color feels most like me? If I chose to live today differently, what would I do? Which parts of my day do I find myself most comfortable in? Who am I when nobody’s watching?
You’d be surprised as to where these thoughts might take you!
For someone who’s just unlearning the myth of productivity = value and learning how to sit with myself more often, I can tell you that those few moments of kinder and stranger thinking can be the thing that brings you closer to your authentic self.
Being Authentic and No Easy Answers
So, what does it mean to be authentic?
I propose that maybe it’s the quest that will bring you closer to being the most fearlessly authentic version of yourself. That there’s no final destination called “Authenticity.” That the questions you ask, might actually be the answers you’ve been seeking all along.
What do you think authenticity is? Share your thoughts in the comments below…
About the Author
Kavya Tadakaluri is a young female entrepreneur who aims to create an impact in India’s social sector. Her passions include working on LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and watching sunsets on the beaches of Chennai. She is also a fellow of the Amani Institute and an aspiring social impact consultant. Connect with Kavya to talk about all things social, here.