What does it mean to be authentic?
The Merriam-Webster word of the year for 2023 was “Authentic”. If you are interested in why they chose that, and how they define it, you can find that here.
There is an old joke about sincerity being the secret to success. “once you can fake sincerity, you have it made”.
I feel like authenticity is a bit like that. Over the past couple of decades there has been an ever-increasing library of books written about authenticity – what it is, how to get it, how to keep it, how to lead with it etc.
I am always challenged by these concepts and the struggle we have to position ourselves in their meaning. I think that many of us have worked very hard to be “authentic”. I am still not sure what that means as an operational mode. I have read books on it, I can cite definitions, there are exercises you can do to “be more authentic”, or “show up as your true self”.
In an earlier blogpost I talked about the identities we assume based on our own and others’ expectations of us. (read that here)
I think that being authentic means showing up with integrity. That sounds good, but what does it look like?
When you look at your life, and all the identities you have, or roles you play, they may be quite varied. When I took inventory of my life, I identified the following incomplete list (in no particular order):
· A parent
· A partner
· A daughter
· A sister
· A sister-in law
· A cousin
· A niece
· An aunt
· A great aunt
· An engineer
· An educator
· A coach
· A friend
· A runner (or so I like to think)
· An athlete
· A business owner
· A neighbour
· A colleague
· A confidante
· A volunteer
· A leader
· A learner
So what? Well, I can tell you, that as the year cycles through it seasons, be they the weather seasons, work seasons, holiday seasons or other, the time I spend in each role, both in my head and actively pursuing activities and changes.
Sometimes my focus is more work-oriented, sometimes it is more family-oriented. I don’t behave the same way in each role. I have a different focus. I am not always the attentive friend that I want to be, or the best partner.
Also, I may be in more than one role at once. For example, when I am in “educator” mode, I am also almost always in “learner” mode. Wearing multiple hats and the specific context will affect which role plays the loudest. Almost like a jazz quartet. When I am being an educator I may be riffing in that role, but then something comes up that causes Educator to step out and Learner to step up.
But at the end of the day, I think that authenticity is about showing up with integrity.
What that means to me is that I am connected to my values, that I am enacting those values no matter what role I am in. When I start to let others’ values override my own, then I am giving up who I am, regardless of the hat I am wearing, and authenticity slips.
When that happens, I am not always aware of it on a conscious level, but have learned to recognize it sooner than I used to. I get a sense of discontent; a feeling that something isn’t quite right. And a feeling of disconnection. I start to “lose” myself. And until I recognize that, and recognize what I need to do about it, I am definitely not showing up authentically. This is most apt to happen when I start to bend to what I think others expect of me.
My commitment to myself for 2024, and now, apparently to you, is to pay more attention, to be more deliberate about being grounded in my values, and then acting accordingly.
(I did note that one of the other contenders for word of the year was "deep fake". Not a coincidence I think!)
I wonder what the word of the year for 2024 will be?
*If you would like to talk about how you can connect more with your values, reach out (email@example.com).