Authenticity has always seemed like a daunting concept to me. It’s feels like a very grand and lofty achievement. I have never actually used the word authentic to describe myself. Maybe it’s because I have often felt that I couldn’t actually be authentic until I was “good enough” to be authentic. Do you know what I mean?
I’ve always valued authenticity, but I think I associate it with something akin to perfection. I considered authenticity to be the way of the yogi, the nun, the Buddhist monk, the Christian missionary. I know. I’m getting a little dramatic. But, for some reason, I didn’t ever feel like I could say I was an authentic person.
But the word authentic has come into my life a lot lately. And when things like that start happen, I figure it’s worth paying attention to and I decided it was time to do a little bit of digging. So, of course, I hit the good ole internet looking for the actual definition of authentic (Dictionary.com rocks). Here’s what I found.
Authentic: not false or copied; genuine; real; representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself
Hit me like a brick. I expected to see words like perfect, legitimate, authoritative, credible—all things that felt like they needed someone else’s stamp of approval to prove that, “Yes, indeed, she is authentic.” Someone else’s stamp of approval—you are good enough, you may refer to yourself as authentic.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was using the concept of authenticity the same way I use the concept of everything else. I was using it as a measuring stick against which I continually came up short. And I was waiting for someone else to tell me I measured up.
It goes a little like this:
- I’m not kind enough to be authentic.
- I’m not happy enough to be authentic.
- I’m not skinny enough to be authentic.
- I’m not smart enough to be authentic.
- I’m not humble enough to be authentic.
- I’m not a good enough mom to be authentic.
- I’m too lazy to be authentic.
- I’m not enlightened enough to be authentic.
- I get mad and angry so how in the world can I be authentic?
But I was with a close friend a couple of days ago who was talking about her perspective on authenticity. (In fact, it was this conversation that really inspired my interest in this). She said that being authentic is not about being perfect at all. It’s about being able to hold space for all the parts of you—the ones you like and the ones you don’t like—all at the same time.
I know that I am all about embracing the fact that nobody’s perfect— that we all have light in us and we all hold the dark. The words come out of my mouth regularly and I truly, in my soul, believe them. But here’s the catch, it’s so much easier to see the light in others and to see the dark in myself. But, as I challenge you all the time, how can I believe something to be true for everyone else but not believe it about me? I deserve the same consideration… don’t I…?
The reality is that authenticity isn’t about reaching some standard or some goal. It’s about being who you really are, all of who you are, even the parts you don’t like. Yep, even the dingy spaces, the bright spaces, the hopeful spaces, the frightening spaces, the petty spaces, the angry spaces, the jealous spaces, the talented spaces.
Authenticity is about being okay with who you are, exactly the way you are now, and it is about being okay with it enough to not try and pretend to be someone you’re not. Authenticity is NOT about spilling your guts and telling everybody your whole life story. There are some things that shouldn’t be said to some people and it’s important to choose wisely who you share things with.
But authenticity is about being real. Making sure that what you do and say come from a real place. The trick is to remember that that place doesn’t have to be a perfect place. I can help people work on their anxiety and depression, and still have to deal with my own anxiety and depression. I can help people work with body image and letting go of dieting even though I can still have days where I feel horrible about my body.
All that matters is that you’re honest about who you are. Authenticity is about taking off the mask and accepting that sometimes you wear a mask.
Authenticity is being able to accept that, as an individual, you are not just one thing, you are all things. And that is totally ok… :o)