What Does Being Authentic Even Mean?
The number one piece of advice I hear these days is to “be authentic” or “just be yourself” and I have a very serious question: What does “being authentic” even mean?
We live in a time and place where there is SO much information and we have 24/7 access to people’s thoughts and ideas through social media, podcasts, and youtube. This never-ending access to information is available through a small rectangle that fits in our pocket. Pretty amazing.
But with this constant access to other people’s thoughts and ideas, it can be tricky to break through the noise to figure out (and live out) who YOU truly are. What do YOU really think about any specific topic? What are the true values in YOUR life? What do YOU want to share with the world?
Cutting Through The Noise
That is the first problem with being authentic: With so much information at our fingertips, how do we filter it out and get to what we truly think?
Well. The way we filter out excess noise is done in two ways. We turn down the noise around us, or we raise our noise until we have drowned out anything in our vicinity. To turn down the noise around us we have to unplug and spend some time in our own minds. I think this is why habits and hobbies like going on walks and journalling have had a resurgence. We all want a bit more “silence” so we can ponder and reflect our own ideas.
The other option is to raise our own noise until everything else is drowned out. This could look like starting your OWN podcast or youtube channel or any kind of passion project that means you will be so focused on your own noise, you won’t spend so much time soaking in everyone else’s. Both of these options will get you some more clarity on who YOU really are, and will help you live more true to that person.
The Power of Influence
But now we have hit another problem. When I think of being authentic, I think of being true to myself and not letting other people alter or change me. Being the most “me” I can be, if you will.
Here is the thing, what about the fact that SO much of who I am I have taken from those around me? Like my parents and coworkers and managers and clients and friends and siblings and the podcasts I listen to and the articles I read. If I get all of my ideas and opinions and attitudes from ALL of these other people, how the heck do I just BE ME??
I thought about that for a long time and this is what I came to: I am a very specific combination of these opinions and ideas and experiences that I have been exposed to. Being authentic to that specific combination means taking all of those opinions and ideas and experiences and living the truths and values that I have found in that combo. If that makes any sense.
What If I Change?
Okay last problem, promise! This last one is just this simple dilemma: How can I continue being authentic when “being true to myself” can change SO MANY TIMES throughout my life?
If I one day decide that I actually don’t want kids (because at the moment, I do – at some point in the future) will I have been inauthentic in all my years of wanting kids? Of course not! We all grow and change and learn new things about ourselves and the world. This is just another way that being authentic can feel so confusing. If we are constantly evolving, what on earth does being true to yourself even look like?
But here (after thinking through these issues quite a lot today) is my final thought on the subject. For now.
Being authentic is embracing the time and effort to get to know yourself. Investing in your own ideas and projects instead of only consuming the ideas and projects of others. Realizing that you are a fantastic mixture of the ideas of those around you and your lived experiences. And accepting that being truly and exactly yourself takes work. It takes checking in on yourself to constantly reshape your ideas and values, and then living by them at the same time. What a very complicated and wonderful idea.