What does it mean to be authentic?Michael Schwengel
We hear it all the time, Be authentic. People want authenticity.
But what does that mean? How do we live by it? And why should we care about living authentically?
For myself, the search for authenticity actually started with a quest for something else entirely: fame, admiration, and power. A fixed point in the future when I would have “arrived”.
From a young age, I was enamored by the idea of being famous – at the time, a romantic vision of being untouchable, absolved from the monotony of day to day living, spared from feeling unremarkably human. When life got too difficult, too real, I’d click my heels and transport to another dimension where I thought “I meant something”, reminiscent of the applause I’d feel on stage in theatre as a child.
I would chase that dream for years, taking time away from college to pursue a career as a male model, landing an acting manager in Hollywood, each step leading closer to a glossy magazine “perfected” version of myself. And with each step I took, feeling increasingly depressed, anxious, and disconnected. I would come to finally realize that I was running from myself with great effort.
It was only when I stopped searching and started really listening to my body, my emotions, learning to “live in process”, and healing into “I AM ENOUGH” that I was able to turn the engines in the opposite direction. I should mention however, that this is a continuous exploration. Thanks to many amazing teachers, mentors, and friends along the way, I am continuing to learn what it means to be authentic each and every day.
Listening Deeply To Oneself
Living authentically means being willing to better understand yourself, and in turn, those around you. It’s about being honest with what you feel, especially when it’s uncomfortable. It means getting curious about your thoughts and emotions rather than ignoring them.
You start trusting yourself, honoring where you are, who you are and how you are.
Authenticity doesn’t wait for external proof. It takes the initiative to connect with its internal truth. It doesn’t worry about what the flaws might look like from the outside, but actually puts them on display as a sign of what makes you a unique expression of life.
Listening deeply to oneself means speaking from the heart, without the fear of rejection or being perfect.
Living In Process
“Life is a process. We are a process. The Universe is a process.”
― Anne Wilson Schaef
There is no “perfectly authentic“ version of you out there in the future. Seeking total perfection assumes there’s no room to make mistakes, learn, and grow. And when we feel we can’t take those risks, it’s easy to fall into what’s comfortable or habitual, even if it’s not aligned with our truth.
Being authentic means embracing imperfection. It means being willing to evolve who you want to be and what you want to do as you go. Life is a process that only unfolds as you build it. It will most likely not look like what you imagined when you started.
What authenticity looks like also changes. Rather than being caught up in achieving a specific image of it (and beating yourself up for not getting there), it helps to see life as a product that is always in beta. No matter what, there will always be defects, errors, adjustments to be made.
Authenticity is “living in process,” a balance of humility and gratitude, knowing that there is so much you don’t know, while at the same time, knowing what you already know is also enough. It’s about participating fully in life.
Staying In Our Own Lane
If we can embrace our imperfections, we can also embrace others’. Rather than crowding into another’s fully authentic lane by assuming there’s something to fix, learn to recognize the wholeness in them instead. (Byron Katie has an amazing tool that helps in this, called the “Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet” https://thework.com/)
It’s also easy to follow someone else’s path, or want to bring them into your own as confirmation that you’re going the “right” way. But just because most people are going one direction, doesn’t mean it’s the right direction for you.
Being authentic means giving up wanting to be liked or understood by everyone. It means living in integrity by staying in your own lane and being the only one to give yourself the validation that you need. You’re still open to suggestions, feedback, and the pointing out of blindspots in relationship with others, but your self-worth doesn’t depend on it.
Some people may become uncomfortable by your authenticity, because they were also seeking your approval for themselves. You resist the urge to play into the dream figure that others project onto you. And you resist the urge to project dream figures onto others.
Connecting Without Attaching
Authenticity allows you to connect on a deeper level with yourself and others, without getting too attached. It allows you to let go of playing certain roles that actually block you from relating to others.
There’s a difference between connecting with someone and attaching yourself to them. Connection seeks to remove separation through understanding, not admiration.
With ourselves, we can follow the same practice by connecting to the emotions and thoughts that are present in a given moment without overly identifying with any of it.
Above all, authenticity is about living to connect from the inside out.