In the last 10 years, the word authenticity has become a buzzword thrown around by people trying to prove how authentic they are (and sometimes failing quite miserably). We’re told to be our authentic selves, but what does that really mean in the age of social media, when a person can post pictures of what they’re eating or share inane bits of trivia about their life? Is that being authentic? Is being authentic sharing various moments of my life with people I may not even know personally and only have a surface level relationship with? Or is being authentic supposed to be something deeper and more meaningful?
For a long time, on social media and in my everyday interactions, I have kept a certain level of distance between myself and other people. I didn’t want to let people in too close. I don’t feel this decision to keep some distance between myself and other people was inauthentic, but I recognize that I opened myself up to deeper relationships when I stopped putting so much distance between myself and other people.
So what really is authenticity?
Let me tell you what authenticity isn’t. It isn’t sharing all of your intimate details with everyone in the world. Authenticity isn’t about other peoples’ expectations of how much you should share or how open you should be. Real authenticity isn’t some standard set for us by other people or by society, or whatever else.
Authenticity, in my experience, is about being true to yourself and letting that truth help you create the relationships you have with the people in your life. When I was distant from people, it didn’t mean I was less authentic. What it meant, in that particular moment, was that I was being true to myself by having boundaries in place that were healthy for me. But my decision to open up and share more of myself with other people, to let other people in more, also is authentic. I authentically made the choice to open up because I was ready to open up and let people in.
Genuine authenticity is on your terms, not someone else’s.
The problem I have with the buzzword aspect of authenticity is that it tries to set a standard for behavior, which strikes me as inauthentic. People are expected to be transparent and share — you know, be authentic — but how authentic can we really be if our standard of authenticity is derived from some standards or terms that other people set?
If you want to be your real self, then be your real self, on your terms. Don’t compromise who you are to live up to some standard set around a buzzword. Instead, trust yourself enough to figure out what being authentic really means to you. And if it means that you have some distance, that you don’t share everything, that’s okay, because genuine authenticity is really about intimacy — and the intimacy of connection should occur on your terms and the terms of the people you choose to allow into your life.
Knowing yourself means knowing what you are ready to share with other people. It means being comfortable and confident with yourself, or if you are uncomfortable, being able to embrace it as a learning opportunity instead of being forced into it.
So how do you become authentic? You already are, but here’s a few tips on how to honor yourself by being true to yourself:
- Respect your own boundaries and the boundaries of other people. We all have boundaries and we have them for reasons that are usually healthy for us. Respect your boundaries by figuring out what they are and asserting them when you need to. Respect other peoples’ boundaries by listening to them and not pushing for something they may not be ready to share. Being authentic means being in touch with your boundaries and honoring them. It shows not just respect for yourself, but also other people, because you are letting them know what you are comfortable with sharing. And paying attention to what other people share or don’t share is also authentic, because then you respect them as people.
- Embrace what you feel in the moment and explore it. In any given situation, you may have emotions and feelings come up. I respectfully suggest not pushing them down; instead, open yourself to feeling them. This doesn’t mean you have to let the overwhelm you, but what it can do is allow you to discover what you’re really feeling. Being in tune with who you are authentically means being in touch with your feelings and what comes up as a result.
- Focus on what truly moves you and makes you shine. What excites you? That is what you want to explore. Being authentic means that you aren’t compromising your passions and joys. It means you are actively pursuing what brings you to life, in order to make it part of your world and manifest it in the world at large.
Being authentic is really about being true to you and manifesting that in the world to share with other people, but on your terms. Just remember to respect other people and their own process of authenticity and sharing, as well.