The word authentic is everywhere these days. It’s a hashtag on Instagram. It’s discussed by your yoga teacher while you lie in savasana. It’s written into corporate mission statements and in the title of more than 8,000 books on Goodreads. But like any word that’s repeated over and over again, it’s beginning to lose its meaning. We’ve thrown it around so often that we’ve forgotten how it actually applies to real life.
I became so frustrated with authenticity the other day that I swore to stop saying it. Authenticity was a marketing ploy, a platitude, not a form of self expression. Definitely not a way of life.
But, reality check: I’m a life coach. I can’t abandon the word authenticity. It comes up almost every day in my work with clients. For example:
“I’m tired all the time.” How much energy are you expending trying to be someone you’re not?
“I’m so far away from reaching my goals.” When was the last time you actually said out loud what you really want?
“I feel disconnected from the people around me.” How much of yourself are you letting others see?
So today I want to claim back authenticity. Not by saying we should all recommit to our favorite hobby or reclaim our sense of style (and definitely not by saying the word authentic repeatedly in every day conversation in the hopes that saying will make it so). But instead, with something slightly more subtle: communication. And not just any communication.
With honest, timely, and kind communication.
This means sharing your real opinions, insights, and perspectives. And I don’t mean after you’ve filtered them, a few months after you originally thought them, or in a explosive reaction that shuts down all meaningful conversation. No. In a way that actually represents how you feel, when you feel it. In a way that reeks of vulnerability and courage.
So often we are afraid to let others know who we really are – to be weird, to have strong opinions, to stand up for what we believe in. We associate being ourselves with conflict, confrontation, or disappointment. But the fastest way to authenticity is with your voice. How much energy are we exerting by constantly filtering our thoughts through the “societal norms” and “is this what people expect of me” checklist? And while we may lose the people in our lives who want the quiet, non-confrontational version of us, we gain deeper, more real, more exciting, and less exhausting connection with everyone else.
What is gained when we express ourselves months after a situation arose? Especially if during those months we became increasingly resentful or watched an opportunity slip away? Communicating in a timely manner is important, because otherwise we’re allowing the damage to be done. We’re not taking responsibility for our own desires or happiness. In all the time we spent stewing on our feelings, we could have been making compromises, finding better arrangements, or prioritizing our health and sanity.
When we communicate how we feel, it has to be about us. It’s not an appraisal of someone else, and it’s never shaming, calling names, or acting out of spite. Making judgements shuts others out and prevents real communication from happening. So when it comes to vocalizing your opinion, be smart and sincere. Use I statements. Tap into your empathy. Channel compassion. Don’t tell others how they should or shouldn’t be, remember this is about you. Explain what brings you happiness, hurts your feelings, satiates your desires, and what is it you want from the world. It’s not an attack on anyone else, simply a declaration of yourself.
Every time we speak up, we become more ourself and less a churning production line of pre-approved societal mannerisms. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always comfortable, but it is freeing. Even better, it can help us begin to create what we actually want in life, by being who we want to be in life.