7 Things You Do When You Live Your Life With Total Authenticity
When you’re doing it, you’ll feel it.
The term ‘authenticity’ gets a lot of buzz these days. But what does it really mean? Since I was little, people have been telling me to ‘be yourself!’ – but in the same breath, those same people often scolded me for saying or doing the wrong thing.
Sometimes I’m angry, irrational, exhausted, jealous, freaked out – just to name a few things people might rather I’d not be, at least not while I’m in their company. Does being authentic mean I’m supposed to ‘be myself’ when I feel those unpleasant and unattractive emotions? Is authenticity just an excuse to be an asshole? Am I supposed to be the exact same person at work, at home with my kids, and when I’m out with my girlfriends, in order to be authentic?
In short – no. Being authentic isn’t about being perfect, or never having negative feelings, or acting inappropriately in the name of ‘authenticity.’ Authenticity is about behaving in a way that’s true to who you are and respectful of others. It’s something you feel on a gut level. When you’re with someone who’s authentic, you know it, even if you don’t know why. You trust that person; you feel safe with them. And when you’re being authentic, you feel good about yourself.
Still wondering what, exactly, it means to live with authenticity? Here are seven things you do when you’re living authentically…
1. Tell the truth
This one might seem pretty basic. Of course, if you’re being authentic, you tell the truth. But true honesty is rarer than you might think. I’m not talking about telling your cousin that she looks like she’s put on quite a lot of weight, or sharing every last detail of your battle with intestinal distress when your boss asks why you were late for work this morning. You can be tactful and discreet and still practice rigorous honesty – and that doesn’t only mean not telling lies. It means not strategically leaving things out, either. Staying silent – the so-called ‘sin of omission’ – is just another form of lying. The great thing about telling the truth is that you save yourself a lot of trouble trying to remember what you said (or didn’t say) and attempting to cover your tracks. It makes life a lot simpler.
2. Pay attention
Often, people aren’t honest because they don’t actually know the truth. They’re not paying close enough attention. Authentic people listen to other people, and they listen to themselves. They know how their body feels when they tell the truth, and they how it feels when they hide from it – and that’s why they choose to be honest. How many of us are sleepwalking through life, going with the flow and making the easy choice, and numbing ourselves with a constant influx of social media, Netflix binges, alcohol, and gossip? Living authentically means waking up from all of that and really paying attention.
3. Mind your own business
A lot of us spend a lot of time worrying about things outside of ourselves. Your brother needs to get a job, your partner refuses to go to therapy, your co-worker keeps showing up to work drunk, and your sister said something terrible to your mother at dinner and now they’re both calling you to rant about it. And if that’s not enough to make your head spin, there’s always politics, war, social injustice, and climate change. Author and motivational speaker Byron Katie says there are three kinds of business: yours, other people’s, and God’s. “To think that I know what’s best for anyone else is to be out of my business. Even in the name of love, it is pure arrogance, and the result is tension, anxiety, and fear. Do I know what’s right for me? That is my only business. If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life in a way that you can’t even imagine.”
4. Accept yourself
If you don’t know who you are – what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you want for your life, and who or what your priorities are – and more importantly, if you don’t accept who you are, you’ll never be able to be authentic. How can you be? All you can do is keep trying on other personas and living out other people’s agendas. We all do this to some extent when we’re young; figuring out who you are and learning to accept yourself is a lifelong process. But by the time you’re in your 30s, and certainly your 40s, hopefully you’ve got a good start on it.
5. Practice gratitude
Sometimes I think gratitude is the ultimate key to life. As Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast says, when you’re grateful, you can’t be fearful. And fear is really the root of all anger. When you turn anger inward, and it becomes depression. Scratch the surface of any unhappy person, and you’ll find plenty of anger and fear, guaranteed – even if, and maybe especially if, the person doesn’t know what they’re so scared and angry about. But practicing gratitude is the antidote. People who live authentically may feel fear, and they may get angry – all of us do sometimes – but they don’t let those feelings run the show. Instead, they focus on the things they’re grateful for. And we all have those things, if we’re paying attention (see above).
6. Spend time alone
In order to be authentic, you’ve got to know yourself. And to get to know yourself, you’ve got to be comfortable spending time by yourself. If you’re terrified of being alone, it’s unlikely that you’re living an authentic life. You’re too busy trying to stay busy all the time, avoiding being alone with your own thoughts or looking in the mirror too long. If you always have your earbuds in, blasting music or podcasts during every minute of your commute, your workout, and any other moment that you’re not directly engaged with another person, why not try taking them out for a while? It’s one small way to get comfortable with the sound of your own thoughts – and one step toward being more authentic.
7. Be where you are
Just like minding your own business, being where you are means turning your focus away from worries about things that aren’t right here, right now. The future, the past, other people – these are all things that aren’t within your control. And in the case of the future and the past, they don’t even really exist. All we have is right now. When you adopt this mindset, it’s easy to be authentic. So much of dishonesty, distractedness, and depression are because we’re trying to make up for the past or control the future. But you can’t do that – not ever. So why not be here now, and be you now? That’s the secret of living with true authenticity.
Images via popkey, tumblr, hbo, grammy, giphy, and omaze
Comment: Do you feel that you live your life with authenticity?
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