Deciding to be authentic means becoming a new person. However, this new person has to leave behind certain beliefs, dreams, and relationships and replace them with new ones. In fact, deciding to go along the road of what makes you happy is an undertaking that requires courage.
A decision like this marks the starting point of a lifelong journey. Sometimes, you might feel lost, not knowing whether the option you’ve chosen is the right one. Because it’s hard to know what you really want. You might be fearful of being wrong and being judged, as well as being afraid that you won’t be able to accept yourself as you really are.
What does being authentic mean?
Being yourself means laughing at what you find funny, crying at what makes you sad, and exploding in anger at what enrages you. Likewise, living your life according to what you want, feel, and think, moment by moment, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks, is what being authentic means.
You live in a community and build your image based on the experiences you have in your interactions with others. In other words, this social context influences you. Although you should be mindful and respectful of those around you, in order to be authentic, you have to establish and maintain your own standards.
As we mentioned above, to be authentic, you’ll probably need to get rid of some habits, thoughts, and people that have become a part of your identity or your life. Because choosing yourself means saying goodbye to certain elements of your life. This means you might find yourself alone.
However, being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Being alone is a state of being that, if you manage it, properly helps you obtain your personal freedom and take the necessary steps towards success.
“It’s easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it’s easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-
The expectations of others
When you expose yourself to others’ opinions, you find yourself having to face those people that make up your structure of social support.
- Your inner circle. The people who’ve seen you grow and who you’re close to. They probably think they know you perfectly. In addition, they think they know what you want and what’s best for you.
- Your professional circle. Their views and feedback tend to suggest how professional or otherwise you are in the workplace.
- Your wider circle. These are people with whom you may have had a relationship at some point or with whom you’re vaguely acquainted. They certainly aren’t the most important people in your life. However, you often tend to give them that role. In fact, occasionally, they become some perverse kind of mirror, whose reflection you end up staring at.
- Yourself. Strangely, you often end up being your own worst enemy and the main culprit responsible for your insecurities and bad luck.
Questions like “What will they say?” draw you into a spiral of comparison and doubt you find difficult to navigate. However, what exactly determines who you are? Are the others right, or should you be guided by what you feel and what you really want?
Fear of being authentic
Albert Bandura’s studies on social learning showed that the main source of learning is observation. In other words, you learn by observing the behavior of others and its consequences.
Sometimes, the anticipation of valuable information can make you look more outwardly than at yourself. This is more evident in cases where you’re guided by insecurity and fear.
For example, Steven C. Hayes, who works within the framework of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy suggests that being authentic is the key to achieving your goals. In addition, he claims that disassociating from yourself is the price you pay for living the dreams of others. When you disconnect from what you really want and feel, you disconnect from your true, inner self. This is a defense mechanism that’s common in people who don’t act according to their own desires and values.
Another typical pattern of behavior resulting from not being authentic is experiential avoidance. These kinds of people spend their life constantly avoiding anything that scares them or makes them anxious. However, they often sense that what they’re escaping from is, in fact, what they really want.
Living meaningfully, the path to success
What does success mean? Everyone has their own definition. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy proposes that clarifying your values is fundamental to building a life that’s worth living. Furthermore, these values are what give meaning to who you are.
You tend to focus on what others expect from you and what they want. However, to be authentic, you have to start focusing on yourself. More specifically, you must get to know yourself in depth. It means tolerating, in fact, even wanting, to be alone. This leads you, not to nothingness, but to you.
“To be yourself in a world that’s constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson–