One of the hardest lessons for some people to learn is the power of authenticity. At one end of the spectrum we find “Imposter Syndrome,” the almost unshakeable, usually unfounded feeling you are unworthy of respect and success you have legitimately earned. At the other end we find extreme narcissism, the equally unshakeable, equally unfounded feeling that you are far more important and wonderful than pretty much everyone else.
Smack dab in the middle is authenticity. That’s where you want to operate.
Authentic people have a fairly clear idea of their own values, capabilities, motivations, and emotions, and they are willing to openly express all this to others, if, as, and when appropriate.
Although it’s difficult, authentic people try to uncover and shed their biases about people, places, and things. They try to live in each moment, reacting honestly to situations and events, and choosing to behave in ways that express who they are and what they care about.
Authentic people also tend to recognize the value of human relationships, and expend energy to cultivate them. Unlike people at the far ends of the spectrum, they can and do engage in close, caring relationships that provide great satisfaction and meaning to their lives.
Obviously, there is great power in authenticity.
Let’s look a little deeper:
It’s Not Them, It’s You
One of the most important features of authentic people is their recognition that:
- They are worthy,
- They bring important experiences, resources, and capabilities to every situation, and
- Their heartfelt ideas, emotions, and reactions to events are valid and worth sharing with others.
This recognition gives authentic people the readiness to join with others, collaborate well, accept criticisms, and make solid contributions to a wide range of tasks, projects, and goals. They are also willing and able to operate independently, whether they are already skilled at the current endeavor or are attempting and learning new things.
“I Know What I’m Doing”
Whether or not you follow Formula 1 automobile racing, you can probably appreciate this story: one of the most experienced drivers on the circuit – Kimi Raikkonen – was once on the radio with his team, in the middle of a race, listening to a ton of their advice about how to make the car go faster.
After listening for a while, the driver cut in and said simply: “Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing.”
His language may have been a little abrupt, but Kimi clearly had enough confidence in his skills to step into a demanding situation and trust his ability to produce a satisfactory outcome.
In much the same way, authentic people tend to chart their own course. They nearly always form their own opinions and feel courageous enough to express them appropriately, without any need to force them on others.
An interesting aspect of authenticity is that it’s not a static capability. Authentic people tend to change as they age and mature, incorporating newer experiences in with previously acquired understanding, and steadily developing into better versions of their younger selves.
While everyone’s path is to some degree unique, there are patterns to authentic growth.
In the first few decades of life, authentic people tend to explore the people, places, and activities available to them in an effort to find what feels right to them. They pick and choose, forging their own path.
In their middle years, authentic people tend to evaluate the choices they’ve made, and perhaps attempt one or more “mid-course” corrections to further improve how well their values, capabilities, motivations, and emotions “fit” with the world around them.
In later life, authentic people tend to reflect on where they’ve been and what they’ve done, and usually express pleasure and fulfillment in the life they’ve led. They may offer guidance, but rarely seek to impose their choices or values on others.
No one can say why some people start out with more authenticity than others. But experts agree that everyone can develop their own authenticity, if they wish.
Cultivation begins when a person considers who they are, then looks inward and tries to understand their own values, motivations, and emotions. As their capabilities emerge and strengthen, they will often look deeper into those, as well.
Cultivation continues when a person finds the courage to admit to themselves their weaknesses and errors. They may or may not choose not to share these insights with others. Developing authenticity involves a combination of nurturing their innate strengths and trying to minimize any weaknesses they’d like to overcome. Patience is also helpful here, as none of these changes are likely to happen overnight.
Cultivation takes hold when a person becomes willing to depart from the crowd and follow his or her own path toward what seems likely to be a fulfilling career and life.
Overall, then, an authentic person lives on the basis of heartfelt values, intentionally making choices that reflect and express what they care about most deeply. That’s why it’s called “authenticity.”
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