by Elena Greco
Typical reading time: 4 minutes
“People like to say that your talent is yours forever: No one can take it away from you.
This is not true. Talent is not inviolable.
Every time you alter what you meant to say or meant to do … you destroy your talent.
I am not talking about one’s career: I am talking about one’s soul.”
– Mike Nichols in an interview with James Grissom
Authenticity is one of the highest traits a human can have. It’s certainly one of the most important traits for a creative artist. Most people would probably agree that authenticity is a good thing. But would they be able to tell you what it is?
Some might respond that authenticity means being yourself. But as multi-faceted human beings who encounter a multitude of situations and people on a daily basis, exactly what does that mean?
Being authentic means that your values and actions align, that what you do and say aligns with what you value. It means you can’t be swayed to act against those values by a cheap or temporary payoff.
Being authentic means being the person you are at your core, rather than playing a role solely to satisfy or gain favor with someone else. It means expressing yourself in a way that represents your essence and your conscience.
Authenticity is reflected in actions and words, not in beliefs or ideas. The way you act in life demonstrates your authenticity or your lack of it.
Honesty. Authenticity means that you’re honest about who you are. Authenticity, values and honesty go hand in hand.
Saying or doing things that are incongruent with our true feelings, values and intentions is dishonest, isn’t it? Isn’t saying “I love your shoes” if I don’t love your shoes a lie? And if honesty is one of my values, isn’t lying an inauthentic expression of who I am?
There are those who represent themselves on social media and in their biographies on websites, for example, in a way that does not reflect who they really are. It reflects who they think they need to be in order to sell whatever they’re selling or maybe who they wish they were. That is dishonest. Marketing does not require that we represent ourselves as someone other than who we are. And authenticity is good marketing!
Another form of inauthenticity is saying things that aren’t true for us or doing things that don’t align with our values in order to gain or avoid something. For example, if you value honesty but praise someone insincerely because you want them to like you, you’re being inauthentic.
You might have noticed a time someone Liked a post on Facebook, and it was pretty clear that they Liked it because they wanted to win favor with the poster or because they wanted viewers to see that they were one of the “chosen” who were Friends with the poster. That is, they didn’t actually “like” the post. That agenda often backfires because most people see what they’re up to and lose respect for them. So another way of being inauthentic is saying or doing something with the sole purpose of gaining prestige or others’ approval.
If you’re a creative artist and you attempt make your art like someone else’s because they’re successful or rich or accepted or get good reviews or something else you think you want or ought to want, that is an inauthentic expression, no matter how skillful it might be.
Filtering. Being authentic doesn’t mean that we have to share every opinion we have or behave the way we feel at all times in all circumstances. For example, if I don’t like your shoes, I don’t have to tell you I don’t like them; I just have to refrain from saying that I do when I don’t.
There is a filtering that must occur at times in our interactions with others. Your behavior is likely not the same with your boss as it is with your best friend. That doesn’t mean that you’re being inauthentic with either of them; you’re simply choosing appropriate behaviors from your repertoire of authentic behaviors.
Authenticity doesn’t mean being fully disclosing in all settings. It means that in what you do choose to express or share with others, that expression is honest.
For example, if we choose to share one part of ourselves and not another on social media because it’s prudent for marketing, or because we serve a role in which parts of our personal lives are best not shared, that is not inauthentic. But setting ourselves up on social media as someone we aren’t, as someone with traits that we really don’t have, or as offering something we really aren’t equipped to offer—that is inauthentic.
Choices. Being authentic means that we do have choices on how and where to express ourselves. If I choose to bite my tongue around a boss I can’t stand because I need that job in order to feed myself and my children, that is not inauthentic; it’s a conscious choice. But when we’re confronted repeatedly with a situation in which we feel we have to make that choice to stifle ourselves, we might ask ourselves if there is a better way to handle the situation.
Perhaps you realize that your spoken accent is not conducive to getting ahead in your profession. Choosing to change it, perhaps only in certain situations such as a business meeting, isn’t inauthentic, any more than choosing a different hairstyle or style of clothing to suit the occasion would be. Unless that change is a key part of your values, there’s nothing inauthentic about changing something about yourself in some way towards an end.
But “wearing” a false personality or developing a personality which you think makes you appear to be something that you aren’t is inauthentic. I’m not fond of the maxim “fake it till you make it” because it encourages us to behave in a way that is not completely honest. It might make more sense to get in touch with the part of you that has the belief that you’re not up to the circumstance and confront that. There are other alternatives that can be truly empowering. (The length of this article precludes going into detail about them, but feel free to write to me for more information or, better still, do my Abracadabra! workshop!)
We all have different hats to wear, different roles to play, in our daily lives—and we can play all of them with integrity and authenticity. It simply requires that we examine each situation with the eyes of truth and be honest with ourselves.
The cost of inauthenticity. If you’re committed to authenticity, making a choice to stifle your genuine self-expression or to behave in ways incongruent with your values is going to cost you over time—in self-respect, in the quality of your work, your art, relationships and communication.
Every time you execute an inauthentic action, every time you say or do things that are incongruent with your true feelings, values and intentions, you’re selling off a tiny piece of yourself.
When we make one choice that is inauthentic, it becomes easier to make another inauthentic choice, and then another. And then we are not who we know we are meant to be.
In addition, others will know when we aren’t authentic. You can fool some people, but most of us pick up easily on inauthenticity and feel uneasy with it.
Inauthenticity limits our growth and our relationships, making it difficult or impossible to live out our potential. Transformation and genuine communication are by-products of authenticity.
Regaining authenticity. How do you know if you’re being inauthentic? Ask yourself these questions: Is your speech or action designed to impress or gain favor or manipulate? Are you behaving in a way that you believe will allow you to avoid disapproval or confrontation? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” you’re being inauthentic.
The first step in regaining authenticity is to notice when your actions and words are incongruent with what’s really so for you. The second is to admit to yourself that you’re behaving in a way that is not authentic. Next is figuring out why you’re doing yourself the disservice of being inauthentic. What is the pay-off? And the last step is to find an alternative to that inauthentic act or expression, one which reflects who you really are—even if it’s difficult at first.
The benefit of living authentically. Living authentically means living by your code of ethics and values, regardless of whether that pleases someone else or gains their favor. You can’t control others’ actions or reactions; attempting to do so is an inauthentic expression of self. But living authentically means that you can move people, and that is far more beneficial—to you and to them—than controlling them (even if that were possible).
The value in expressing yourself authentically is something that money can’t buy: self-respect, and ultimately the respect of others. Moreover, others will trust you when they see that you’re consistently authentic.
Authenticity moves people, moves the action, moves mountains. It allows you to manifest your potential and your dreams.
* Why did I choose an image of pets to represent authenticity? I chose these lovely animals because, unlike humans, animals are inescapably authentic. They cannot be otherwise, because they do not have the sneaky part that our minds have, the part that compares itself to others, worries what others think, acts in order to manipulate others, and plans for the future. They really have no choice but to behave and express themselves authentically.