In the new woke world in which we find ourselves, we are often encouraged to be our authentic selves. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘authentic self’ is now bandied about so frequently that people use it without understanding what it means. Even worse, people use authenticity as an excuse to cross the line in terms of their own behavior.
So what does it mean to truly be your authentic self? There may not be a single answer to that question. In fact, this might be the key to the whole issue. If we define the authentic self with a rigid definition that excludes people whose behaviors do not fit that definition, we are not allowing such people to truly be authentic, are we?
Who Are We?
Plurawl is a style and fashion brand that seeks to empower the LatinX community to be authentic without compromise. Their LatinX T-shirts, hoodies, etc. include messaging that drives home the point. What they are doing as a brand is good, but genuine authenticity runs far deeper.
At the core of the authenticity concept is a fundamental question: who are we? The term ‘authentic’ – as it relates to individual personality and spirit – generally denotes sincerity and a lack of pretense. In other words, an authentic person is someone who does not pretend to be something they are not.
This suggests that being our authentic selves requires that we fully understand who we are. But is that even possible? In theory, yes. But in practice, no. We all see ourselves through the lens of our own bias. Our view of who we are is tainted by our view of what we think the world ought to be. We measure ourselves against that world whether we intend to or not.
We also tend to measure ourselves against others. We can’t help it. No matter how hard we try to not make comparisons, it is human nature to do so. Far too often, that results in us defining ourselves based on what we do not want to be rather than who we really are.
Is It Okay to Adapt?
Another challenge is having to compromise under certain circumstances. One such circumstance is being effective in the workplace. For example, consider working as a registered nurse in the ICU at your local hospital.
A good nurse needs to have a certain type of bedside manner combined with the ability to work well under pressure. Maybe you don’t naturally have a personality that fits well with the required bedside manner. Would it be inauthentic of you to learn how to display care and compassion? Would you be repressing your authentic self by showing patients a level of compassion you otherwise wouldn’t show had you not become a nurse?
Perhaps. But then, nursing might not be right for you. Therein lies the challenge. Nearly everything we experience in modern life requires some level of adaptation. Not everyone is like us. Not every circumstance is what we would prefer it to be. Some amount of adaptation is always required. Adapting does not necessarily equate to inauthenticity. It does not necessarily equate to repressing yourself.
In our attempt to be our authentic selves, we run the risk of not affording the same freedom to everyone else. We get the mistaken idea that being true to ourselves gives us permission to not allow others to be true to themselves. And when that happens, we cease to be truly authentic. Instead, we become just as controlling as those who do not want to allow us to be authentic. Never forget that.