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What Does It Mean To Be Authentic?

Updated: Mar 13

If I were to tell you that I just bought an authentic Chanel handbag, it would be pretty clear what I meant...that the bag is genuine, real, not fake.

This is pretty cut and dry when it comes to handbags but not so much when it comes to people. So, what exactly does it mean to be authentic, as a human being?

There isn't a cut and dry answer for that question, there are many factors involved AND many different interpretations.

The following is my interpretation of what it means to be authentic or live in authenticity and as an Authenticity Coach, it is at the heart of all of my work.


To Thine Own Self Be True...You Stupid Asshole!


Many people's interpretation of being authentic means that you say the honest truth about everything you are thinking and feeling ALL of the time and/or you do what feels right for you to do ALL of the time. To thine own self be true!

If this is what you believe then, if you tell your boss he's an asshole and punch him in the are being authentic, right? It's what you honestly think and punching him in the face feels like the right thing to do. Those are your genuine, authentic thoughts and feelings.

If you believe this, then you are certainly setting yourself up for quite the conundrum. This is the dilemma that many people face when they assign this type of black and white definition to authenticity. It's not black and white, there are many grey areas and it's these grey areas that can leave us confused as to how to live in authenticity.

A key component of being authentic IS speaking your truth and doing what feels right for you but it's not that simple. What do you do when your truth isn't appropriate to speak? Or, when your truth is in conflict with what you want or need? Or, when you aren't exactly sure what your truth is or you have conflicting thoughts and feelings? Major grey area!

The missing piece to this puzzle is your values and core beliefs.

My definition of authenticity is: when your words and actions match your values and core beliefs first and then your thoughts and feelings.

  • I think my boss is an asshole and I feel like punching him in the face BUT I value taking care of my family and I need a job to do this.

  • I think my boss is an asshole and I feel like punching him in the face BUT I believe that most people are doing the best they can most of the time.

Does this mean that you stay in a job where you have a consistently abusive boss? NOT if you value being treated kindly and fairly and NOT if you believe that you deserve to be treated with respect. If those are your values and beliefs, to stay in this job would not be living in authenticity because your values and beliefs do NOT match your words and actions.


To Thine Own Self Be Your Values!


If you choose to believe that to be authentic is to live in alignment first with your values and core beliefs then it is very important that you know what those values and beliefs are!

Personal values are our principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life.

This is another grey area when it comes to living in authenticity because we often have situations in which we have conflicting values.

  • I value being treated kindly and with respect BUT I also value having a job so that I can take care of my family.

If this is the case, it is important to look at your highest value in the situation as well as looking at if there is any way you can stay in integrity with both values and still have your needs met?

  • I value having a job so that I can take care of my family so I am not going to put myself in the position of losing my job BUT I also value being treated kindly and with respect so I am going to start looking for another job immediately.

If you do not see a way to stay in integrity with both (or all) of your values, then to choose the higher value is to still live in authenticity.

  • I have exhausted the job market and can't find another job BUT taking care of my family is of a higher value to me so I choose to stay in this job for now even though I am not being treated kindly or with respect at this time.


To Thine Own Self Be Your Beliefs!


Personal beliefs are what we personally believe to be true. Our "core" beliefs are those things that are central to who we are as a person. Personal beliefs can be based upon certainties, probabilities and/or matters of faith.

Again, like with values, we can have conflicting beliefs in any given situation.

  • I believe my boss is an asshole but I also believe that people are doing the best they can most of the time.

This is why I say to be authentic is to act in accordance with your "core" beliefs.

The way to tell if something is a "core" belief is that it is unwavering.

You may believe that your boss is an asshole today because he is yelling at you but that opinion or belief may change if he apologizes and gives you the day off next week. This is a wavering belief, it changes based on the circumstances. However, you always believe that people are doing the best they can most of the time. This is a "core" belief because it is unwavering or does not change based on circumstances.


To Thine Own Self Be Your Thoughts and Feelings


To be authentic, your words and actions must first match your values and core beliefs and THEN your thoughts and feelings.

This is where we get into some serious grey area because often times and depending on the situation, we can have multiple conflicting thoughts and many layers of different feelings.

  • I think my boss is being unfair but I also think that he might be right and I'm not pulling my weight.

  • I feel like I'm being unappreciated by my boss but I also feel inadequate.

This can be a complicated grey area and the most important thing to do in these situations when you have conflicting thoughts and feelings is to not act impulsively. It is important that you take the time to sort out your thoughts and feelings before acting on them.

Investigate your thoughts and feelings and for each one ask this really true? You will sometimes find that BOTH thoughts and/or feelings are true and you can act appropriately to that conclusion.

This is when honest, vulnerable communication comes into play. If you are dealing with someone who is rational and reasonable, you can share your conflicting thoughts and feelings with them.

  • Tell your boss that you understand that there is more you could be doing and you are going to work on that but when he yells and undermines you it decreases your motivation to want to do better.

If you are NOT dealing with someone who you feel as though you can effectively communicate with then you can simply use your "findings" regarding your thoughts and feelings to take the appropriate action that is most in line with what you feel is true or authentic for you to do in that situation.

If you are in a situation where there are NO conflicting thoughts and feelings and you know exactly what is right for you to do or say at that moment, then this is the time for you to say what you mean and mean what you say!

Ok, I know what you are saying...easier said than done!

I totally get that this isn't easy to do because it means that we need to be willing to be vulnerable and that is friggen scary!

Our greatest need as humans is to be accepted, it is wired in our DNA. Our primal or "reptilian" brain is where our fight or flight response comes from and it is from this part of the brain that we equate acceptance with survival. When we were living in caves, to not be accepted by our "tribe" literally meant that we died and it sometimes still feels that way today.

This is why it is so hard sometimes to be authentic. But, we have to be willing to get out of our "reptilian" brain and access those parts of our brain that know that the truth is, if we are being accepted ONLY because we are doing or saying things that others find "acceptable" then that is not true acceptance.

I am also going to get into this subject more deeply in another post but I just want you to recognize and remember that when we are acting outside of our true authentic selves to gain acceptance, the acceptance we receive is just an illusion. It's a lie that we are choosing to tell ourselves.


To Thine Own IMPERFECT Self Be True


Authenticity is a very complicated subject with many different layers and I will continue to explore those layers to better help you understand authenticity as well as give you tools to help you become more authentic in your life and relationships but I wanted to leave you with one more thought on the subject before I go.

No matter how evolved or enlightened you are or become, there WILL be times when you do NOT act authentically.

There WILL be times when your words and actions do NOT match your beliefs, values, thoughts and feelings.

We are all human which means we are all imperfect.

The first step in becoming more authentic is self awareness and what is important to remember in those times that you do not act authentically is to be AWARE that you did not act authentically.

This awareness or realization may happen concurrently with your words and/or actions OR you may not have the realization until after you have already acted inauthentically. When you have the awareness or realization doesn't matter, what matters is the fact that you do realize and accept it.

We sometimes don't want to admit to ourselves (or others) that we have not acted authentically, it's easier to stay in denial but we have to be willing to have the courage to be honest, at least with ourselves. This is your first step on the journey to living a truly authentic life.

If your goal is to live more authentically, my assignment for you is to start examining your values and core beliefs. I also want you to start to become aware of those times that you do NOT act authentically...when your words and actions do not match your values, beliefs, thoughts and feelings.

Finally, I also want you to begin to look at those areas in your LIFE where you are not LIVING authentically. You hate your job but you continue to stay. You know you are in the wrong relationship but you are too scared to leave. You value honest communication but you tell little white lies. You get the idea.

This exercise isn't to make you feel bad, it's simply the first step in recognizing what areas you need and/or want to work on in order to being to live more authentically.

Most importantly, while you are on this journey, make sure that you are kind to yourself and give yourself the space to be imperfectly human!

Remember that you are a work in progress. You are wonderfully unique and your true authentic self deserves to be loved and accepted for exactly who you are!




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