Living Authentically: Why It Matters & How to Do It

Over the last few years I’ve been really interested in the term “Authenticity.” Partly because it is thrown around so much and sounds pretty pretentious. And partly because I spent so much of my life consciously and unconsciously trying to define myself in a singular, unified way.  I thought living authentically meant figuring out the one label that best described me and then tailoring all my choices and actions to fit that distinct description.

It’s kind of like the stereotypical high school archetypes: the jocks, the nerds, the drama geeks, etc. When we associate with a distinct identity or group, we feel certain and safe. We know what to say and how to act. The problem is that human beings aren’t that simple. We’re complex, ever-changing, and inconsistent. As we develop more mature ways of thinking about ourselves, we feel conflicted: We acknowledge growth, yet still want a unified and consistent identify that we can hang our hat on at any given moment. It does't matter if we label ourselves in a positive or negative light, a single identity creates stagnation.

Whether it’s the Giver, the Achiever, or the Judgmental Bitch, we all have different sides that combine to create a constantly changing identity. And that’s the rub: Living authentically means accepting that you will never have a fixed, unchanging label. It means that you understand the dynamics of the constantly shifting ecosystem inside you.

Time for a diagram:

 An abbreviated sample of my parts. Feel free to judge.

An abbreviated sample of my parts. Feel free to judge.

In an ideal world, you’d be the perfectly balanced itsy-bitsy part in the middle. Nothing in life would rattle you or move you from that position (and you’d be the most boring person I know!) In reality, there are triggers that move you closer to a specific combination of your parts. Or, in an extreme situation, mostly one part. Ultimately, your goal is to recognize the parts of you that overlap and actively tap into each of them, inching closer toward the center.

Here’s how:

  1. Accept that at any given moment, you are a combination of each part of you.
  2. Listen to all the voices in your head. As crazy as that may sound, they are there for a reason.  
  3. Dial up and dial down each part as needed. None of your parts are good or bad, it’s what you make of them. There are moments when what serves me best is to nurture others, and moments when that prevents me from prioritizing myself.
  4. Honor each part and avoid judgment. Sometimes a part that we’ve labeled as a weakness is a strength that’s dialed up too high.
  5. Be authentic. Whether that means taking deliberate action or choosing to disengage. This applies to your words, too: Say what you mean and mean what you say.

The Takeaway: Authenticity comes from tapping into all your parts without judgment and acting from a place of acceptance and truth.