I had the good fortune to attend a multi-disciplinary university. When you take a multi-disciplinary approach you see that everything is related, there’s an interplay between different areas and that’s a lot like life. Take authenticity, how many different parts there are to it and how they relates to the self. On one level, authenticity is saying what you mean and meaning what you say. That sounds a lot like integrity. That’s because there’s some common ground and some interrelatedness. It also has something to do with being sincere. The word sincere from the Latin, sine cera means without wax. In the ancient world, wax was used to hide the flaws in statues. The more scrupulous sculptors would hang a shingle outside their shops with the words sine cera so the buyer knew nothing was hidden. What you saw was what you got — a picture begins to emerge.
Values is the next piece. If you are authentic, you live in line with your values; you walk the talk. How do you define you? The layers of authenticity begin to build, but what does it really mean to you to be authentic? How do you be authentic? The standard line is “Just be yourself”. While that’s true, which self do you mean? Let’s face it; human beings are complicated creatures. We don’t think and operate the same way, across all facets of our lives. Can you imagine what would happen if we did? How many selves are there? Among others, there’s our old self, which is past based and may or may not be whom we want to express ourselves as anymore. There’s our professional self which draws on a specific set of skills, and then there’s our aspirational self, from which we often fall short.
No fixed you
Who you are isn’t fixed. The younger a person is, the more open they are to taking on new ideas, and the faster they let go of them. That isn’t because our younger selves are more frivolous, we’re more malleable. The older we get, the more we integrate ideas and beliefs, and they become our identity. That makes them harder to give up as we’ve become fused to those beliefs and ideas and giving them up is tantamount to a death of the self. Identity becomes fixed and what holds those ideas and beliefs in place is the story we have around them. That story can only be based in the past; it limits us if we steadfastly hold to it. The reason we cling to the story is it’s what we know. However, what got you to where you are, mightn’t get you to where you want to go.
Be yourself or fake it till you make it?
What happens when being yourself doesn’t get the result you want? The temptation is to go one of two ways. You either change and behave in a way that is geared towards what others want and betray yourself or you hold steadfastly, on principle perhaps, to ‘you’, and the justification is, “anything else just isn’t me”. That’s code for it’s not authentic. The last thing anyone wants to do is betray themselves. A betrayal of the self is a betrayal of the highest order. Just like “be yourself” gets thrown around, so does the phrase “fake it till you make it”. On the surface, those two statements are at odds, but maybe they’re not. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
The desire to be ourselves is strong
We have an innate desire to express ourselves, our way, but that doesn’t always work. One of the pathways to authenticity is self-awareness. You have to know yourself, become aware of yourself in order to understand yourself. It is self-reflective in nature and it’s about owning and embracing all of you. The good and the bad. Not just the bits you like. Own the shadow too. You must become aware of your true self, defined by you and it must be expressed for it to have any value. This holds the key to your unique contribution to the world as well.
If you bring forth what is within you it will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
Getting your message across
The quote from The Gospel of Thomas is another way of saying you can’t hide who you are and if you do, you will pay a heavy price for it. We all know people who have made themselves sick for doing so. It doesn’t mean that you can’t shape and mould yourself and that is where fake it till you make it comes in. While on one level I really don’t like that statement. I do understand why it’s used. Let’s say there is a message you want to convey. It’s an important message and your commitment is that the message is heard and for whatever reason, you’re not getting through. Something needs to shift, right?
Know yourself to know another
Common wisdom says that communication is in the ear of the listener. While there is truth to that, it does let the speaker off the hook somewhat, and you run the risk of the message not getting through. If you know yourself, you are far better placed to know and understand another. That’s a key to getting your message through. If you know your audience, you will have a good idea of how to communicate in a way that they get and understand. It’s called speaking into the listening. That means tailoring your message to their filters. Initially, that new way of communicating may feel awkward as it’s unfamiliar.
Being and results
Here is why people say “fake it till you make it”. It’s a poor choice of words. They don’t mean BE fake and, it does sound like that is what is meant. Here is another way to look at it. Whom would you be being if you communicating in that new way was natural to you? There is a way of being, aligned to your values (aspirational self), that will clearly communicate your message to your intended audience. Access that way of being, and BE that. Integrate it and practice it until it becomes natural. An example might be you’ve worked really hard to get a promotion and acquired some new skills to bring that about if that promotion involves leading a team, that requires something different from you.
No loss of authenticity
What is unfamiliar can feel awkward at first as you expand your comfort zone, but this is part of a new self, an aspirational self and that’s where practise comes in. Own the space and act (and therefore be) as if you already had that result. Have that way of being shape your actions. It is through being this way that new experiences of yourself arise. How you see yourself begins to shift in line with your aspirational self with no loss of authenticity. You can still bring your unique expression to the task. It is often said there is nothing original in the world. What is original is your particular take on it and your interpretation of it. This is only made possible if you lose the story about who you say you are in order to become who you want to be.