Google authenticity and you will see that in the last decade the number of searches for it and books about it has exploded. Instinctively we all crave it. When people don’t have authenticity, we are repelled by them. The desire to be our authentic selves is present in every child and the people we admire most have it. Yet we are pulled in competing directions of conforming and being ourselves. The influence of the crowd and the culturescape is not to be underestimated. Human beings have a deep-rooted need to conform and are hard-wired to follow the crowd. There’s safety in numbers, so we put on masks.
We conform to expectations…
Authenticity is going beyond the conditioning of society and the culturescape. So, why do so many of us wear masks? The short answer is there is an inherent risk in being your true self. We develop masks so that if the mask itself is rejected we can at least take comfort in the idea that the mask, not our true self has been rejected. On one level, this makes sense. However, it is based in self-deception and a rejection of the self by the self.
Hiding in conformity exacts a high price in terms of psychological wellbeing.
Not only that, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to be someone you aren’t. Do that for any length of time and that adds up. Beyond that it’s dishonest and you are hiding, robbing those around you of you.
Be yourself. No matter how hard or scared you are… There is no other way.
Exposing culturescape for what it is
German philosopher Martin Heidegger believed in the transformative power of death; he argued for running towards death instead of denying our mortality would have it shape our thoughts, deeds and actions. He called this ‘being towards death’ and saw it as the key to authenticity. When you hold death close the pull of the crowd loses it strength over us and the culturescape is exposed for what it is, as not relevant leaving us to answer the question who am I really? It’s only then that we can author ourselves, be the authority in our life as set by us and not someone else. Think of any number of near-death experience stories you have heard. It’s an inside-out approach rather than an outside-in approach to living life. From here, it is easier to choose our own path and live authentically. Your life, your way as designed by you and with what’s important to you at the centre.
If you’re living your life for others and not yourself, whose life are you living? Who are you living it for? There’s an old saying about pleasing people. When you try and please everyone you end up by pleasing none. Including you! To live according to the culturescape is to live with social convention dictating your life. To do so is to play it safe and to live a small life. We sacrifice our authenticity on the altar of looking good. Who are we looking good for if not the crowd? It takes courage to express our authentic self. It’s risky, and you might not be well received. An iceberg is a useful metaphor for authenticity as most of who we are is hidden below the waterline. There’s only one way for that to be expressed: Have the courage to show yourself and be known.
The bonus opportunity in choosing authenticity
So, let’s assume that you’re on board with having the courage to choose authenticity over the crowd. What might that look like? For one, it means living tethered to your values. It also means bearing your neck and being vulnerable. More risk, I know, but here’s the rub. When you choose to show yourself and to be vulnerable you give others permission to be real too. Foster an environment of safety for this to occur. Have the courage to be real so that the extraordinary might be possible. In doing so, you will free not only yourself, but you will move, touch and inspire those around you. The choice is clear. Authenticity or conformity. Tread your own path or disappear into the crowd. If you choose conformity what you sacrifice are new ideas, innovation, depth of relationship and expression.