A couple of months ago, Wharton school professor Adam Grant wrote a piece in the NY Times titled “Unless you’re Oprah ‘Be Yourself’ is Terrible Advice.”
He explained that when he was preparing for his first TED Talk, the advice he seemed to get from everyone was “be yourself.” However, he argued that nobody actually wants to see your true self. He defined “being authentic” as “erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world” and gave examples of what it would look like to be truly authentic, like letting someone know you would date them if you were single or telling your in-laws that their conversation was boring. He basically equated being authentic with not monitoring yourself.
But is that really being authentic? Author and researcher Brené Brown, who was mentioned in Adam Grant’s article, wrote back, explaining that her definition of Authenticity is actually the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable and to set boundaries. In her mind, real authenticity requires self-monitoring and constant awareness of your thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
Being authentic doesn’t mean saying whatever pops into your head or expressing whatever you are feeling in that moment. We all have automatic reactions that do not represent who we really are. For example, we might feel initial anger when somebody ignores us or a pang of envy when a co-worker buys their dream home, but that doesn’t mean that we are an angry or envious person. We may have some automatic thoughts or feelings that come up, but we all have a choice as to how we want to react. And that choice is being driven by our authentic self.
In order to be authentic, we need to know ourselves, including our values, beliefs, purpose, boundaries and how we are perceived by others. And that takes some time. Some of the values and beliefs we hold may have been adopted from someone else. Until we take the time to examine them and consciously decide which ones we truly agree with, they may not be really ours. It may take some soul searching to uncover our purpose. We may need to learn to set new boundaries based on our experience. And until we ask, we don’t know how we are really perceived by others and the impact we are making with our presence.
Here are 7 questions to ask yourself to find out how authentic you are in your life:
- Is your life aligned with your values?
- Is your life aligned with your beliefs?
- Are you living your purpose?
- Are you willing to be imperfect?
- Are you willing to be vulnerable?
- Are you setting effective boundaries?
- Are you actively managing your thoughts and emotions and consciously choosing how to react in different situations?
Being truly authentic is a journey. As we learn more about ourselves and how to manage our thoughts and emotions, we are able to be more authentic. Where would you like to be more authentic in your life?