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The Challenge of Being Authentic

by Marianne Navada

Just do it, think different, be authentic–these phrases have a way of neatly and in three words or less, give advice, command, and explain a lifeview.

While the first two are company taglines, the third is tied to a generation, the millennials. For a group of people that mostly grew up on good-job parenting, curated reality TV, viral videos, FOMO, and garnering likes for post, it’s meant to question who we really are, stripped of instant gratification and external praise. What happens when we live without overthinking how people will react to us?

I first encountered the term “be authentic” with frequency on Instagram, not only as a hashtag, but on captions and taglines. Then the term started creeping into yoga classes, with teachers encouraging the class to find our authentic selves.

In yoga, the application is straightforward. Listen to your body instead of copying the person practicing next to you. Following your breath is more important than keeping up with the pace of the class. Stop looking and listening to others, and look inward instead.

But What Does It Mean to Be Authentic in Life?

To “be authentic” offers a guideline on how to live life, but with freedom to define how it should be done. There’s nothing new with this concept of being yourself and it’s certainly not limited to millennials and the pressures of social media.

For me, living an authentic life means making life choices that feel right, regardless of what people around me say. The metric for success is based on how I feel with the choices I make, big or small. Will I feel guilty, regret, sadness? How confident am I with this decision?

In attempting to show an authentic life through social media, it’s easy to equate authentic living with style, a branding if you will, but the process involves solitude and reflection. Being authentic is not related to a particular food, clothing, color, or decor. Rather, it’s a thought and decision making process. Think of it this way–each decision you make adds a piece to a vast puzzle. There is no such thing as not having a choice, because as long as you can think and act on your decision, you have a piece to add.

What Influences You?

Family, religious beliefs, community, peers, cultural traditions–there are various sources of external influence, but the key to living authentically is to find ways to think independently from a group you belong to and question ideas that seem common sense.

Go to school, find a job, marry well, and have children. This pattern seems to have become a universal rule of life, and there’s a tendency to label decisions as mistakes when someone veers off this rigid path. Recently, my niece decided to forgo college and start work. Everyone was giving her advice on why she should go to college, even those who don’t have a college degree, have no idea how much her tuition would cost or how she will pay for it, and without any clue about what she is interested in studying.

Being authentic is not related to a particular food, clothing, color, or decor. Rather, it’s a thought and decision making process.

Second, authenticity doesn’t mean rebellion. You don’t have to be different, or reject advice; instead, the goal is to find a piece of you in the decisions you make.

Third, to live authentically requires an element of independence. This can mean emotional or financial independence from family and friends. Be prepared for people to doubt you, because there will be moments when you will act unconventionally. The bravery comes from knowing that you might be the only one who understands your decisions, but confident to pursue them, and humble enough to see other’s point of view.

Asking WHY is the start to living a life that truly represents you, and exploring whether or not you’re doing things because it’s the way it’s been done in your family or it’s what you’ve been told. The process of finding authenticity requires self-reflection and drowning the noise, which makes the concept even more useful nowadays.

In the end, who we are is defined by the choices we make, the thought process in considering them, and the outcomes. Each day is an opportunity to build on who we are and to like what we represent.

The More You Know

What is Good-Job Parenting?

Praising children as part of a parenting strategy to build self-esteem is considered not only ineffective but harmful to children’s development.

Learn More from Psychology Today | Alfie Kohn

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