The 5 Thieves of Authenticity

Authenticity. That’s a thing now. Like “brand” or “culture”. Leaders are encouraged to be authentic. Organizations are encouraged to be authentic. It is a high compliment when it exists and deeply scorned when it doesn’t.

And I’m all for this movement. Authenticity is a great defense against boredom and staleness. Plus, we humans are best when we are acoustic. Our demo reels are far more interesting than our studio polish. My main criticism of the mainstreaming of authenticity is that it is often presented as something you do (“be authentic”). When in fact, authenticity is something you become. This is a lot of the work we do for brands in our Root Sessions and the work I do with leaders in my Austin Sessions.

To become authentic one must first understand what prevents or stunts authenticity — a reverse engineering of sorts. In my own hard experiences and having worked with hundreds of leaders on discovering their authentic selves, there are five consistent thieves of authenticity:

  1. Depression & Anxiety. More specifically, untreated depression and anxiety. For me, my battle with these two dark twins was really about a deep identity crisis. Once I connected to the true me, both disappeared. They do creep in from time to time — mostly due to fatigue or unresolved tension. And I am surprisingly grateful for their occasional guest appearances for they are a harbinger of not being authentic.
  2. Unresolved Childhood Trauma. This is like an untreated brain injury; a concussion of the soul. Its long-term effects forever impact the way we see our own worth and value and the worth and value of others. And it is often the #1 source of depression and anxiety. This is one of the reasons why I’m on the advisory board for Speak Your Silence. In order to become authentic, we must reconcile our adulthood with our childhood — even if we had a “perfect” growing up experience.
  3. Ego Inflation. This most often translates as low Emotional Intelligence (EQ) — a rampant lack of self-awareness. An inflated ego robs the space between the mind and our thoughts. It essentially becomes the primary voice in the head that tends to over-inflate both our successes and our failures. It’s difficult to become authentic when you take credit for your own awesomeness or you blame others for your failures (I call this Uncle Rico Syndrome in my book “Human Bacon”).
  4. Suppressed Passions. Suppression of passion is a form of tyranny — either inflicted by others or by ourselves. It states that in order to fit in, to be of value and/or to be a “successful” person, you must suppress your true self. It attaches a negative connotation to who you are at your core. It preaches the doctrine of not trusting your heart. And in doing these things, it creates conformity and sameness — usually related to behavior and outside appearance.
  5. Addiction. Addiction comes in many forms — many that kill your health and even more that kill your soul. Simply put, addiction is negative habit that robs you of authenticity. For many people, this means an addiction to comfort where they tolerate a job they don’t like in order to get paid. This greats a dual personality of “work” you and “home” you — neither of which are the real you. Addiction makes everyone a liar — including the voice in your head (see #3).

As I have battled and defeated all five of these thieves, I have come to understand something profoundly hopeful: our authentic selves are infinitely more valuable than any false self we could create. This means that we each have a journey to dig deep to find our own authenticity — knowing that the wars and sorrows of defeating these five thieves will add great value to the world as authentic humans and leaders.

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