Authenticity and my journey of becoming fearlessly ME

Authenticity. Big word. Serious word. But what does it really mean to me?

It’s one of my core values. I’ve always prided myself on being authentic, genuine, “what you see is what you get”. But this month as I dug deeper into this topic (part of a 10 month self development course I’m undertaking with Stratejoy) I uncovered some new challenges and personal revelations.

Anyone who is familiar with author Brené Brown may be familiar with her definition of Authenticity (from The Gifts of Imperfection):

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
Choosing authenticity means:
- cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable;
- exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and
- nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.

I used to think being authentic was simply a case of knowing who I am (check!), and more or less living accordingly (check!) So where did guilt, insecurity, comparison, shame, fear of judgement and external validation fit into all that? Because if I’m being truly honest with myself, I’ll admit I have experienced all of them, heck sometimes all in one day.

I’ve realised authenticity is so much more than just knowing who I am, what I like and what I dislike. True authenticity takes courage and integrity. It’s about owning who I am, imperfections, juxtapositions and all. It’s about owning my decisions in life — whether they lead to success or failure. It’s about owning my story and my path— which will look completely different from someone else’s (and that’s OK!) It’s about choosing every day to live in alignment with my values, the woman I want to be. And ultimately, it’s about letting go of everything else outside of my control — especially when it comes to what other people think. I cannot control other people’s experience of me. All I can do is show up as me, and accept that I may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Of course it’s much easier said than done.

That’s where I discovered self-compassion was an important part of being authentic. It’s something I personally struggle with (as a recovering perfectionist). I absolutely love Kristen Neff’s research on self-compassion and how she breaks it down into three elements.

  1. Self-kindness — being gentle with myself when I make a mistake instead of getting frustrated and self-critical.
  2. Common humanity — remembering that I am not the only person who suffers, makes mistakes or feels inadequate. It is a shared human experience.
  3. Mindfulness — being balanced in how I handle my negative emotions — neither suppressing nor exaggerating them — just being open and receptive to them without ignoring or over identifying with them.

My personal nemesis is over-identifying with negative emotions and being swept away by them — but I have realised how unhelpful this has been to myself. In one personal revelatory example, there was an occasion I felt jealousy with my partner. In the past I often tried to suppress this emotion because it’s ugly and reveals personal insecurity and a host of other traits I’d rather not have. On this occasion however, I took a quiet moment to breathe… and in my own mind, I observed this emotion. I accepted its presence and that I as a human felt jealous and it was OK. After I did this, amazingly, the strength of the emotion faded. Rather than being crippled by guilt and getting frustrated with myself, I was able to simply self-soothe and move on. I realised that in the past these emotions would often become magnified the more I tried to fight them. It was a bit of a revelation for me!

Another challenge I experienced in my authenticity journey was regarding my (in)ability to hold space for someone else’s authenticity — particularly if it was at odds with mine. I was gently advised by my esteemed mentor (after a moment of personal truth-telling went south with my partner) that if I give myself the grace to be authentic and speak my truth, I need to give that same grace and permission to the person listening to my truth. That being authentic does not guarantee the answer will be yes, or that their response will be kindly and positive. But it does mean that I can be proud of showing up and having the courage to be vulnerable, regardless of how it is received.

My personal journey and practice of authenticity can only grow with time. I still struggle greatly with insecurity and how other people judge me. I subconsciously compare myself to others. I am incredibly sensitive to criticism. And I absolutely hate being wrong. But with a little self-compassion, I can accept that I am imperfect. I am my juxtapositions. And I am enough.

So what does authenticity mean to you? Where do you struggle most with it? I would love to hear about your personal stories, your daily practice of choosing authenticity.