GET REAL! What is Authenticity?

Get Real! What is Authenticity?


Behave authentically.

Respond authentically.

Make an authentic offer.

Be who you really are.

What does this mean?

‘I am large, I contain multitudes.’ (Walt Whitman)

I interact in multiple ways with my world. As environments and contexts change, so do I. I am one ‘me’ with my very elderly mother, another with friends. I’m different again with a client or with the young child of a friend. I’m different online than I am in person (though I can’t remember what in-person is like these days).

Or at least, I feel different.

Who am I as I sit here, alone in my office, as the sun streams from a grey sky and music (Loscil) drifts from a speaker? Do those facts (grey sky/electronic-ambient music/home office) reveal something about the ‘real’ me?

Is there a real me?

What is authenticity?

The word ‘authentic’ comes from the Latin for ‘genuine’. It also carries the meaning ‘principal’. Is the authentic me the ‘main’ me — the ‘principal me’ from which all other mes emerge?

Is that a definition of ‘authentic’ — the foundational ‘self’ which stays constant as the surface ‘self’ adapts from context to context?

Amy Cuddy in her book on ‘Presence’ writes: ‘By finding, believing, expressing, and then engaging our authentic best selves … we reduce our anxiety about social rejection and increase our openness to others.’

This is useful. Authenticity helps us be more open — and that enables us to be more present. I wonder if it also works the other way round (actually in my experience it does) — being more present and fearlessly open, enables us to feel more authentic.

Though it may be hard to define who ‘the real me’ is, I certainly have experiences of ‘feeling real’. I know what it feels like to ‘be authentic’, even if I cannot easily explain or define it.

I’m not sure there is an ‘authentic me’ — though there are links between the different ways I experience myself in different contexts. But certainly, sometimes, I experience ‘authenticity’. Amy Cuddy writes about ‘expressing then engaging’. I write about different contexts and the inner experience of ‘feeling real’.

Let’s bring those thoughts together.

I suggest authenticity comes when three elements of the present moment come into alignment:

  1. An inner experience of being engaged, open, curious, fearless, confident, self-accepting and empowered — all those elements that combine to give me the feeling of being my ‘best self’.
  2. Full awareness of the context I’m in — putting aside my expectations and assumptions, fears and frustrations, and engaging with reality as it actually is. In other words, being present.
  3. Confidence that my reactions and responses to what’s happening accord with my ethical, moral, political and personal standards and objectives. In other words that my choices and behaviours reflect who I aspire to be; aligning who I want to be with who I’m being.

When those three elements come together — the inner world, the outer world and my choices — I experience being genuine, being the ‘main’ me. I experience authenticity.

Authenticity is not easy, but it’s available to all of us.

It comes from commiting ourselves to the disciplined work of becoming more present, more fearless and more interconnected.