How to Discover Your “Authentic” Self and Live the Life You Really Want
Being yourself seems self-explanatory: just wake up and do what you want to do, without following the crowds, without fear of judgment. That’s not how the world works, though. We tend to stifle our authentic selves to fit in without even realizing it. And doing so suppresses our creativity, ingenuity, and self-awareness.
We all have variations of ourselves we present in different situations. You might act one way in front of your parents, another way in front of your clients, and yet another way in front your significant other. Those “invented selves” are normal, and it’s something we all do to some extent.
This makes defining your authentic self difficult, especially these days, where the term gets thrown around by social media gurus and other fad mongers as a means to present yourself positively online. Worse, “being yourself” is often represented in the media as being a loudmouth, a goofy stereotype of an alternative kid, or an outsider with a quirky wardrobe and a penchant for manic hysteria. But that’s not what authenticity is about. It’s not about expressing your opinions all the time without filters—it’s about confidently knowing what those opinions are.
Fad term or not, philosophers like Rousseau, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Maslow, May, Bugental, and countless others have struggled with what being authentic means for decades. Philosophy Now sums up the general idea:
Becoming authentic is an individual mission, since each person has their own way of being human, and consequently what is authentic will be different for each individual. Furthermore, personal authenticity is highly contextual, and depends on various social, political, religious and cultural characteristics. But the unique nature of each individual is best seen not in who he is, but in who he becomes, and becoming authentic is a continuous process, not an event. It involves not just knowing oneself, but also recognizing others and the mutual influence between individuals. If the quest for personal authenticity is just for self-fulfillment, then it is individualistic and ego-based; but if it is accompanied with the awareness of others and the wider world, then it can be a worthwhile goal.
In short, to root out your authentic self isn’t just about being honest, it’s also about being self-aware, becoming more humble, and taking feedback from others. It’s a hard, never ending process because your identity is constantly evolving. But the payoff is a happier, more creative self. According to some psychologists, authenticity can also lead to better coping strategies, a stronger sense of self-worth, more confidence, and a higher likelihood to follow through on goals.