The Inconvenient Truths about Being Your Best, Authentic Self
Authenticity is a slippery thing. Here's why you still need to pay the high price to be yourself.
Should you be yourself?
In theory, most people will agree that “being yourself” sounds like a pretty good idea. But what does it really mean? Is it even possible to be anything else?
Technically, you can never be anything but yourself. You are your own self — right now, in this present moment.
Yet, in reality, many of us walk through life feeling as if we are constantly “putting on an act” for others. We put on masks, create personas, and hide the parts about ourselves that don’t seem favorable.
We are drifting further and further away from our authentic selves.
But what is authenticity, really? Is it even a bad thing to not be authentic? Well, it depends.
Authenticity is a slippery thing. While most people would define authenticity as acting according to your set of values and qualities, studies have shown that people feel most authentic when they conform to a certain set of “socially approved qualities.”
That being said, being extroverted, emotionally stable, conscientious, intelligent, or fun will most likely make you feel more authentic.
Once, I was doing a podcast project with a friend. Naturally, I am more of a reserved person and my voice is not that high. My friend was a charismatic guy with a deep type of voice. To create balance, I wanted to be the kind of dynamic, expressive girl with a lofty tone of voice.
I had no idea what the hell I was doing at that time.
I tried so hard to be expressive, personable, and talkative that I came off as awkward and annoying. I laughed when I shouldn’t have. I talked when I should’ve listened. We interrupted each other so many times. It was purely chaotic.
It was so embarrassing that I wanted to disappear from the face of the Earth.
I did it for the sake of social reputation. I wanted to be accepted by my friend and others. I was subconsciously trying to be anyone but myself.
You could be your best self and rock it
Let’s admit it, reputation matters. Like it or not, as social beings, how others see us highly affects our thoughts and actions.
And here’s where it gets tricky.
In a Harvard Business Review article, author Herminia Ibarra came up with a theory called “The Authenticity Paradox.” It proposes the idea (with actual research backing it up) that feeling like a fake can actually be a sign of growth.
“Sticking to a rigid self-image can negatively impact effectiveness, but, on the other hand, being too flexible can appear disingenuous.” — Herminia Ibarra
The paradox concludes that“faking yourself” is indeed necessary sometimes.
However, these things are necessary under some circumstances, like when we advance in our careers or when there are demands or expectations change.
Being authentic is important. Even so, it’s totally okay to go against your natural inclinations sometimes.
Of course, it doesn’t mean you should try to be someone else to meet countless social expectations.
If you repeatedly faking yourself with no actual integrity and identity of who you really are, you might risk losing yourself in the process. And it comes at even greater costs.
Back to my story — yes, I shouldn’t have tried to be someone I’m not. But it doesn’t mean I should just stay quiet and be uncommunicative. I could still deliver a great talk by being more serious, exploring the topic deeper, and giving real, deep, intimate talks. I could still be my best self and rock it.
The only way to grow is by stretching the limits of who you are — doing new things that make you uncomfortable but teach you through direct experience of who you want to become.
In the end, your reputation will develop as you get better at getting along with humans — which is all reflected through your character.
Being your best self comes at an exorbitant price
Here’s the thing. When you try to be real, you will piss some people off. People will judge, dislike, and reject you. Some people will make fun of you, and even hate you (mostly secretly).
But that’s okay.
The higher the costs of becoming yourself, the greater your chance to succeed.
We all know that rejection hurts — and neuroscience has concluded that it does in fact, literally, hurt.
When you let others see the real, unmasked version of your characters, you take the risk of being rejected. However, rejection is a fact of life.
In his book, The Courage to Be Disliked, author and philosopher Ichiro Kishimi gave a perspective on happiness and becoming your best self. According to him, getting disliked is a natural cost of being yourself.
“The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.” — Ichiro Kishimi
For him, getting disliked is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom. It is a sign you’re heading toward the development of self-mastery. It means you’re living under your own values and principles.
Luckily, there are some skills you can practice to be your best self. Some of them are:
lead with compassion and understanding
deliver feedback with care and perspective
give, give, give — expect no return
see all experiences as opportunities to grow
show up with honesty, humility, and integrity
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” — Carl Rogers
The act of being your best self is also an act of true acceptance.
Psychologist Carl Rogers gave into detail about why you need as though to be yourself. In his book, On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, he wrote that being yourself doesn’t ‘solve problems.’ It simply opens up a new way of living in which there is more depth and more height in the experience of your feelings. You feel more unique and hence more alone, but you are so much more real.
In the long run, it really doesn’t help to act as if you are something you are not.
It doesn’t help to be calm and pleasant when you’re furious and critical. It doesn’t help to be cheerful and expressive when you’re somber and glum. It doesn’t help for you to act as if you are full of assurance if you are actually afraid and unsure.
Becoming your best, most authentic self
Elon Musk was right. People shouldn’t want to be him, or Oprah Winfrey, or Bill Gates, or anyone for that matter. We all should be ourselves — not to get trapped in our own little bubbles, but to open up new possibilities of being the best, greatest self we can be.
Ultimately, being real to yourself and living an authentic life is worth it in the long term. The stakes may be high, but the rewards are unmatched.