Updated: Sep 15, 2020
What does it mean to live authentically?
We can turn to any number of books, articles, websites, or people and find different explanations on how to be authentic. While reading Gordon T. Smith’s book, Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential, I found a definition that has spoken volumes to me personally:
“If we seek to be anything other than who we are, we live a lie. To know ourselves and to be true to ourselves is actually nothing but being true to God. For to be true to ourselves is to be true to how God has made us, how God has crafted our personalities, how God has given us ability and talent and passion…Know yourself, for you cannot live in truth until you do.”
Gordon is speaking primarily about understanding our identity and calling, which I believe is the baseline for being able to live an authentic life. We have to understand who we were made to be before we are able to live our lives out of true authenticity. You might feel as if you are in the middle of an identity crisis, and do not know where to begin. Let us start with a basic understanding of authenticity.
What is authenticity?
Take a look at the picture below. What do you see?
In every single drop of rain, the viewer can see a reflected image of a tree. As the viewer, though, we cannot see the tree in it’s entirety. We know it is there because the raindrops are reflecting it, yet in many ways the fullness of the tree’s beauty is hidden to us. In addition, each drop of rain reflects an image of the tree from a different perspective. The tree looks different depending on the size of the raindrop or the angle to which the drop of rain is facing the tree. And in the tiniest of drops, we are unable to see a tree at all.
To me, this is a beautiful picture of authenticity. The actual tree in the background of this image represents the core of who we are. We may not show it to everyone we meet, but regardless, a reflection of our core spills out into all areas of our life. The raindrops, then, represent all those different areas of life – while we are at school or work or in our relationships with friends or family or even when we are simply by our self. Depending on the setting we are in or the people we are with, we show the core of who we are from a variety of different perspectives. And in some cases, like the tiny raindrops, we do not share our core. We leave the canvas blank because we do not feel comfortable to simply reflect who we truly are.
Authenticity takes courage and vulnerability. When we are authentic we are some times shouting to the world, “Here I am! Please accept me!” And if we get rejected our voice becomes a little bit quieter the next time, and we no longer shout with excitement but fear. Authenticity is not easy. It requires us to better understand the core of who we are, and it also requires us to practice sharing that core with others. Brene Brown has written excellent books and done numerous TED talks around authenticity, identity, guilt and shame. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene defines authenticity as follows:
“…authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s a practice – a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
How do I practice living authentically?
1. The first step is to understand who you are at your core. The following list of questions can be used as a guide: What brings me joy? Anger? Sadness? What am I passionate about? Am I living with guilt and/or shame in my life? How am I living out my life according to God’s calling and plan for me? What gives me energy? Am I re-energized when I am around other people, or when I give myself alone time? How do I process information? Do I depend on concrete facts or possibilities? How am I inclined to make a decision? Do I decide on the basis of principle or affect? How am I inclined to live? Do I enjoy living spontaneously, or do I need order and structure? (Note: The Myers-Briggs Personality Test is a wonderful tool to help you better understand your answers to some of the questions above. If you are interested in taking a free sample of this test please click here.)
2. Second, challenge your perception of yourself against someone else’s perception of you. Sometimes our perception of our self is not always accurate. Have you heard the saying, “You are your worst critic”? In many ways that is true. We can be incredibly hard on ourselves, and can set expectations for ourselves that we would not set for anyone else. It is important to take a step back, and ask a trusted friend or family member for their insight. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own head and hear another person speak wisdom and love into our life.
3. That second step requires you to be vulnerable, and to seek out someone you respect and trust. In doing so, you are making a choice to be authentic and show your true self to that person. Be cautious with who you decide to be vulnerable with. Not everyone can be trusted with your story, especially the deepest pieces of it. Make sure you are going to someone who: Is a safe person. This means they are trustworthy and will hold your story. Is willing to listen. When you are opening up to someone and being vulnerable, you deserve for that person to listen well instead of simply telling you what to do. Will challenge you. Again, some times we simply need to get someone else’s insight on our life. Being challenged helps us to grow in a healthy way. Holds similar beliefs and values to yours. If you value God’s Word in your life and wish to be challenged with the truth of Scripture, then you have to go to someone who holds these same values and beliefs as well. Is also trying to live authentically.
4. In order to live authentically, you must understand how to set and maintain healthy boundaries. I highly recommend getting your hands on Boundaries, by Cloud & Townsend. This book is a great resource for those who need to better understand boundaries and how to apply them.
5. Lastly, it is important to purposefully set aside time for your own personal self-care. The idea of self-care in American culture is often viewed as selfish and narcissistic. However, I would argue that in order to give ourselves fully in all areas of life, we must take time to replenish the energy we put out. If we are not taking care of our self and our needs, how are we supposed to give fully and not be depleted? Self-care looks vastly different for each unique person. Self-care can be a bubble bath after a long day, reading a good book or the Bible, scheduling time to hang out with a friend or group of friends, making sure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep, exercising regularly, eating healthy, seeking out professional counseling, etc. Self-care is whatever you need in order to be replenished. In order to do self-care well, though, you must first understand who you are at your core.
Living authentically is not easy. It is a daily choice we must practice. By no means is the above list meant to be all you need in order to practice authenticity. Rather, it is intended to be a guide to point you in the direction of beginning this process. If you are wrestling with understanding your core identity, are unsure how to set boundaries in your life, have never established a self-care routine, or feel you do not have a safe person to go to, I would encourage you to seek counseling. My door is always open.