Let’s chat for a sec about authenticity, Merriam-Webster's word of the year.
It makes sense that authenticity is in demand as we’ve had to work harder and harder to separate genuineness from falsity in the news, in marketing, and in technology. And, amidst the noise of pundits, influencers, and conflicting data, many of us grapple with having a clear point of view about life and about ourself. The value of living authentically is that it yields personal freedom and power. Practically speaking, when we live and lead authentically, we communicate and relate more easily, make decisions with less turbulence, and fall asleep more quickly because there’s less mental buzz of conflicting thoughts and stress.
And while the pursuit of authenticity is a mainstay for spiritual seekers and personal growth devotees, leaders and the world at large are increasingly focused on authenticity because deceit and confusion has become perfected and machine-driven, and followers take solace in having authentic leaders.
I've been exploring what it means to live and lead authentically for close to 40 years, and want to share just one important aspect to make your efforts in this path more fruitful. I've found that typical education and cultural notions about being authentic and finding our authentic self, range from naïve to misleading to bamboozling. At the heart of this mess is a collective agreement – a mistaken assumption – that hidden somewhere deep within us is an authentic self.
Typical pursuit of authenticity implicitly assumes that we have a static and stable (read, authentic) Self that, with enough effort and skill, can be chiseled out and released. Unfortunately, this isn’t helpful as it flies in the face of science, philosophy, and spirituality. All of our wisdom fields agree that everything in life fluxes and changes. From galaxies to molecules, and from markets to moods, everything is impermanent – constantly shifting and changing. Impermanence is a universal fact that touches every aspect of life, including authenticity. It is not possible, therefore, to locate a static and unchanging self, is it? We, too, are subject to change and flux.
So, to clean up this limiting idea, embrace the fact of impermanence. Then you can replace your search for an “authentic self” with a notion of “authentic expression.” An expression is dynamic. An expression honors change and flux. An expression grasps that from our birth to our (hopefully) ripe old age, we continuously unfold and grow in a myriad of domains—mental, emotional, physical, interpersonal, and spiritual. An expression acknowledges that there’s no end to learning and evolving; we are constantly unfolding. It’s natural.
When we embrace our authentic expression, we honor our past selves, and welcome our emerging self. We accept that changing our mind and values is a feature of evolving and maturing. We can gracefully let go of the versions of self that were sculpted by others, and make room for our unique expression of creativity and care. We bow deeply to the Universal inevitability of impermanence. When we embrace authentic expression, we attune our awareness to an unfolding self-expression.
Why not do the work of authenticity in 2024? It is personally gratifying, and it is a leadership magnet to other people of depth and substance. Clarify your values. Identify child-aged beliefs and let them go. Set boundaries with people. Share your creativity and perspective more often. And as you do all this, be deeply curious about what’s emerging. This isn’t the kind of work that just end – there’s no certificate that declares that you are complete. Your authentic expression is a flow, not a pool.
This work is good for your team and for your company. This work is good for your loved ones and community. And this work is ancient spiritual practice.
Wishing you an amazing 2024.
Happy New Year.