What a weird question, right? It's probably not something you think about often. But the way you answer that question is hugely important for your emotional and spiritual health.
So, what is authenticity? There are probably a number of ways to define it, but I think of it with two criteria in mind:
- When daily life lines up with priorities.
- When words are consistent with actions.
These are the measures I use when looking at myself and also at the clients I work with. Being authentic is vital not only to knowing who you are but also for others to know who you are.
I frequently see counseling clients where a lack of authenticity is at the root of their problems. For example, saying you love your wife while engaging in an extramarital affair. Or stating that a certain goal is important to you while doing little to achieve it. These may seem like extreme examples, but they are simply variations of the same problem.
One of the activities I have many of my clients do is identify the two most important things in their lives. Because many of my clients tend to be Christian, I often hear "God" and "Family". The problem is when there is little evidence that these are actually the most important things in their lives. This then becomes the framework in establishing their goals for counseling.
Even though we all need authenticity in our lives, many people struggle in attaining it. It's one thing to identify authenticity as important, it's another thing knowing how to get there.
With that in mind, I am offering up 4 questions to consider in helping you live more authentically:
1. What is important to you and why?
At any given point throughout your life, it is vital to know what is important to you. This is different for each person. If this is a difficult question for you to answer, don't worry. You may be surprised at how many people struggle with identifying the most important aspects of their own lives. When I started doing this work several years ago, I was stunned at how many people respond with blank stares when asked this question. If you too have difficulty with this, consider what you look forward to each day, what gives you hope in the hard times, what would be the most painful thing to lose, or what have you worked the hardest to attain. These can give you a head start in determining the most important aspects of you life.
Alternatively, you may be able to identify many things that are important. For the purposes of this exercise, I recommend paring your list down to two or three things and allowing those to be your focus going forward. It is much easier to make life choices when a few priorities stand out above the rest.
2. Can others see what is most important to you?
This question is the essence of authenticity. If you have a clear vision for what is important to you, what is the outward evidence of this? It is unlikely that you go around asking others what is most important to them or that others ask you. So unless someone asks you this question directly, how can they know the important things in you life? What do others see when they look at your life? Are the important things obvious?
The authentic life showcases the important things.
3. In what situations is your authenticity most easily compromised?
There's a reason that many people don't live with authenticity. It can be really hard. It often requires sacrifice and a tough skin. For example, let's say that honesty is something that's really important to you. What happens if, during the course of your job, you are asked to do something that requires dishonesty or deception? What sacrifices would be required to maintain authenticity? Knowing where you are most vulnerable to attack allows you to prepare a more capable defense.
4. How can you turn those difficult situations into opportunities?
Each of these situations are actually opportunities to reaffirm the important things in your life. Whenever you feel pressure to compromise your values, sticking to those values makes them even more ingrained. Your resistance to that pressure also increases your chances of making a positive impact on others and encouraging those who share your priorities.
I recommend that you to ask yourself these questions on occasion to help ensure that the priorities in your life are not just discussed but are also lived out.