By Ermelinda Hajdari*
“Authenticity consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks that it involves in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror or hate.” Jean Paul Sartre
Just like many of us in the context of the current pandemic, I’ve experienced a reflective reflex kicking in during these ‘Corona times’. One of the themes consistently popping up is that of authenticity.
We so often hear things like “be true to yourself”, “be authentic” “listen to your inner voice”. And here I am, a fervent believer of all that, finding myself looking for what that really means to me!
Having moved to a new country when I was 16 years old — in the midst of the formative years of a young adult, I felt like I had to do my best to integrate, conform, and belong. And while I could have done so in a drastic way, I am grateful to realize that I somehow managed to keep a big part of my identity and personality intact, in the midst of these ‘outer’ influences.
Writing this article confronted me with my fear of being inauthentic. Because of the emergence of the cultural phenomenon of ‘picture-perfect’ lives on social media, because of trying to build and run a business and looking to be loved and admired in the process — I ‘hid’ myself through curated and filtered selfies, clever captions, ‘deep’ quotes and inaccessible poetry.
But lately, friends and colleagues have brought to my attention that I should not hide my (authentic) self and speak up for what I stand for. This article is an attempt to do that.
Subjectively defining authenticity
The third ‘Skill to Future — ABC’* series on Authenticity has me experiencing some kind of ‘writer’s blockade’. I started researching the topic online to get started and while doing so, I had to admit to myself that I was afraid. I didn’t dare to think about what was real, and true, because what if I had not listened to it? What if I had tried too much to be like someone else, to portray what I thought people would like to see? What if I, don’t possess authenticity?
We get exposed to so many ‘other’ views lately and that might make us feel overwhelmed at times. That’s why it is easy to fall into the seductive trap of adopting what is common, familiar, or maybe just louder.
As I usually do when I am contemplating something, I turned to my sister to hear her thoughts on the matter. I go to her because she’s the one person that knows me best, but also has the audacity to disagree with me, and point out ‘what I’m doing wrong’. I’ve learned to appreciate that because even when I know she’s ‘wrong’ about what I’m doing wrong, I’m curious to hear where she’s coming from and how she developed that opinion, considering we grew up in the same way and share a significant amount of DNA.
We rambled on about how being authentic is being true to yourself. But that’s like using synonyms in the same language to try to explain the same thing to someone who doesn’t speak that language. And you can imagine, I was not very pleased with the result.
The word replayed in my mind for days before I realized I didn’t dare to actually confront it. I dodged the question, by retreating to where I always go as a political sciences student (lives ago!): Everything is relative. You can never know ‘the truth’ because ‘the’ truth doesn’t exist. Not to mention, that there’s no rock-defined you: we’re evolving beings, whether we like it or not, we’re like rivers. There is no epiphany when we see the light. We might catch a glimpse of it during our journey, and sometimes we might choose to follow it, but more often than not we get caught up …
So how can we know which parts of our true selves reflect the real/authentic part, and which are adopted, infiltrated ideas, behaviors and projections of other people, and what surrounds us on a conscious and unconscious level? How can we #liveauthentically if we’re constantly comparing ourselves on social media, and lazily copying each other — sometimes righteously flattered, if someone shared a quote after we did, or something similar?
After all, we all long to belong, be part of and be accepted, and maybe even admired.
I dwelled on this until I came to one important realization that authenticity has nothing to do with taking your(authentic)self so seriously.
While continuing my online research I came across this statement on authenticity that I couldn’t have put better myself:
[…] Authenticity is found through fragments. It evolves over time. It’s a moving target that falls out of focus and can be lost to the chaos of life.
Authenticity is less about identifying a singular purpose and voice that should define your entire life. It’s about finding and trusting your voice today. In other words, embracing the impermanence of your identity, knowing that it can and will change.-Alex J. Hughes
In fact, because of it’s elusiveness, authenticity is not like learning to ride a bike, but rather more like learning to play an instrument. You need to invest time, effort and persevere in order to be able to evoke anything through the notes.
Oblivious mass-media owners
Nowadays, all of us being media-channel owners, we can choose, and curate our expression formats and content. And that is an immense opportunity to explore our taste, interests, talents, etc. Of course, these are often defined by our culture, but at the end of the day it is up to us to choose how we express ourselves. Some are visually inclined and prefer images, others find delight in word and language. Some make podcasts, and some still write books! (I know!).
The bottom line is that people are wired to express and share their truths, be it online or offline. And that is what we’re all doing massively, trying to convey our values, our emotions, and what we consider to be important. The question is rather, how far do we let other people define, pressure or lure us into someone we’re not?
“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things. — Mary Oliver.
Why authenticity matters
Whether you think authenticity is something that comes from within — from your core, soul, gut — or you think it’s a construction forged by our environment and external forces, it is important for many of us to come from a place of truth. I believe it is your responsibility as an aspiring human being to recognize that place of truth, respect, and integrity.
Here are just a few reasons why authenticity matters:
Inspires trust: people don’t like phony & fake. You might have the best of intentions, if something ‘doesn’t add up’ about the way you act or present yourself, people will consciously or subconsciously be wary about you, because they can’t ‘place’ you, or ‘figure you out’.
Inspires respect: someone who knows what they stand for and are honest and truthful, gains respect without having to be apologetic about it.
Brings you closer to your ‘purpose’ and enables you to fulfill your potential. True purpose is not selfish nor centered around an individual — yet there’s a reason why you need to answer a particular calling.
It is the only way you can enjoy success and achievement, on your own terms.
Inspires empathy and compassion: I believe authentic people accept other people’s authenticity as personal freedom and can therefore connect and empathize better with fellow humans.
Not only this but being authentic in whatever you do and how you act, behave, and move is an opportunity for you to create something that only you can. It takes people years, and a lot of ‘copying’ and adopting other people’s behaviors, norms and lives before they realize they have something different to bring to the table. The sooner we realize that, the younger the people who take this responsibility, the better that is for our society as a whole.
Toward authentic development
The good news is, you can learn and train authenticity. But how exactly are we supposed to do that? Here are a few actions that we know are generally good for us but will also help you to work more on your own ‘authentic development’, consciously.
Check-in with yourself: Sometimes we get caught up in the moment, and we follow whatever the ‘loudest voice’ is saying. Instead of jumping right in with what initially seems to be the ‘right’ choice, reaction or move, take a moment to check-in with yourself. Ask yourself ‘what do I really think about this’, ‘how do I feel about this’ and eventually ‘what is my body telling me’. This will give you the chance not to hurry yourself in a position that doesn’t reflect your values, goals, or purpose. In case of doubt, shut up and listen (to your gut).
Increase self-awareness or “Know Thyself”. I normally don’t like this advice, because it’s too generic and little instructive to how one really achieves that, if even possible to achieve. But it is important to understand yourself, your roots, inherent worth, and the value you bring to the world. That is immensely important to cultivate from a young age — not because you have to ‘contribute’ as a duty, but rather because it will enrich your life and growth.
Learn how to give and receive feedback, even when it is not given skillfully. Always consider it a gift. Remember, the point is not the shape of the vase, but rather its content. So, no matter how clues and input are given to you, don’t waste them. We get too caught up with our own views and sometimes dogmatic principles, that we lose sight of when those principles are causing more harm than good. Other people or the outside world can be the mirror we might need.
Be courageous: It is not easy to stand authentically in a world that too often is a fake one. One of the ways to do that is by embracing your vulnerability. Being authentic doesn’t mean you should be perfect — it means you have the courage to change, develop, and improve. Don’t be afraid of not ‘having anything’ to offer. All of us do. It is precisely when you’re afraid that you should listen to that inner voice.
Authenticity is dead, long live authenticity
Authenticity is. in other words, nothing you possess but something you develop. It changes according to your life and context and doesn’t imprison you. On the contrary, it enables you to be yourself freely and accept other people for what they are.
In other words, it takes courage — to see reality, to listen to yourself, and speak up and express yourself from there. It takes standing on your own, yet not be untouchable.
While writing this I gave myself a break and found a way to push through to the end of this article. Those who know me know I have an issue with finishing everything I start, because of the many projects and ideas I jump on. So, it is very important to me to be able to say I finished/published this.
I still don’t know what it means for me to be an authentic person and develop an authentic brand from there. But I am confident that, just like flowers bloom in their season, if you cultivate your truth, you’ll bloom in your time, no overthinking.
Once you know what resonates with you, you will also encounter people and tribes that share the same. As long as we give each other the creative freedom to subjectively define authenticity for ourselves, I believe each can lead better lives, and contribute to bettering the world we live in.
*Ms. Ermelinda HAJDARI was born in Tirana in 1989.