You’ve probably heard by now that Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2023 is ‘Authentic.’ While much of the talk around authenticity since the announcement has revolved around AI, deep fakes, George Santos, Donald Trump (two names I never thought I’d be putting in a blog post), social media influencers and celebrity culture, I want to talk here about the courage it takes to be authentic.
The Definition of Authentic
Merriam-Webster’s describes ‘authentic’ as “not false or imitation; real; actual; true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” The definition that Dr. Gabor Mate uses in his book, The Myth of Normal, also deeply resonates with me: “Authenticity is finding meaning in one’s inner experience.” It is the idea of living your truth as you define it, not tied to the approval (or disapproval) of others.
Following Your Own Rules
According to psychologist and professor of psychology, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, being authentic is the hardest thing in the world–because to be authentic is to be unpopular, to blaze your own trail even when others are stigmatizing you, giving you the side eye, and telling you that you should be following the(ir) rules. This might be society in general, friends or, as is often the case, family members. The author Susan Cain shares the story in her book, Bittersweet, of her own mother essentially disowning her at one point in her life. She laments the “not altogether uncommon situation in which the parent tells the child she can be herself or she can be loved, but she can’t be both,” and how that ended up causing her to avoid conflict, distrust her own reality, and defer to others with stronger opinions. Eventually, Cain did her own inner work, believed in her own self-worth, got clear on her values, and distanced herself from that unhealthy relationship. I am guessing that many of us who choose to follow our own rules instead of those that others attempt to impose upon us have had similar experiences.
Some may call choices like Cain’s selfish or uncaring but, as Dr. Ramani notes, authentic people actually feel tremendous guilt about the decisions they make in following their own hearts. Nevertheless, they feel a stronger commitment to the potential within themselves–and the potential of others. They realize that giving in to others’ wishes is not doing themselves any favors, and its also not doing other people any favors.
Interestingly, Dr. Ramani also observes that authentic people often have smaller social networks than others because they refuse to have people around them who are unhealthy or invalidating. Some may think authentic people are selfish, cold, or uppity, she says, but all they’re trying to do is draw a healthy boundary. It is a brave stand, and it is not easy to do. It is also not easy to bear the consequences.
Suffering the Consequences
Around the same time I heard about the Word of 2023, I read a blog post about courage by Dr. Ted Klontz (known internationally as “The People Whisperer,” and someone I go way back with to my high school days–hi Ted!). In his post, Dr. Klontz writes about being courageous enough to “listen to the voice that is speaking to me about what I do and don’t want to do anymore…who I am, who I am not….all of which have significant consequences.”
This makes me wonder if perhaps all of us who summon the courage to stay loyal to our innermost truth end up having to bear some negative consequences. I can certainly attest to that in my own life. I have had both family members and people I considered friends shut me out, ghost me, chide me, or otherwise castigate me for being authentic–for standing up for who I truly am and what I need.
For anyone else out there who has also experienced some of the negative consequences of staying true to yourself, I hope you will take heart and find courage in this post. Some of us are called to take the hero’s journey of walking the path of our own hearts, which can often be a lonely and exhausting road. We are often misunderstood or unsupported. But I believe the positive consequences–a sense of freedom, deep contentment, and inner peace–are well worth the journey. As Dr. Gabor Mate states in The Myth of Normal, “Authenticity’s only dictate is that we–not externally imposed expectations–be the true author and authority of our own life.”
An authentic human being took the time to write this blog post without the help of AI.
Find out the steps I took to lead a more authentic life–and how you can too.