Value of authenticity

I love art. I’ve studied the work of various artists, but I’m mesmerized by the work of Pollock. When I first saw photos of his paintings, I didn’t really know what was so special about them.

Still, the more I learned, the more I began to appreciate his work and his approach.

When I heard that he was one of the most forged artists of all time, I was curious to know how someone could tell an authentic Pollock from a fake one.

I mean, they just seem like a mess of drips.

Then I read an art critic say that she could tell an authentic Pollock from the energy thrown at the canvas. When I read that, it clinched it for me. Pollock’s frenzied, highly physical approach was infamous.

A person’s energy is interesting. For me, it can be as revealing as eyes.

We can sense when someone’s not quite themselves. They give off an energy – an underlying anxiety – that we pick up on.

That underlying anxiety is what we all carry when there’s a conflict between how we think, feel and behave. When you learn to be yourself, you begin to carry a sense of quiet, inner confidence.

It’s freeing.

How hard can it be to yourself?

We’re our “selves” our entire life. Yet it’s one of the most challenging ways to be.

Actually, let me correct that – being yourself is easy in the absence of others.

Home alone reading? No problem being yourself. Watching TV by yourself? Not an issue.

Being yourself only gets difficult once you add people.

In that case, being authentic means accepting that we can’t always fit in.

It means tolerating differences; knowing your strengths and weaknesses; following your passions; judging yourself fairly and accepting constructive feedback.

Being authentic requires you to act according to your beliefs even if you go against the belief of others. It also means speaking up for what you believe.

Sometimes being authentic means taking risks. Then again, not being authentic has risks as well.

Did you know that autophobia is fear of oneself?

Have you gossiped when you knew it was wrong? Or taken on a client toward whom you had a moral objection? Have you ever caved under peer pressure?

When there are discrepancies between how we think, feel and behave, we feel it. Often, it presents as an underlying anxiety or a sense of disappointment.

Do the benefits of authenticity outweigh the risks?

The benefits affect your whole self and they last over the course of your entire life. Are they worth it?

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater sense of purpose
  • More meaningful work and life relationships
  • Fewer conflicts
  • More trust in others and from others
  • More respect from others
  • Greater work satisfaction
  • More decisiveness and clarity
  • Less self-doubt
  • More motivation

And, best yet:

Greater overall contentment and wellbeing.

Keep in mind that being authentic isn’t about being fully transparent. We still need to read the room and act appropriately.

Or, as we say in marketing, “Know your audience”.

Authenticity is when we consistently behave according to the values we set across the categories of our life versus consistently behave the same way.

Nor is being authentic one-dimensional.

We’re a combination of many things and we act somewhat differently when exposed to different situations and people.

5 steps to a life on your terms

1. Identify your core values

Authenticity occurs when your words, actions, decisions and choices consistently match your core values. 

The foundation of an authentic life, therefore, is identifying yours.

Values are the deep beliefs you hold about what’s right and wrong, and what’s right and wrong for you. We all have them intuitively. What we don’t always have is a strong idea of what they are.

In fact, I did a Facebook post asking people to identify some of their core values.

People struggled with the question. The post elicited a lot of dialogue.

Ultimately everyone agreed that when they act in a way that aligns with their values, they feel a sense of inner peace.

I wrote a article about values with ten steps to identifying yours. If you follow the steps, you’ll be on your way to the rewards of authenticity.

Here it is:

How to be happy in 2,053 words.

If you’d like a free PDF version of the steps (without the full article), feel free to contact me.

2. Take an interest in your self

Get to know what makes you feel good about yourself and what doesn’t. Monitor the feelings that come up from the decisions you make, the company you keep and your behavior.

Ask yourself these questions on a regular basis and let the answers guide you:

  • What activities do you love doing?
  • What situations make you feel good about yourself?
  • What people inspire you?
  • Who do you feel comfortable around?

Keep a journal of your answers and record the positive feelings associated.

Keep adding to the journal. Conversely, keep a record and add context to the following as well:

  • What do you find yourself doing that makes you uncomfortable?
  • What situations bring on sadness, anger or anxiety?
  • Who do you feel anxious and uncomfortable with?
  • When do you feel most unlike yourself and with whom?

You may not be able to avoid people and situations that bring on discomfort. Being aware of them though will help you limit your exposure and prepare for them with healthier reactions.

Additionally, by identifying the positives, you can add more of them in your life.

Make the balance of your life weigh heavily on the positives and you’ll find that dealing with the negatives becomes easier.

By the way, don’t confuse imperfection and quirks for flaws. When I wrote dating profiles, I noticed that people always tried to present themselves as perfect.

I wrote an article about it that may be of interest:

Online dating profiles and the beauty of imperfection

3. Be honest with others, but mostly with yourself

You’re not perfect. No one is. Rather than condemn yourself for your weaknesses, flaws and mistakes, change your mindset around them.

Every single one is an opportunity to do better. Every single one is an opportunity for self-compassion.

Every single one is an opportunity to hang on to one of the best qualities you can have, that of humility.

4. Listen to criticism

Consider the possibility that the criticism may be warranted. Determine whether or not you could have handled the person and/or situation better.

Sometimes you’ll find the criticism to be fair. Sometimes you won’t. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if it’s an opportunity for improvement or not.

Of note:

A) If you find yourself being criticized for the same things, then chances are the criticism is appropriate.

B) If the criticism doesn’t fit a pattern then, before you accept it as fact, ask yourself whom the criticism benefits.

When I was in high school, a friend always bummed gum off me. One day I told her to get her own. She called me cheap.

I wasn’t, of course, but that was her way of trying to get me to give her gum. That criticism benefited her.

Fast forward to an incident at work.

A friend of mine was the producer on a TV spot. It was her job to provide estimates, but only if she had all information necessary on which to base it:

the script; the number of actors to be used; whether or not there will be music, etc.

The Account Manager (AM) was supposed to provide all those details, but didn’t.

When my friend refused to provide an estimate, the AM called her rigid. She wasn’t. The criticism benefited the AM by deflecting from the fact that she’d been too lazy to do her work.

Read 7 best and worst criticisms from a boss on Forbes.

I sometimes coach caregivers looking after their aging parents. They often say that their parents are stubborn. But I always have to ask, “Are they stubborn or just not doing what you want?”

C) You know how some horoscopes sound just like you? Usually it’s because the traits highlighted are pretty common to most people.

I’m a Libra. Among my traits is a love of beauty. In fact, many people love beauty. It’s easy for me to find examples of all the times I exhibited a love for it and then think, “this horoscope is so me”.

The same can happen with a criticism. If it focuses on a general flaw, like being stubborn, then it’s easy to find examples of all the times we’ve demonstrated that flaw.

It’s so easy that we can buy into it too easily.

D) Ask yourself if you “are” the criticism or if you merely exhibited the behavior?

E) If the criticism is valid, don’t beat yourself up. Be realistic and fair about how detrimental your “flaw” actually is.

A client of mine was told she was negative. This devastated her. To her negative was a terrible flaw. Her mother was negative.

Me:  On a scale from 1 – 10 how bad is negative?

Her: Ten

Me:  But wasn’t your mother abusive as well as negative?

Her: Yes

Me: On a scale from 1 to 10 how bad is abusive?

Her: I see where you’re going with this. I guess being negative isn’t that bad.

Use this scale to help you view flaws, mistakes and weaknesses in yourself fairly.

F) A lot of articles suggest asking friends and family to help you identify areas of improvement.

Personally I prefer you review patterns of criticism and conflicts (see below) because I don’t think our loved ones have the objectivity and they may be too uncomfortable to be honest.

5. Look for patterns of conflict

Go back over the past few years or so and write down the situations that created conflict for you at work and in your personal life.

As with criticism, identify patterns.

An agency I worked for conducted yearly reviews. I discovered then that I wasn’t diplomatic enough. Interestingly, I had moved from a city with the same brashness as New York to one where the culture was a little more formal.

I hadn’t adapted to the communication style and it showed up in my reviews. It was a pattern.

When I was younger, I also noticed that my conflicts generally centered on my behavior being selfish. I noticed that when I was struggling (I had a number of challenges to overcome), I’d center on myself so much that I’d neglect the needs of friends and family.

Look at the conflicts you’ve been in and see if there are patterns that can reveal areas for improvement in yourself.

6. Learn from your mistakes

Take inventory of some of the mistakes you’ve made in recent years with regard to friends, coworkers, family and work-related projects.

Again look for patterns and see if you can spot areas that recur.

Identify why you made the mistake and take note of it. The insights you collect from this self-reflection can help you improve and prevent the errors from being repeated.

Don’t beat yourself up. Again no one’s perfect. If you expect that of yourself then you really need to read the next section.

7. Tame that ego

Ego is a huge subject the depth of which is best left to people like Ekhart Tolle and Freud. Also, for our purpose of this section, I use ego and pride interchangeably and the objective is to help you recognize when pride is taking over to your detriment.

Here are some feelings and behaviors associated to an inappropriate ego reaction:

  • Feeling defensive
  • Becoming indignant
  • Overstating your point
  • Anger at being criticized
  • Deflecting by finding fault in others
  • Hiding the truth
  • Not wanting to ask for help
  • Not listening to another point of view
  • Being too embarrassed to do something reasonable
  • Having trouble considering the possibility that you’re wrong
  • Choosing not to do something out of spite

When you find yourself reacting in any of these ways, take a moment. Stop, breathe and then ask yourself if this is ego getting in the way.

The irony of ego is that it reveals our insecurity and renders us disempowered. The irony of humility is the power it wields. Here’s what humility looks like:

  • You transform disagreement into dialogue
  • You learn from others
  • You cooperate rather than compete
  • You appreciate constructive criticism
  • You lack preconceptions and prejudice
  • You lack conceit and arrogance
  • You have fewer conflicts and drama
  • You exhibit inner confidence

Ultimately keeping an inappropriate ego in check makes you more likeable and collaborative. It also informs others that they too are in a safe place to be “ego free” around you.

So notice your reactions. Take a step back and observe yourself. It’s an ongoing practice that’s easier said that done. I’m continually monitoring myself.

To summarize

Being yourself doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It takes awareness, monitoring, as well as courage. It also takes time. You don’t have step way out of your comfort zone right away and all the time.

One small step will help you get the reward and strength you need to take another, slightly bigger, step. Over time, you’ll get more confident and the steps will come easier.

Before you make any step stick, however, I do suggest you explore your core values. If you need help with the steps, then contact me and let’s work on them together.

In the meantime, join me on Facebook.

It’s a good group and I look forward to engaging with you!

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