I love the real thing. I like to think I know it when I see it. And I certainly want to be real, to live with integrity, to be authentic, as a person.
I hear a lot of talk about being authentic; people saying, just like me, that this behavior or that behavior is “authentic” to them. They’re being true to themselves.
But “authentic” is no gold standard of behavior or character. I sometimes think we’ve forgotten that.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes I’m authentically disappointing. My authentic flaws appear, and there’s no doubt the real me is shining through.
That’s one of the drawbacks to being myself. Sometimes I’m not a me I like, or want to be.
What to do, what to do?!
This is what I’ve learned: when people talk about being “authentic,” they may be referencing behavior they’re proud of and genuinely feel good about. OR, they’re excusing behavior they know is questionable, but by saying that (fill in the blank) is authentic to them, they give themselves a pass, and others usually do as well. “Authentic” becomes a seal of approval to hide behind.
When we confuse the meaning of the term “authentic”…genuine and original article…with the belief that because a character trait or behavior is authentic, it is automatically something to be honored, we’ve mixed two very different standards.
I’m ready to give up a few pieces of my authentic self in exchange for others…traits I choose for their excellence, integrity, courage.
I want to cultivate behavior that reflects who I choose to be, rather than the person I sometimes am.
I’ll never be perfect, never get it all right, no one does. But honest effort to change has to start with the acknowledgement: there’s some of the authentic me I don’t want any more. Maybe in time, with thoughtful choice and discipline, I’ll be more courageous, more productive, stronger, and wiser.
But if I become a better person, a bigger person, it won’t be because it comes naturally to me…the changes will happen out of choice and hard work.
Because I believe we’re never done growing, that life is a teacher giving us lessons until we die, I’m not on a timeline. I am always a work in progress. But I don’t want to hide behind language, or ideas that don’t hold up. I don’t want to choose being authentic over becoming a better version of myself. Isn’t this the work of maturing? Of becoming the best me I can be?
This is an inside job. No one can do this for me. And I can’t determine for someone else what pieces of self to keep and nurture, and what to change. That would be arrogant thinking. No one can see into the heart of another.
So, authentic me or improved me? I know which one I choose. How about you?