Authenticity Requires Risk

Question:  What happens when you commit to greater authenticity in your life? 

Answer:  The Universe will meet your request with opportunities to practice! ;)

Recently, after facilitating a successful women’s retreat entitled Unmask Your Authentic Self, I knew it was time to “call myself higher.” Now, a single word like “Authenticity” is such a BIG word encompassing so many facets. Just thinking about one’s own authenticity potentially brings a heightened level of anxiety and courage. But don’t worry as it can also bring deepening awareness and growth. So I decided to concentrate on my own authenticity as it relates to my relationships — ALL relationships, not just with the folks I get along with. It was time to expect more from myself and the quality of my interactions. Am I as genuine when I am talking with family, friends, clients or a congregation, or with myself? 

Healthy relationships demand authenticity. I decided that my listening skills and ability to support folks were pretty well developed for now. Where I want(ed) to improve is in being more clear when speaking about my own needs and desires — even when it disagrees with another. How well do I state these needs and do I feel I am worth the risk of being rejected or accepted in the process? How often had I chosen to say very little or nothing at all for fear it would offend another person? Perhaps I thought I was sparing others from the discomfort of my honesty, but in reality, maybe I was really sparing myself?   

For example, we might perceive that it’s easier to ‘be real’ with someone we’ve just met because there is less time or energy invested. Realistically though, first encounters are crucial for establishing a favorable impression, like interviewing for a job. And what if, in our desire to be authentic, the first impression we create isn’t a good one? Whatever way you slice it, authenticity is powerful and formative — merging etiquette, beliefs, appearances, speech, not to mention any behaviors we possess — or don’t. So much contributes to who we are…really

Somehow, I grew up thinking that asking for what I need or want is selfish. To complicate things even more, I was “rewarded” (as so many women are) for staying quiet, focusing on others, or avoiding sharing my differing opinion. Thus, I had developed the false belief that authenticity includes vagueness/obtusity/invisibility. Additionally, I saw how ‘radical honesty’ could hurt people’s feelings. I didn’t want any part of that. I developed a coping mechanism where I separated helpful from hurtful language, “good and bad” messages, as well as silent vs. spoken opinions. Over time and introspection, I began to realize how this behavior was self-defeating and incorrect. Honest communication shouldn’t have to be exclusionary. The result: it doesn’t allow anyone to get to know us well. Censoring actually prevents intimacy (read “in-to-me-see"). True authenticity actually enhances and embraces our individual needs more proactively. Now, when I sense myself withholding my comments, I challenge my motives, then deliberately reach for greater authenticity. It’s worth the risk to be real!

This whole process reminds me of a wise thing a beloved college professor once told me…

 

“Never give up your integrity, individuality and authenticity for anything or to anyone. If we agreed on everything 100% of the time, one of us would be unnecessary!”  

 

Now, authenticity means that I am more willing to be honest or genuine, not just with others, but primarily within myself. Authenticity cultivates the precious skills of compassion, patience, non-judgment and forgiveness for ourselves (not just for others). It means that I am willing to bring “all of me” to every interaction or conversation. It’s important to me to communicate feelings or thoughts with a heightened level of spiritual integrity. No one said it was easy all the time! And whenever I backslide, I try to quickly remind myself that I am worth whatever it takes to be 100% authentic!

Photo © Mark Sebastian