Authenticity, great value, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be authentic?
So, what is authenticity anyway? And most important, what does it imply?
Let’s take a look at the Merriam Webster definitions.
- worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on the fact
- conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features
- made or done the same way as an original
- not false or imitation: REAL, ACTUAL
- true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character
So, speaking about people, it can be defined as the capacity to be real, truthful could be its synonym.
Real as in doing, being and portraying who you really are, what you really like and what you really are all about. This is hard, no doubt about it.
Why is it hard you say?
OK, it’s easy and even convenient to believe that you are authentic. You might even believe you lead a life wholly created by you and for you, but, ask yourself again, how much of that is actually true?
There is an impediment for authenticity. Something we all have and that, especially in our times, is pervasive. And that is our incessant need for recognition.
The need for recognition or being validated by other people obliterates your capacity of actually being authentic. Instagram anyone?
When your goal is to be recognized, you are acting, most likely, not on what you want, but on doing what other people like or want you to want. You are, whether you admit it or not, controlled by others.
Authenticity is about being you and doing you, not someone else’s.
If you shun the despicable need for recognition, inevitably, you are going to end up doing things and being things that other people might not like and even detest. But to be truly authentic, you have to be OK with being disliked by other people. A truly authentic person will say and do whatever he thinks is correct or real to himself, not being concerned about what other people might think.
You might say: I don’t want to be disliked by other people! Who’d want that?
Well, the things that you gain from authenticity, I would say, are immensely more rewarding than the recognition you might get and the petty need of being liked by other people.
A life of authenticity will bring you freedom and trust.
The need for recognition is based on the punishment and reward system. If you behave well and do as you’re told, you are going to be rewarded, but, if you behave badly , you are going to be punished.
It’s funny to think of it in these terms. It feels as if we were still children, right? But hey, it works just the same. When you do anything in your life, be it getting a job, buying a shirt, or behaving in a certain way and you do it because you expect applause, you are behaving in accordance to the punishment and reward system.
If you do it because you feel that you are going to get recognition and people are going to speak good or bad of you, again, you are basically seeking to be rewarded or punished.
This isn’t authentic, this isn’t real. When you’re searching for recognition and validation, you are basically a slave, a puppy to whatever society, your parents, your friends or your girlfriend mandates you to do.
What happens when you shun your need for validation and recognition is that you discover what you really are all about. You might not like many things you’ve rationalized yourself into believing you like and that is OK, it is OK because once you do that, you will start to know what freedom is really like.
“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”
Freedom to like what you want, freedom to go out with whom you want, freedom to follow the life you think is more pleasing to you. Lovely and beautiful freedom.
To be authentic is to be free. Free from prejudice and judgment. Free to follow your own estimation of what is better and after freedom, trust arrives.
There is no trust without truthfulness, that is, authenticity. The need for recognition comes with a certain degree of untruthfulness, you are not doing, being, saying what you really think is true to you, but what is true to someone else, simply, you are lying. There can be no trust with a liar.
The hard truth, I know.
An authentic man might not be liked by everyone, but rest assured that you can trust him, as he is hiding nothing.
So how does one come about authenticity?
A long time ago, there was a city called Gordium. The legend went that inside the city there was an old astonishingly beautiful cart tied to a pole with the famous Gordian Knot.
The knot was tied by the peasant king and husband of the goddess Cybele, Gordius. The cart was a gift from the king Gordius to the god Zeus. It was said that the nonother than very next ruler of the city would be able to untie the knot.. Whoever could untie the Gordian Knot, would become the ruler of Gordium.
When Alexander The Great passed through the mighty city during his conquests in Asia Minor with his army, he heard the legend of the knot and naturally went to the place where the ancient cart with the knot still stood. He arrived then at the place and got close enough to see the knot. Everyone was attentive on what the conqueror was going to do next.
Alexander took his mighty sword out and with one fierce blow cut the impossible knot through the half. He then turned to the crowd and his army and spoke:
“Destiny is not something brought about by legend, but by clearing away with one’s own sword.”
To live an authentic life is exactly the same. Cut the knot of the need for recognition through the half. One blow.
Get your sword out, and liberate yourself from it. Cut the need to be liked by everyone and start liking you yourself. This is how you become a truly authentic person, by cutting yourself loose and standing on your own two feet.
Naturally, there is a precursor for authenticity, and that is courage. There cannot be authenticity without having courage first. The courage to be OK with not being everything for everyone, the courage to be disliked, the courage to be your own man.
Cut loose, be free, be authentic.
A great complement to this read: Separation of tasks
Subscribe and receive for free the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism.
Don’t forget to visit our shop, carefully curated. Shop
Visit our Patreon page for more stoic, Patreon only content. Thanks.