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Being your authentic self

What is authenticity?

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
Brené Brown

Here’s my definition:

  • Being honest with yourself about who you are
  • Accepting and loving who you are
  • Bringing all of who you are to your work and relationships, and accepting the vulnerability you may feel with that

If you can do all those things with confidence and humility, you’ll find that many people will respond positively to you.

This article explains more.

A lifelong journey

Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. His work has informed many psychometric tools, including Myers-Briggs. (It’s ever-popular so you have probably used it yourself.)

Jung gave this analogy about the limited way that most people live their lives:

They live on only one or two floors of a large apartment building, never venturing into the rest. This building represents the psyche, where the unexplored rooms are the vast unexplored areas of the unconscious. The world of the unconscious is confusing, and at times, frightening. Most people totally ignore their unconscious aspects, but if they can learn to listen to the messages that the unconscious brings, they can use them to enrich and heal their lives.

Personal development is a lifelong journey. As we travel, we develop self-awareness and can choose how we wish to be. Many people find this scary and so seek to avoid it. But, if you do, you will be rewarded with a greater sense of inner peace.

Six life stages

Here are my own descriptions of the six stages we go through in life, showing how our needs and motivations develop as we age:

  • Infancy: At this stage, our priority is survival. If we’re hungry or in pain, we scream until our needs are met.
  • Childhood: Our main need is to feel safe and loved. The family is the centre of our world, and we need daily reassurance that we belong (although we don’t all get it).
  • Teenage years / early adulthood: At this age, our main motivation is connection to our peer group. Over time, we become more confident, and start to think more as an individual, having ideas that are different to our peers.
  • Adulthood: This ranges from mid-20s to mid-40s while we’re building our career and lifestyle, and taking on individual responsibilities such as marriage and children. This phase is all about building. However, some people eventually experience what’s described as a mid-life crisis. Career progression may slow down, and options may feel narrower (this can happen as soon as age 40 for men and even younger for women).
  • Mature adulthood: Late 40s to early 60s. This is when we typically start to question who we are and what we want from the next phase of our life.
  • Senior adulthood: This is when we might think about giving back, and being of service to others. We are free to be more creative in later life, because the pressure to earn and provide is reduced.

Note that you don’t have to follow the traditional life pattern, and can create your own path. For example, Mary Wesley was one of Britain’s most successful novelists who sold three million copies of her books, including ten bestsellers written between the ages of 70 and 90.

When you stop living your life based on what others think of you, real life begins. At that moment, you will finally see the door of self acceptance opened.
Shannon Alder

The masks we wear

Jung talks about the choices we have to make to leave certain aspects of ourselves behind, such as the conditioning we adopted based on our upbringing. He calls it:

Peeling away the ‘false wrappings’ of our persona

It’s wise to see ageing as a chance to re-balance yourself and decide how you want your future to be. This links to a talk I gave recently about the masks we wear.

Questions to ask yourself

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom

The answers will change over time, so it’s worth revisiting these questions regularly:

  • What are you now motivated by?
  • What gives you pleasure?
  • What fulfils you?
  • Who do you love spending time with?
  • Project forward ten years. What do you want to see, hear and feel at this time? How will you achieve this?
  • How much time do you spend doing nothing? (We often keep ourselves busy to prevent ourselves from thinking and feeling.)

Key points

Here are some top tips you may find useful:

  • Make time to think about yourself, who you are and what makes you tick. (Remember your answers may change over time)
  • Jot down what you most admire about yourself, and any aspects you may want to improve on
  • Get comfortable with who you are. Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • To stay in balance, focus on both your head AND your heart
  • Respect your needs, and express them. Don’t be too proud to speak up and ask for help when you need it
  • To connect with others more deeply, respect their needs, and enquire about them without judgement (You might be interested to read this article containing tips from seven top TED talks about How to build closer relationships)
  • Embrace change, take risks, and continue to look for new opportunities

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken
Oscar Wilde

Further reading

If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, you may also like to read my other articles:

Finally, if you’re interested in finding out more about Jung, I can recommend this book by Ruth Snowden – it’s  a good summary of his work: Jung: The key ideas

Next month

How to be an authentic organisation.