In essence, authenticity is about saying:
“I am what I am”.
And then daring to show that to the outside world.
People who show up authentically are able to align what they say and do with their core beliefs and values.
Oscar Wilde famously said, “be yourself — everyone else is taken”.
It sounds simple, but as we’ll come to see, it’s far from easy.
In fact, it takes plenty of courage to let the world see you as you truly are.
What helps authentic people to do just that?
Let’s take a look…
1) They dare to be vulnerable
Vulnerability and authenticity go hand in hand.
It’s impossible to be yourself without being vulnerable.
It’s what helps you to let down your walls.
Researcher Brené Brown describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
No wonder it’s so scary to do.
But authentic people have learned the benefits of calculated self-exposure.
Because in the words of Brené Brown:
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
2) They hold themselves accountable
Being yourself requires taking ownership of who you are.
That means the bad as well as the good.
Part of being human means messing up, whether we like it or not.
That’s why being able to hold your hands up is so important.
Because we all get it wrong sometimes.
If you can’t recognize that and hold your hands up, you’re not being honest — with yourself or other people.
It’s a sign of maturity and authenticity when you can say that you’ve got it wrong.
It also frees you from the unrealistic burden of perfectionism. Because you can’t be yourself when you’re busy trying to pretend you’re perfect.
All of this undeniably takes a certain amount of self-awareness.
3) They understand what makes them tick
It’s perhaps an obvious point, but how can you be yourself when you don’t even know yourself?
It’s clearly tricky, if not impossible.
That’s one of the reasons why authenticity often increases alongside self-awareness.
Being self-aware has been defined by researchers as how clearly we can see ourselves — whether that’s our reactions, our emotions, our behaviors, our strengths or weaknesses, etc.
This is an internal self-awareness.
But there is another side to it too.
External self-awareness involves understanding how other people view us.
When you understand yourself and your place in the world, you can use this knowledge to show up authentically.
4) They can accept who they are, even their worst parts
Of course, when we truly see ourselves, we won’t like everything we see.
I’m not suggesting you’re not a great person. But I am suggesting you’re only human.
Whilst I don’t know your good points, I know you have them. And the same goes for your bad points too.
Often the characteristics we embody don’t exist as stand-alone traits.
Instead, they exist on a spectrum.
And sometimes the things we love about ourselves the most can be attached to the things that trip us up or hold us back.
For example, one of the things I like about myself is that I have a strong personality.
For sure, I have lots of ideas and opinions — and I happen to think that makes me interesting.
But it can also mean at times I am stubborn, intense, and too outspoken.
Dig deep enough and I suspect you’ll see that the same root for your best qualities gives birth to some less-than-desirable aspects of your personality.
Of course, having the self-awareness to notice our flaws helps.
But as we’ve just said, nobody is perfect.
That’s why self-compassion is essential.
We have to accept our own flaws if we are going to allow our authentic selves to be seen — warts and all.
If you’re always terrified that people won’t like the real you, you’re destined to hide who you really are.
5) They practice positive self-talk
I know this because when I was a teenager I was incredibly pessimistic and down on myself.
And rather unsurprisingly it made me miserable.
So I set about learning how to be more positive.
To look for the best in life, rather than get fixated on the worst-case scenario.
To be kinder to myself rather than believe that voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough.
I’m not saying it was easy, but with time I was able to shift my whole outlook on life and on myself to a more positive framework.
As I did so, it felt safer to be myself.
The more you are on your own side in life, the less afraid you are to show up as who you are.
But when you’re always buying into your inner critics’ bullsh*t, you scare yourself into believing you’re not good enough as who you are.
That’s why authentic people cultivate the courage to be themselves by cultivating a better inner dialogue.
6) They know, and live by, their own values
I like to think of our values as our inner compass.
It steers us in the right direction.
It stops us from getting totally lost when we’re trying to navigate the complications of life.
Authentic people have strong values. And they’ve taken the time to figure them out for themselves.
Because whilst some values are universal — we all believe in truth, justice, and fairness — others aren’t so clear-cut.
What’s right for one person is wrong for someone else.
Authentic people don’t just adopt the values of those around them, they take the time to consider what resonates with them.
At the end of the day, this is essential to staying true to yourself rather than following the crowd.
When you know what is important to you, you can return to this for comfort and guidance throughout your life.
It helps you to say no to the things you don’t agree with. And it helps you to show up as a better, more well-rounded representation of who you really are.
7) They’re honest in their words and actions
Authentic people say what they mean and mean what they say.
We’ve just spoken about getting to grips with your own values.
Well, one value that authentic people tend to universally agree on is honesty.
Let’s face it, lying is part of human nature. Most of us have told at least a few so-called “white lies” in our time.
But the more authentic you are, the less need you have for lies.
I try to live by a very basic rule:
If I have to lie, I probably shouldn’t be doing it.
That’s because often deceit is a mask for things we’re not proud of.
That’s why the more authentic you are, the less need you have for lying.
A lot of people turn to lies because they are worried about disappointing others.
They worry that the truth will hurt.
It’s not that authentic people don’t care about the feelings and thoughts of others.
But they won’t change who they are or deny themselves, just to try to make others happy.
8) They steer clear of people-pleasing
Suiting yourself means occasionally putting other people’s noses out of joint.
That doesn’t mean you don’t care at all about what people think. But it does mean you’re not prepared to be held hostage by others’ opinions.
Of course, there are plenty of times when it’s appropriate to be thoughtful and considerate.
But not when it comes to living your life the way you feel is right.
That might mean following a path your parents didn’t want for you.
It could be saying “no” and upholding your boundaries when other people try to push them.
Authentic people stay true to themselves, even when it may not always be popular.
9) They have inner confidence, rather than relying on external validation
Inner confidence is the secret weapon that gives authentic people the courage needed to be themselves.
When you’re always seeking your self-esteem outside of you, you are always going to be at the mercy of what other people think of you.
But when you like yourself, it gives you the confidence to dare to be who you are.
Authentic people have built their confidence on the firm foundations of:
- Strong self-esteem
This means they aren’t so quick to question themselves, even when they’re faced with disapproval.
10) They are thick-skinned and don’t take things personally
There’s no denying, sometimes it’s hard not to take things personally.
For example, when someone shouts at you, says unkind things, or does something that impacts you negatively.
It certainly feels pretty darn personal.
But the funny thing is that we’re all just going around projecting onto others.
That means 9 times out of 10 it says far more about the other person than it does you.
Authentic people protect themselves by reminding themselves of this fact.
That way, they can become just a little bit more immune to the whims and moods of others.
They can shrug off the negativity that was never theirs to begin with, rather than take it personally.