Authenticity matters. Lying and truth distortion are nothing new. But at a time when technology can mimic our image, our voice, and our words – and create doppelgangers that appear more real than ourselves – falsehoods and fakes are on steroids. We can’t stop tech advances, nor can we change human behavior that might use them for evil purposes. What we can do is get in touch with our authentic selves and express authentic communication at every turn.
So, what does it mean to be authentic?
1. Get clear on your beliefs and values.
To be authentic means that you live and act upon your values and beliefs. It means, as William Shakespeare wrote, “to thine own self be true.” This requires that you are clear about who you are, what you stand for, what lines you will never cross, and what you are willing to sacrifice for your core values.
2. Understand yourself.
To be authentic requires that you understand your strengths, weaknesses, and feelings, and accept them without judgment. Acknowledge both the positive and negative aspects of yourself. Years ago, as a young reporter, I became increasingly uncomfortable reaching out to people who had experienced a terrible tragedy, asking them how they felt, and writing about it for the world to experience. I believed it was exploitative and cruel. And I realized I wouldn’t like who I would have to become to be that kind of journalist. I learned something about myself and how I wanted to interact with others, and as a result took my career in another direction.
3. Be consistent.
Authentic people show up consistently, regardless of the circumstance or situation. They act on their beliefs and values – and not just to please others or to fit in. And they are true to their word, authentic in their communication, and following through on their commitments. That consistency reinforces who you are and what you stand for. That doesn’t mean rigidity. When you are authentic, you adapt your behavior but always according to your values.
4. Be courageous.
Living and acting on your values can put you at odds with others. To be authentic, however, requires that you have the courage to do what you think is right in the face of criticism, even though it might turn out badly for you. Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban. She stayed true to and fought for her belief that girls should have the right to an education. She was shot and nearly died. Not everyone is challenged so sharply or violently. But her experiences sets the standard for courage that can give us the inspiration to stand up to a cruel boss or call out a colleague who is acting out unethically.
5. Be vulnerable.
Authenticity lets others see you as less than perfect. Vulnerability doesn’t mean giving up privacy or being fully transparent all the time. You don’t have to share every detail of your life or feelings. But when something goes wrong or you have made a mistake, you need own up to it and try to make it right. As social scientist Brené Brown notes, “You have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage.” And the courage of conviction is part of being authentic.
As you navigate your journey of authenticity, ask yourself these three questions:
- What do you hold sacred that you won’t ever compromise, even if it means losing a friend, a client or your job?
- What are the fundamental beliefs that guide you?
- In what situations would you bend or adapt your belief/value statements and why?
When you discover your authentic self, it’s easier to communicate authenticity and your message will resonate with your audience who shares or appreciates your authentic self.