I’m convinced of two things. First, we all desire to be more authentic in our lives. Second, we give up because this whole "getting to know ourselves" thing is damn hard work. It’s also the most important work we’ll ever do.
Authenticity is the ability to share the deepest and truest part of ourselves with other people. It begins with knowing who we are and what we believe. We’re told that we need to “be ourselves” but how many people know what that means?
The confusion starts in school when we’re faced with peer pressure to fit in. God forbid if you stood out in any way. It’s not only peers, it’s also parents and teachers who mold us into who they think we should be. As adults, we’re slapped with images of perfection and social media influencers who supposedly know enough about life to tell us how to live ours.
Self-help courses and books of any type -- including this article -- will help you only if they teach you to pay attention to life itself.
The pressure to fit in has been exacerbated by the technology age because we’re bombarded with messages on who to be, what to want and how we should express ourselves. The thought of being ourselves is a foreign concept that receives very little attention.
On one level, we’re encouraged to live according to our values, pursue our purpose in life and search for meaning. At the same time, however, we live in a society that celebrates superficiality. As a result, we wear masks that don’t necessarily convey who we really are or what we feel at the moment.
I mean, what do you say to a preacher as you exit a church after you’ve just heard a lifeless sermon? Do you lie and say, “That was a great sermon?” Or come up with a response like, “I appreciate the effort you made” and hope no there’s no probing follow up?
Masks can be a good thing because they can help us adapt to a changing environment. As an FBI agent, I often wore a mask in interviews because most people have a stereotype in mind when they meet an agent. My mask matched their stereotype and relaxed them so they would more truthfully answer my questions.
We’ve all been the newbie at the office where a mask allowed you to watch, and learn, about your work environment. We all know that many companies don’t want employees to bring their souls to work.
We all wear masks. The key is to understand why and when you wear them. When you’re under pressure, what does your mask look like? Reflect on the types of masks you wear through the day. But this is the important thing: Don’t confuse the mask with the person you really are.
If the mask you wear in day-to-day life isn’t the real you, you’ve just admitted that the person you really are isn’t good enough. You’re not OK, so you pretend to be something or someone else and seek refuge behind a disguise.
Authenticity requires the personal wisdom that comes from an inner journey to uncover our honest feelings and emotions. It’s the idea that the way we feel inside should match how we behave on the outside. When we do, we make ourselves vulnerable. We also make ourselves incredibly courageous.
It takes more than honesty to be authentic. It takes the courage to be who you are in the moment and not pretend to be someone or something different. An authentic person speaks the truth that comes from their heart.
How to make it work for you: You can be you better than anyone else.
You need to listen if you expect your life to speak to you. Moving into the noise is the easy way out, because it’s much easier to shut down and accept what other people decide for you.
You are valuable because you exist. Popular culture pushes back on this because it would tell you that you have more value if you’re attractive, smart, funny -- the list goes on. You have the power to determine what is valuable to you. All the pain, humiliations and problems of life cannot diminish who you are as a person. You need to remind yourself of this when life gets hectic.
How to make itt work for you: In a world where you can be anything, be yourself.
In my early years, I was eager to take personality tests so I could peek inside my psyche and pinpoint my strongest traits. The emphasis was to reinforce my strengths but, just as important, to work on how to fix my weaknesses. Later, strategists like Marcus Buckingham came along with books like, "Now, Discover Your Strengths", and suggested that I manage my weaknesses rather than turn them into strengths. The ideal place for growth was in the areas of my greatest strengths.
In other words, don’t worry about what was left out; work on what was left in.
"You are as strong as your greatest strength. You are always stronger than your weaknesses."
At quite a young age, I saw a mountain lion run down a deer fawn and kill it. I still hear the screams the baby animal made as it died. I had witnessed vulnerability and I wanted nothing to do with it. I decided that if I was in control, I could protect myself and not be vulnerable.
I maintained control of my life by erecting barriers around me while in college and early in my career. But I learned that isolation from others does not guarantee a stable and protected environment. Instead, it became a downward spiral as the isolation made me feel even more vulnerable!
As part of my job to recruit foreign spies to work for the U.S. government, I learned to assess the personalities of my targets. The more I understood how our personality traits do not always serve our best interests, the more curious I became about myself. This led to a deep level of self-awareness, and that knowledge has proven to be powerful.
It gave me the power to understand that if I allowed myself to be vulnerable, I could be courageous enough to break old habits, conquer fear, find my focus, and manage stress. I understood why I gave in to temptation and how I could develop the mental toughness to resist it.
"When you are strong enough to be vulnerable, you take charge of your choices."
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LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the US government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.