Is there more to authenticity than just 'being yourself'?

What comes to mind when you think of authenticity? Do you think of it as the quality of being real and true to yourself, of not pretending to be someone you are not? This article will reveal that being yourself is only part of the story and the significant consequences, individually and collectively, when authenticity is lacking.

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Nov 17, 2021

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15 mins read

All over the world, people are crying out for acceptance. They show off and don masks to appear 'perfect' from all dimensions in their quest for approval. So you may ask, what's the point of even talking about authenticity when inauthenticity is so prevalent? It's important to discuss because to be original and true to your Self, the person you were born to be, it is far more powerful to be open and vulnerable than to pretend to be someone you are not. This is the case for your self-image and the persona you project to others, from your close friends, partner, spouse and family to your colleagues, staff, and even total strangers.


Many cultures and schools of thought extol the virtues of being authentic. However, our Being Profile® empirical data paints a different picture. The data tells us that very few people genuinely value authenticity and strive to be authentic. Instead, it highlights that societal conformity is far more common. Why is this the case? Let's start by examining the meaning of authenticity, a word to which various definitions are applied, ranging from 'a moral virtue', or 'honesty', as denoted within the religious scriptures, to the Cambridge Dictionary definition, 'the quality of being real or true'. However, the primal quality I use the word 'authenticity' to refer to in the Being Framework is how you intentionally relate to the reality of your true Self, others, and the world around you. It is both the urge to want to become aware and being authentic about what you know and how you project yourself to the world, including to yourself. The ontological distinction of authenticity below – one of the thirty-one qualities or Aspects of Being discussed in detail in my book, BEING – highlights that there is more to authenticity than just being yourself. 



Authenticity is being consistent with who you say you are for others, and who you say you are for yourself. Authenticity is both being yourself and being with your Self. It is the congruence of your self-image – who you know yourself to be – and your persona – who you choose to project to others. In other words, when you are being authentic, both your persona and self-image are aligned with who you are and how/what you are. When you are being authentic, it is also paramount for you to care sufficiently that your conception of reality, which shapes your beliefs and opinions, is accurate and congruent with how things are.

A healthy relationship with authenticity indicates that you mostly experience yourself as being true to yourself and others. Others may consider you to be genuine, distinct and trustworthy, and that your actions are consistent with what you communicate. You take the time to thoughtfully consider your beliefs and opinions.

An unhealthy relationship with authenticity indicates that you may consider yourself to be fake or an imposter and often question your own abilities. Others may consider you to be someone who lacks sincerity and often acts inconsistently with who you say you are. You are frequently uncomfortable with being yourself and being with your Self. There is no solid foundation to your beliefs and opinions and you are often lenient and fickle with how you express your views and the truth.

Reference: Tashvir, A. (2021). BEING (p. 250). Engenesis Publication.


Who do you tell yourself you are?


Are you present to your inner dialogue, the voice in your head that makes up stories or tries to convince you that you are superior or inferior to others? This is your self-image, the conversations you have with yourself about yourself. It's how you perceive and conceive yourself to be. In other words, your self-image is who you tell yourself you are.


Many renowned thinkers, philosophers, schools of thought and faiths or religions have concerned themselves with self-awareness. The way they talk and write about self-awareness makes it seem as though they equate self-awareness to one's true Self and that not being true to oneself is a betrayal, or even a sin and unethical. Now, I am not here to debate whether their notion of one's true Self is real or a delusion. Due to its very nature, the idea of Self sits within the realms of arational matters. These are matters that are neither rational nor irrational; they are not based on or governed by logical reasoning. Self is a classic example of an arational matter because its existence is virtually impossible to prove or disprove rationally. It is a subject that is beyond our human intellect. So, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and consider that the Self is real.


BEING is centred on the ontological model of what it takes to be a human being within the scope of performance, effectiveness and fulfilment. In my book, I call Self 'Unique Being', which some may refer to as soul or spirit, words I intentionally avoid as they are commonly misused and sometimes even bastardised. Your Unique Being is a quality that lies deep within and is unique to you; you could say it's your calling. It's what enables you to make your unique contribution to the world. However, that is only possible if you choose to tap into your Unique Being and project it to the world. The means to achieve this is via the qualities common to all human beings, regardless of cultural background or the religious beliefs and schools of thought to which you subscribe. While we all possess these qualities, we relate to each one differently. These are our Aspects of Being and, as mentioned earlier, I have identified thirty-one in the Being Framework Ontological Model, one of which is authenticity. Other Aspects of Being include responsibility, courage, fear, vulnerability, self-expression, compassion and assertiveness, to name just a few.


Whenever I talk about self-awareness, I am referring to both your Being and your Unique Being. Let me explain. Your Being, which comprises all thirty-one Aspects of Being (qualities common to all of us) to a great extent determines your decisions, actions and behaviours and therefore defines how you are being in the world, both from your own perspective and how others perceive you to be. So, when I talk about self-awareness in the context of the Being Framework, I am not referring to your preferences, how society defines you, how you define yourself, or even your identity. I am referring to the part of existence you carry within, beyond your biological existence. I am referring to who you are. That's what I mean by Unique Being. So, self-awareness is a combination of your Unique Being (Self) and your relationship with each of the Aspects of Being. Combined, they manifest as how you are being in the world.


Now that you have an understanding of what I mean by Unique Being, self-awareness and Aspects of Being, let's return to the subject of authenticity. In our era, authenticity is a quality that some consider an ideal we may choose to pursue. To ensure this conversation isn't focused on abstract ideas and limited purely to philosophical thinking, which is not the intention of this article, let's consider how this viewpoint has permeated our culture, society and laws. For example, under copyright rules, plagiarism is highly condemned. It is ethically and legally unacceptable to copy another person's ideas, content or artwork. Instead, we are to acknowledge and respect other people's unique creations. Similarly, patent registration protects someone's original ideas or products and prevents them from being copied. Then there's the concept of personal or company branding. Those who create a brand do so to generate trust and engagement with their audience or consumers hoping that they only associate positive qualities with their brand. Commercially speaking, we have also invented ways to register trademarks and patents. And the list goes on. While there seems to be a shared willingness to protect our creations from being copied and it angers us when someone attempts to sell us a high-end replica product, such as a Rolex watch, claiming it to be the real thing, many people seem to be quite content with the notion of portraying a fake persona rather than being authentic. Why should our authenticity not be regarded as highly as the original products and brands we create? 


Each of us has an unpolished gem deep within. While you cannot change the nature of this gem, your relatively high level of autonomy means you can cut and polish it in such a way that it shines brightly. It is up to you to choose powerfully to become intentionally conscious or aware of the gem within in the first instance and then contribute to its transformation. The more accurate your conception of your Unique Being, the higher the probability that you will be present to its polished and unpolished areas. This understanding puts you in the driver's seat, allowing you to lead with purpose, vision and conviction, whether you are leading an organisation or being the leader of your own life. True leaders leverage the polished areas and work on the troubled parts in the pursuit of growth and, ultimately, perfection. 

Self-image, persona and the real you


While self-image refers to the conversations you have with yourself about yourself, persona is the conversations you have with others about yourself. The congruence of your self-image and persona largely shapes your level of authenticity. 


Let's say the above image depicts a comparison between how you actually are – the real you – and your self-image and persona. This is a classic example of being inauthentic because the stories you are telling yourself (self-image) are out of alignment with the real you and the persona you portray to others. You are also inauthentic if your self-image is greater than how you actually are. In that scenario, you risk projecting an arrogant, over-confident persona to others, which could have serious consequences. For instance, imagine the potential ramifications of telling yourself and others that you know how to perform CPR in an emergency situation, but you've never actually learnt how to do it. There can be various combinations. The point is, unless the real you is closely aligned with your self-image and persona, as depicted below, there may be a level of inauthenticity about you. It is important to note that context plays a role here. For example, a police officer must uphold a particular persona when on the job but may convey a different persona at home or at a social gathering. However, I believe I have made the point clear about the importance of aligning self-image and persona with the real, authentic you.

Are your beliefs and opinions congruent with reality?


Authenticity is not limited to our self-image and persona. It also extends to how we choose to interpret, perceive and conceive the world and all in it, particularly human beings. We have beliefs – the conversations we have with ourselves about the world – and opinions – the conversations we have with the world about the world. For example, if the conversations you have with the world/others are overly positive, you risk ending up being idealistic, delusional, and unrealistic, often expressing romantic, dreamy opinions. Too negative, and you are likely to end up being cynical, sceptical and pessimistic, expressing sarcastic, cutting and acerbic opinions. The more balanced and authentic you can be with both positive and negative beliefs and opinions, the more realistic and decisive you will be, and the more congruent and accurate your beliefs and opinions will be. So, an authentic person is not only consistent about who they know themselves to be for themselves and others, aligning their self-image and persona, but is also concerned with adopting opinions and beliefs and shaping perceptions that are congruent with reality. As you can see, there is a lot more to authenticity than just ‘being yourself’.


The consequences of being inauthentic


Being inauthentic can have significant consequences, regardless of whether you are deliberately altering yourself to fit in, please others or avoid upsetting someone, or you are genuinely unaware of your inauthenticity. Many people find it easy to lose themselves in the crowd, becoming one of many, like sheep. When this happens on a larger scale, such as within an organisation, community or a society, being inauthentic can quickly become the norm and accepted practice. A collective lack of authenticity results in people not saying what they know to be 'right' and withholding information. Instead, they go along with the masses, being manipulated or even manipulating themselves to say what they believe they should to conform, not offend anyone and be accepted. Collective inauthenticity suppresses our freedom, including our freedom of speech, and leads us to categorise ourselves and play the social roles and games we believe are expected of us. It can lead to a state of what I call ‘collective psychosis’, whereby the collective level of inauthenticity and dissociation from reality can result in an epidemic of madness. Daring to be authentic is not a one-off challenge; it's a challenge we have to face many times every day. Society does its best to make you like everybody else. It's up to you to choose not to succumb to the norm, so you don't risk losing yourself in the crowd.


An unhealthy relationship with any Aspect of Being will cost you dearly. But the cost associated with inauthenticity may be the greatest of all because the cost is YOU. You lose yourself. If it is a matter of awareness, you may eventually come to your senses and regret the lost time and missed opportunities, from the relationship you could have built and the business or career you may have created to the wealth you could have accumulated, and so on. However, if your inauthenticity is intentional, the impact is generally greater because it impacts your self-esteem and self-worth. You would know you are not expressing the real you and therefore are not being true to yourself. The shiny yet fake persona you are projecting has no root in your actual Self. While you can polish a fake persona until it shines, and it may bring you glory, applause, acknowledgement and even financial wealth and fame, in your solitude, you would know that it wasn't the real you that accomplished those things. What's more, you can't maintain the shine on a fake persona. It eventually wears off. I know this to be true as I have coached and worked with several celebrities and people in positions of power and studied many more who eventually slipped into the dark depths of inauthenticity and regression.


Paradox of Importance


As discussed, we tap into and project our Unique Being through our Aspects of Being. Moods – fear, anxiety, care and vulnerability – are the first layer in the process of that projection. Having an unhealthy relationship with our Moods – four of the thirty-one Aspects of Being common to all human beings – threatens to put us at risk of merely existing rather than truly living, let alone living a fulfilling life. Moods can also suppress the expression of our authentic Self, which can potentially lead us to what I call the 'Paradox of Importance'. On the one hand, we may see ourselves as just another human, thrown into the ocean of existence and here for only a relatively short period. On the other hand, we may choose to be present to the impact or ripple effect we may cause. Like a drop of water, we are constantly being thrown into the same ocean of existence. Being authentic means we acknowledge that there will be times when we cause a ripple and others a splash or even a tsunami. 


Conclusion


Being inauthentic limits or suppresses the expression of your uniqueness. The irony is that you are already unique. There is only one real you, not only in your industry, town, city, country and era but in the entire history of humankind. Once you become present to that undeniable fact, you would realise that you could have directed all the time, energy and care you spent inventing, developing and maintaining that fake persona into the real you. Imagine the extraordinary results you could have achieved by investing in your Unique Being rather than choosing to hide behind your 'character armour', the defence shield you use to disguise your weaknesses. Through my studies, I have discovered that the world's high achievers work hard to ensure their self-image and persona are closely aligned with who they really are and that their opinions and beliefs are congruent with reality. They strive to be authentic in every way, not just by being themselves. They intentionally and powerfully choose to be authentic by investing in their Unique Being because they know that's the key to making their unique contribution to the world. Consider how much more you could contribute and how fulfilled your life would be if you transformed your relationship with authenticity.



LeadershipEffectivenessOntologyCoachingAwarenessIntegrityAuthenticityTeam Culture

Ashkan Tashvir

About The Author

As founder and CEO of Engenesis, Ashkan heads a business movement of global venture builders, professional investors, business management consultants, advisors and ontological leadership coaches who adopt and apply his frameworks while also encouraging and facilitating their use by others for personal and organisational transformation. Committed to lifelong learning, he is currently in the process of completing a research degree in Leadership Transformation at Sydney University.

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