The Freedom of Authenticity
I spent this past weekend with someone who, I believe, is arguably the only truly authentic person I know.
You see, this person is not afraid of what others might think of what he does or what he says. Not afraid of showing his vulnerabilities when he needs to ask for help. Not afraid to approach life differently than you or me without fear of judgment.
Complementing this approach to life is an acceptance of the approach of others. Accepting of what they think and say. Accepting of how and what they do. Without judgment.
This person is one of the happiest people I know. Happy with himself. Happy with life.
This person is my youngest son John. John, as you know by now, has autism.
Putting aside for a moment the multitude of challenges and difficulties that autism presents individuals and their families, I’d like to focus on an extremely critical attribute I continue to learn from him. Authenticity.
What does it mean to be authentic? Good old Merriam-Webster defines it as being Real, True, Genuine, Not False, Not Phony. Of course, we know what authenticity means. We are all authentic. Right?
Well then why are there truckloads of books, articles and blogs on the power of authenticity and how to be more authentic? Is there something that we are missing? Is it hard to be truly authentic?
You’re damn right it is. In this world where we celebrate uniqueness but also demand conformity, being truly authentic is a tightrope that all of the “normal” people get to walk on every day.
I personally like another definition.
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown defines authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are” and “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen”.
A daily practice? Daily choices? Damn, no wonder we keep talking about authenticity as if it’s some holy grail of being that so few of us attain.
But why is it so hard to let our true selves be seen?
If you haven’t yet watched The Power of Vulnerability, I highly recommend it. Sticking with my preferred expert on authenticity, Brené Brown discusses how vulnerability is the core of shame and the fear of being disconnected or not accepted. The authentic person acknowledges and embraces their vulnerabilities.
Ah ha! That’s why! Who wants to embrace vulnerabilities?
This is where John continues to teach me. He is open and at peace with his vulnerabilities. If he has trouble with reading a word, he asks for help. If he needs to put on his noise-reducing headphones because the mall is too loud, he will. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not just because of what others might think or say. He is not constricted by perceptions. He is free from the negative power of the judgment of others. He is free from negative judgments of himself. Every day, he is simply his authentic self.
Now, being authentic doesn’t mean you need to bare every little detail about your private life. It’s more about finding a balance between what you share and what you don’t. And let’s face it, there is probably a little room for all of us to share a bit more of who we are, and what makes us tick, so as to develop a deeper connection with others.
Here’s a challenge for all of you. The next time you are with your significant other, your boss, your colleague, whoever, see if you can weave in a sharing of vulnerabilities as a way to get to know each other better. Yes, I know that there will be nothing but resistance and avoidance, so make it a fun one. An inconsequential part of your life that you have felt a bit weird sharing with others but at the end of the day it’s a fun part of who you are, and it really doesn’t matter.
Consider it a baby step towards that deeper connection. A baby step towards greater authenticity.
A baby step towards freedom.