“This above all: to thine own self be true.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Have you ever wondered what authenticity and Barbie have in common? Well, let me tell you. Last week at work, my colleagues and I were discussing Barbie. Ok, if I’m being authentic, I admit to having a few conversations about Barbie last week, but I digress. This particular conversation focused on Barbie’s Corvette.
The year was 1990, and I had just received Barbie’s Magical Motor Home for my birthday – you know, the van that turns into a luxury home? Of course, in true Ashleigh fashion, I was not content with my motor home for long, and set my sights on Barbie’s pink Corvette. I asked for that beauty for Christmas and when I saw it under the tree, I could not contain myself. I had reached the pinnacle, I thought, my life could not get any better.
Also, in true Ashleigh fashion, I could not wait to show it off. The next chance I got, I was at my friend’s house with Barbie and her Corvette in hand. “Look what I got”, I excitedly announced to everyone. A hush fell over the crowd as I unveiled my new ride and everyone basked in its pink glow. “You’re so lucky”, said one of my friends, “Make Barbie drive it.”
It was rude to keep the crowd waiting, so I proceeded to place Barbie into her car, where I quickly realized she didn’t fit. Struggling to remain composed in front of the masses, I attempted to stuff Barbie into that car several different ways. “What’s wrong”, asked my friend? “She doesn’t fit”, I replied. Another friend piped up and said, “If she doesn’t fit, then that’s not the real Barbie Corvette. That’s a fake!”
A fake? Pardon et moi? It was in that moment, I realized two very important things:
- Real friends don’t call you out publicly
and I immediately cut ties with that little brat
- The value of authenticity
Mortified, I took Barbie and her phoney car back home and tore a strip off my father. “How could you do this to me”, I screamed? “You gave me a fake!” “What do you mean a fake”, my father asked? “Barbie doesn’t fit”, I cried! “Barbie is supposed to fit into her Corvette, Dad!”
During our next trip to the toy store, we compared the two cars and sure enough, they were different. My Corvette was not made by Mattel and when the two were side by side, mine was a far cry from the real deal.
I never did get Barbie’s official Corvette, nor did I forget the value of authenticity. You see, the problem with inauthentic things – be that a toy or a person, is simple – while they may look and act like the real thing, they aren’t. Ultimately, there is always something missing, something that just isn’t right.
Authenticity is defined as something that is “real or genuine: not copied or false”. In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit or character, despite external pressures.
Let’s be real (no pun intended), very few of us are immune to these external pressures and in turn, we walk around with a persona. We are socialized from an early age to present ourselves in a way that others will approve of, even if that’s not who we truly are. Arguably, it is to our benefit to behave in a socially acceptable manner, as it affords us the opportunity to belong, and belonging is crucial to our survival, or at the very least, our social survival. What kind of world would this be if we completely disregarded social norms?
Conversely, is a world where we mask our true selves, a little or a lot, in fear of being harshly judged, really any better? Should you hide who you love because society says you shouldn’t? Should you mask the quirks and characteristics that make you unique, in fear of being seen as abnormal? Doing so seems both sad and unhealthy, don’t you think?
Psychological literature on this subject supports the notion that living an inauthentic life is unhealthy. This type of denial often leads to anxiety, depression, addiction and a lack of meaning and fulfillment in one’s life. However, the literature also suggests that, when we have the courage to look within and discover who we truly are, we can achieve a sense of wholeness, a confidence that we are living as the best version of ourselves.
I won’t lie (in an effort to be real), finding your authentic self can be a long and difficult pursuit. In the world of picturesque Instagram photos and reality television, it can be challenging to wade through that thick persona in search of the truth. Also, when one finally discovers that truth, there is no guarantee they will like what they find, a fear that scares many of us from ever really trying.
Above all, becoming authentic is a personal mission, as each individual has their own unique “way of being”. Ultimately, what is authentic for one will not necessarily be authentic for another; however, don’t you owe it to yourself to explore further? It is a risk I’m willing to take if it means I can move closer to the best version of myself.
In an effort to move us all closer to our authentic selves, pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine, grab a pen and paper and consider the following:
Values are those principles and standards that govern your behaviour, and identifying yours can shed light on the person you really are. Knowing your values helps you behave and make life decisions that are in line with what you hold paramount.
It is important that you truthfully identify these values, rather than list values based on what society thinks is worthy. So, ask yourself:
- What are the three words I live by?
Once you have decided, write those words down and define what they mean to you. Then place them in a spot where you can easily view them every morning. Reviewing your values, before the pressures of the day have had a chance to muddy the waters, gives you a better chance of staying true to yourself. Better yet, hang those words above your desk at work, in your kitchen, or carry them with you in your wallet or cell phone. Several reminders throughout the day will only help you further.
Your strengths are those unique qualities and characteristics that make you stand out; those things that come naturally to you. We are so quick to identify our weaknesses, or have them identified for us by others, that it can be difficult to really pinpoint our strengths.
Maybe you are a strong leader; you encourage individuals or groups to get things done. Maybe you have solid interpersonal skills; you can understand yourself and others well.
Whatever your strengths, write them down and then find a way to continue to refine them in your daily life. We have all been given unique gifts and understanding what those gifts are and pursuing them is an important part of living authentically.
Your passion, not to be confused with your strength, is equally essential to living an authentic life. Your passion is what excites you, what gives you energy and what makes you feel alive when you do it. Having trouble identifying what your passion is? Ask yourself the following:
- If money were no object, what would I do with my time?
- What makes me happy?
- What excites me?
Once you have identified your passion, find a way to work it into your everyday. While few of us are fortunate to make a living doing something we are passionate about, I am a firm believer that including your passion in your daily life has incredible worth.
If you are happiest when painting or sculpting, then take a course at a local art studio or gallery, or go to your nearest art supply store and buy a set of inexpensive paints. If writing poetry is your passion, then buy yourself a beautiful notebook and pen, and set aside 15 minutes a day to let the words flow. Who knows, one day your passion may become your job, or at the very least, keep you connected to your authentic self.
While these three items may not magically reveal who you truly are, they will certainly help you become more authentic. Remember, as we evolve, so too can our true selves. Therefore, I encourage you to revisit this exercise as your life changes.
After some introspection, you may come to find that your authentic self is complex and diverse. I have found this to be true for myself, but I believe there is a beauty in that complexity. While I have much more exploring to do, I take comfort in knowing that I am closer to my authentic self then I was five years ago.
Maybe one day, I will finally wade through all of that persona and reach “authentic self nirvana”. I can almost see that place in my mind now. It has a sort of ethereal, pink glow, and what is that in the distance? Is that a Corvette?