Never has it been easier to be ‘fake’ than it is right now.
With our ‘selfie’ culture and social media platforms encouraging us to show the very best – often Photoshopped – version of ourselves to the world, it’s so easy to forge an image which is far from your authentic self.
There’s a growing obsession with acquiring ‘followers’ and the gratification of receiving ‘likes.’
The constant battle for exposure and attention, fed by the need for that addictive endorphin rush when you receive encouraging, positive, and enthusiastic responses, can feel like a full-time occupation.
All this effort, though, is ultimately at the expense of authenticity.
Is that person the ‘real’ you?
Would you get all those responses if you exhibited your plain old humdrum self, who’s never happier than when vegging out in PJs, indulging in a box set marathon?
But the matter of being real and true to yourself isn’t just restricted to the image you project on the likes of Insta or Snapchat…
…what about the image you want to present to your friends and colleagues face to face?
Do they see the ‘real’ you?
Or perhaps you like to present a different persona depending on the company you’re in, cleverly adopting chameleon-like skills so you can fit in no matter where you are and who you’re with.
To some extent we all hide behind a bit of a front, projecting a version of ourselves that we think others want to see and hiding our true selves from view.
There’s a good reason for this. As the inspirational author Janet Louise Stephenson perceptively observed:
Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency and integrity.
And the problem is that most of us aren’t comfortable with being vulnerable or transparent and are willing to sacrifice integrity on the altar of self-protection.
So, here’s the thing… to be authentic, it’s necessary to develop the courage to show our imperfections and be vulnerable, to be brave enough to let go of the person we think we ought to be and actively embrace who we really are.
Sure, there are times when adapting your persona to your environment can be beneficial, but the danger lies in changing your personality so completely that you lose touch with the essence of who you really are.
Instead of being you, you present yourself as the person that you think will be popular and likeable to those around you.
Trouble is, humans are highly intuitive beings and can easily spot fakery.
If people detect that you’re not being authentic, you may indeed experience the rejection that you feared in the first place.
Your efforts to fit in and be popular could in fact produce the opposite result.
As the current saying goes:
Some people are real; some people are good; some people are fake. And some people are real good at being fake.
The more we find ourselves surrounded by inauthenticity, the better our radar for detecting fakery becomes, so you’ll undoubtedly be exposed soon enough.
And have you noticed that none of the words used to describe inauthentic people is complementary?
Here are just a few: pseudo, fake, phony, disingenuous, insincere, pretentious, affected, bogus…
Not a very prepossessing list, is it? Not a positive word among them.
We all feel more comfortable and respected when we are surrounded by others who are being themselves and not play-acting at being a second-rate version of themselves.
It seems, then, that the best advice is not to trade your authenticity for approval, no matter how tempting that may appear.
If you feel that you are the ultimate operator in adapting your persona according to the situation, you may already have noticed that this impacts on your friendships and relationships.
The good news is that there are techniques that you can use to help you to be yourself, even in those uncomfortable or challenging situations where a swift personality change seems like the preferred option.
Like most things, it will take work on your part to reprogram your automatic response, but the results in terms of self-respect will be worth the effort.
5 Ways To Be Yourself
1. Self-improvement requires self-awareness.
The journey toward a better and more authentic version of yourself must start with some self-analysis, since self-knowledge and self-awareness are the keys to being ‘real.’
Taking the time to get to know yourself on a very deep level is an important step.
If you are to live your own life rather than being a fake version of someone else, understanding your own values is essential.
It’s important to be aware that as children, and also as we mature, we naturally absorb the views and opinions of those who influence us – parents, teachers, friends, etc.
Bit by bit, their values become ours and are a fundamental part of our own belief system.
Becoming self-aware involves assessing these acquired values and beliefs and seeing if they are true to ourselves, or if, in reality, they’re outdated or no longer sit comfortably with the adult we’ve become.
For example, you may have grown up in an environment where other faiths were not given due respect, hence you naturally adopted the same position.
It may be that maturity has changed your perspective on this issue and your family’s views are no longer yours.
If that’s the case, then to be true to yourself, you need to embrace it and acknowledge your right to your own opinion.
But don’t forget that those opinions too may change as time goes by. Being self-aware is an ongoing process throughout your life.
2. Consider journaling.
Seeing things in black and white, and even the actual process of putting thoughts down in writing, is a great way of discovering the ‘real’ you.
Taking the time to write a list of things which are really important to you – and that speak to your soul – can be very revealing.
As you write, you’ll gradually be able to clarify your core values.
Choosing to write a journal is a big commitment, but keeping track of your thoughts as they develop means that you can look back and reflect on the journey.
Journaling can also assist in identifying potentially unhelpful trends and patterns occurring in your life, where you may find yourself drifting away from your ‘real’ self.
This gives you the opportunity to set yourself back on a better path.
3. Reject perfection.
Why should I do that, you may well ask.
Surely perfection is a good thing to aim for?
Well, it’s because perfection is impossible and unattainable, no matter how much effort you put into trying to achieve it.
The reality is that just by trying to be perfect, to present the ideal version of yourself, you’re being disingenuous.
Instead of aiming for perfection, why not learn to embrace your imperfections.
Yes, that requires an element of vulnerability, but acknowledging your quirks and weaknesses is as important as acknowledging your strengths when it comes to authenticity.
Having the courage to reject the perfect persona we think we ought to project and show our true colors is ultimately empowering.
4. Seek genuine connections.
Our humanity is the common link between us all, but there’s a vast spectrum of personalities, beliefs, and behaviors out there.
To make genuine, soulful connections, you need to make an effort to truly understand those around you.
Asking thoughtful questions and listening carefully to their responses will help you to develop deeper and more satisfying connections to the people around you.
These meaningful interactions will help you to understand your own authentic self.
Be sure to reject people whose value systems are different to your own. Spending time with them and constantly shape-shifting your own persona so that you fit in denies your own opportunity to be authentic.
You may, for example, find yourself in a peer group who are defined by the way they act or the way they dress.
Take a mental step back and analyze whether this is the real you or whether you’re putting on some kind of act to please those around you to make sure you’re part of the ‘in’ crowd.
This is where the process of identifying your own core values (point 1 above) is so useful.
Once you know where you stand, it’ll be easier to see that you just don’t fit in with these people.
You may even find yourself squirming in their company. This is your cue for an exit, your chance to ditch the insincerity, so you can be true to yourself.
5. Be ‘in the moment.’
Let’s face it, we’re all guilty of allowing our minds to wander off topic when in the midst of a conversation.
Our lives are so pressured, it’s hardly surprising that thoughts about what to cook for dinner or some other thing on your long to-do list come crashing in.
Or you may just be thinking of a great reply to the point that’s being made.
Either way, you weren’t actually ‘present’ for much of the time and may only have gotten the general gist of what was being said.
Of course, when they finish speaking, you quickly respond – hopefully appropriately.
The problem is that people can sense intuitively whether another person’s attention is actually focused on what they’re saying.
Added to which, your response may be incorrect, exposing your inattention.
To be more authentic both in your relationships and your other interactions, you should practice a type of listening called ‘active listening’.
This is a skill in itself, but the basic steps are: paying attention; showing that you’re listening by using appropriate body language; providing feedback; deferring judgment and refraining from interrupting; responding appropriately.
Are there times when it’s acceptable to be inauthentic?
I mentioned above that there are situations when a little personality shape-shifting may be necessary and to some extent acceptable.
A good example is in a work setting when it may be a good idea to express agreement with a colleague, or more particularly a superior, on a point which doesn’t sit well with you.
This is part of the game you may need to play in a corporate environment.
If you find this pattern is often repeated, though, the insincerity will begin to take its toll.
Since being ‘real’ means keeping your actions and words in line with your values, the time may come when, in order to be true to yourself, you will need to say enough is enough and move on for the sake of your own integrity.
Only you will know when that time has come.
Maintaining self-awareness along the way, as mentioned above, will ensure that you’re not forced to be someone you’re not for a moment longer than absolutely necessary.
To sum it all up.
In our consumer-led society, obsessed with material things and driven by the urge to project an image of perfection both online and in reality, never has it been harder to be truly authentic.
It’s important to remember, though, that it’s not possessions or Photoshopped images that define you, but your own innate personality and way of being.
By being courageous enough to take steps to ensure that you present your authentic self to the world, you can reinforce your individuality and unique presence in the world, so you can stand out from the crowd.
I’ll leave the final word to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche because he puts it way better than I ever could:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it you will be lonely often and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.