What Authenticity Means & How To Start Practicing

by Oct 3, 2020Diversity & Inclusion0 comments

Authenticity seems to be the buzz word lately thanks to courageous speakers/authors like Brene Brown who have brought this topic to the forefront of conversations (I highly recommend Daring Greatly). 

But what does authenticity mean and how do you start practicing it? 

We’ll first cover what it means, which is a pretty wide range so I’m going to break it down by a couple of different concepts. Once we have established what authenticity means then we’ll dive into some ways to start practicing it. I very specifically use the word practice here because it’s not necessarily something you’ll do all the time and with all people. 

Authenticity stems from authentic. According to Webster’s Dictionary it means “not false or imitation (real),” “ true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” If we think about all the experiences, knowledge, perceptions, opinions, and emotions that make up who we are then that is what has created our true self. But we don’t always like every aspect of who we are or pieces of us make us feel vulnerable so we hide those pieces behind a mask.

Authenticity means we have to remove the masks

Masks exist to protect some piece of us. Whatever masks we have and keep around exist because they have provided some value over the years. It’s important to know what value you perceive they bring or what they’re protecting/hiding because that’s one of the big hurdles to learning how to remove it. 

For some, their drive at work requires that they mask any emotions in order to keep a cool head and advance up the ladder. They’re not bringing their whole self to the job because they’ve decided that their whole self would get in the way. 

We have our “best self” mask, which we are especially fond of using for first dates and interviews. We may even be able to keep it up for a bit afterwards. But in the end, this version only masks our imperfections (wink, wink) and denies our flaws. 

Some might have a mask that “feels” authentic. Research has shown that people often feel authentic when they are meeting social norms and expectations. (Which makes sense when you look at other definitions for authentic like “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact” or “made or done the same way as an original.”) Those social norms, like extroversion, might actually go against their true nature but the feeling of acceptance weighs in as more appealing than authenticity. 

What’s not a mask is the small nuances that exist because we are multi-dimensional creatures. I speak to my children differently than I speak to my co-workers. That’s a natural shift due to the environment I’m in but not an act of disguising or hiding anything. 

Authenticity means we’re being vulnerable

The act of removing a mask means we are exposing ourselves and being vulnerable. Exposing ourselves can be an exhilarating journey. But that means it’s also exhausting and full of emotions. To share honestly with others and then have it rejected can stir up shame. In Brene Brown’s “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) she defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Whoa, let that soak in.

For myself, as a woman in technology who has spent her entire career having her technical skills questioned, I struggle with not putting up a mask of “I know this.” As a single parent not wanting pity, I often wore a mask of “I’ve got this.” To take off those masks means that I’m exposing myself to possible criticism (for not knowing) or pity (for needing to ask for help). 

What authenticity means is we bring our whole selves

Authenticity does not mean we go around telling everyone all our business (that’s still called TMI) but it does mean that we are consistently the same person. People notice if you are one person with your group of friends, another person at work, another person around family and yet another person at church. It causes your friends, coworkers, and acquaintances to question what you’re hiding. Personally, I don’t develop a deeper trust with people until I’ve seen them (and gotten the scoop) with friends, coworkers, and family. I’m always looking for consistency (including what people say are their flaws)

Authenticity means we celebrate our uniqueness, flaws, and mistakes

I think of authenticity as a social media feed sometimes. It’s the selfie without filters. It’s the lopsided birthday cake before you got it right. It’s the unique childhood or quirky talents. It’s admitting your fear. It’s acknowledging the mustache you inherited from your mom…. Oh, is that just me? 

People crave that authenticity. When we feed the story of “perfection” we create a false sense of failure in others while also carrying the guilt of knowing that those images we shared are not the whole truth. 

How To Start Practicing Authenticity

Share your thoughts even if they’re half-baked

We so often assume we’re the anomaly when our thoughts head a different direction than the conversation. Instead of following the crowd, share your thoughts with the room. Maybe that’s intimidating to you because you don’t normally say something that’s not in line with the current conversation. We don’t have to state our thoughts as absolutes. Preface it with something like “I know we’re discussing X as our next move but for some reason the thought/question/idea of Y is coming to mind. Is there something there we should explore?” It allows the room an opportunity to decide the next move together but with more information than they had before.

Be the only person to raise your hand

For every time that someone asks a room “Who is not familiar with this?” the whole room stops and looks around first. That’s because no one wants to be the person raising their hand and acknowledging they don’t know. I challenge you to be the one to raise your hand. Others may choose to raise their hand after you or they will keep up their mask and sit in silence. But either way, there is almost a guarantee that if you don’t know, others down know. When everyone in the room pretends to know then we miss an opportunity to learn something. And who wants to miss that?

When someone asks your opinion, share honestly

Gasp! Once you start paying attention to this, you might be surprised how often we cover our opinion. Either we try to answer in a way we think they want us to or we answer based on the political environment at work. Neither is authentic. This is not permission to be a rude jerk. The more controversial the answer, the more you might need to pad it with some additional details. The intent is not to hurt or offend anyone but share openly. AND if it’s a taboo subject (government politics, personal relationships, religion, etc) that they’re inquiring about (and you don’t know or trust them) then it’s completely appropriate to say “This isn’t really something I discuss at work” or “I don’t really see how that’s necessary to discuss.” 

Be curious

Engaging with other people in an authentic way does not mean it’s all about you. Ask questions. Be curious about who they are, how they think, what they value. A big step in getting more comfortable with being authentic is to have some trust built up. And getting to know others is a great way to start. Be warned….anything you ask of them is fair game to be asked of you 😉

I hope these help you in your journey to being more authentic. What authenticity means to you will grow, adapt and shift through the seasons of life.

Which action are you going to try first? 


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About The Author

Hey folks! I’m KD and I’m glad you’re here. Disruptor, leader, mom, coach…I’ve had many titles in my life but mom and disruptor are my two favorite. I’d like to think that I’m raising 4 more disruptors to join my lifelong cause of changing the abundant oppressive systems that still exist. Whether that’s corporate culture, LGBTQ+ rights, educational equity, or generational trauma, it’s all powerful and needed work. Check out the freebies and read more about me here.


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