It’s the first word that comes to mind when you’re conscious of how you’d ideally present yourself to the world. It’s the first word that comes to mind when you’re envisioning your best life, the life that you’d create for yourself if you weren’t crushed by life’s harsh circumstances that are beyond your control, if you weren’t crippled by debilitating anxiety, and if you weren’t stuck in this cutthroat race to a dead end, just to get by and pay off the debts and exorbitant expenses that the previous generation claimed were necessary to incur just to secure a predictably “stable” future.
As a generation, we’re told that we can be anything we want to be, but we’re also forced to fall in a line and get to the end as fast as we can. True selves be damned.
But this is leaving us destitute. We’re thrown into a cold and chaotic world with a bleak future ahead of us. We don’t expect a life of freedom or even the chance to build ourselves from the ground up when the ground is shaky beneath our feet. In fact, our standards are low – we beat ourselves up for not doing enough, since we’re taught that stability is scarce and reserved only for “the best,” so most of us don’t think we’ll ever buy houses, pay off debt within the next 10 years, get a stable job that’s guaranteed to be around for the next 40 years, or raise families. We once thought of ourselves as victors, but we’re now subconsciously morphing into victims. We’re frenetic and helpless. We war against ourselves, with two sides ripping each other apart – our authentic side and the side we’re expected to show at all times. Our laughter is no longer light, but it carries the weight of anguish and defeat. We have loud voices, but they’re drowned out by the noise of those who want us to remain lowly – as debtors to the status quo.
We’re climbing a ladder with wobbly and crooked rungs. We’re getting restless, impatient, and most of all, exhausted. We have rewards dangling high above our heads, but they’re no longer worth suffering for. We’d get off the ladder if we weren’t deathly afraid of the repercussions of doing so.
Outwardly, we pretend to have it all together. We conform, even when every fiber of our being wants to scream. We fit ourselves into a plastic mold that stifles us. We crack under the weight of the world we never asked to carry upon our shoulders. And though we’re longing to connect and find common ground, we’re forced to compete.
Out of the desire to be authentic, we’ve created a world for ourselves. We talk about authenticity and preach it like it’s the gospel of our generation – our green and grassy hill to die and shed our blood on. We’re pouring our hearts and souls out to strangers who feel the same way, and we understand the impact of revealing our raw, unfiltered selves. We make an effort to share it with the world more often because filtering ourselves too much can crush someone’s hopes of ever being good enough.
However, a lot of us get authenticity confused with saying “fuck it” to everything we’ve been taught and doing everything our way, regardless of the consequences. We also diminish authenticity to following a contrived Instagrammable lifestyle that involves organic meal-prepping, building a quirky personal brand, traveling around the world, doing yoga, taking pictures without makeup on, and sharing vague words about being yourself that anyone can say without really understanding that being yourself isn’t a miracle cure to life’s recurring struggles.
Authenticity isn’t simply about “being yourself” because as much as we like to entertain the fanciful idea that we’re special as we are and we can do whatever we want, it’s not a constructive ideal to live by in an imperfect society that still demands some give and take.
Authenticity is more than just telling others not to care about what anyone thinks. It’s not about YOLOing and using the term “discovering ourselves” as an excuse for escaping from everything that makes us feel bad. We put too much trust in our feelings and although it’s important not to bottle them up, they should not make us chase after false hopes and pipe dreams that still put ego and image on a pedestal. We’re not supposed to feel entitled to a struggle-free life. We still have to earn our place. We still have to prove that we’re resilient enough and prepared enough for the unpredictable future.
But we can do so in a way that doesn’t force us to sacrifice all the things that make us distinct individuals.
To truly be authentic, you must dig deeper and scratch away the platitudes that skim the surface. You mustn’t equate authenticity with living however your self-serving ego wants to live.
Because authenticity is not about acting upon every impulse or following every fleeting whim and desire. It’s not about angrily stomping off from your current life or forgetting about where you came from. It’s not about flying around aimlessly. It’s not about posting feel-good quotes on social media or sugarcoating everything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
It’s about maintaining internal stability because you can’t count on stability to be handed to you or contingent upon external rewards.
It’s about upholding your values in order to be a decent human being that serves without expecting anything in return.
It’s about understanding that you are a work in progress, yet you can still be whole and lovable.
It’s about sharing your stories and standing up for what you believe in yet doing so with grace and openness to change.
It’s about knowing what you have to offer yet not considering yourself as a special snowflake that deserves more than others.
It’s about being accountable for your actions yet realizing that you can never please everybody all the time.
It’s about empowering yourself yet doing so with the much-needed humility that keeps your ego in check because you don’t have unlimited strength or power.
It’s about knowing that the journey to self-actualization is full of uncertainty yet choosing to pursue it relentlessly.
It’s about doing the best you can to overcome the difficulties you cannot avoid yet recognizing which battles you aren’t properly equipped for and admitting that you can’t win at everything.
Because in the end, no matter what you choose, you have to find your place in the world and balance your own passions with the needs of others in order to live a life that you genuinely care about and connect with people who resonate with you. Authenticity isn’t just fucking around wherever and whenever you please. It’s not an excuse to avoid looking at your own problems right in the eye.
True authenticity involves choosing joy in spite of inevitable suffering, crafting a life that makes you the victor instead of the victim, and evolving into the most wholesome and refined version of yourself that you can possibly be.