• Gill Reed

What Does Being Authentic Really Mean?

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Before going to an interview or meeting a blind date for the first time, the advice we are often given by the people who know us best is to be true to ourselves.

But which self are we being true to?

I don’t know about you, but I change every single day. I am not the same person I was yesterday.

I received a text message the other day that said I was “putting on a front” and not being the person I was expected to be. The same person who sent this has often told me how much I’ve changed from the first time he met me.

Is that a bad thing though? To have changed as a person? I don’t think it is.

At first, I had a hard time accepting the fact that I do and can change. I battle with feeling like I’m being an imposter.

When I first started college, I wanted to be a doctor. Then I changed my major and decided public relations and journalism was the better route. I saw myself working a 9–5 with a salary of $60,000 a year and being okay with it.

I didn’t like the school I was at though, so I transferred to a bigger city in hopes of pursuing opportunities in agency PR. Instead, I landed an internship in the communications department for my state legislature.

I loved it….until I didn’t.

After my internship with the state ended, I went to work at a multi-billion dollar law firm with the government advocacy team. I loved this job too. I stayed for nearly two years and had plans to make it my career. Until one day I woke up and decided, “nope, this isn’t right for me”, and moved on to what was next.

I kept thinking, why can’t I just pick something? Why isn’t anything sticking? Am I pretending to be someone I’m not?

But the truth is, when I started college and wanted to be a doctor, I was being true to myself at that moment. When I took the internship for the state legislature, I was being who I was at that moment. When I worked at the big law firm and was loving every second of it, I was being exactly who I was at that moment.

It’s not that I’m pretending to be someone I’m not or putting on a so-called “front” but instead, I’m evolving into the person I’m truly meant to be. All those experiences have guided me in the direction of finding who that person really is.

In a Harvard Business Review article called “The Authenticity Paradox”, researchers explain that “staying true to yourself” is complicated. There is not only one version to stay true to. 

We play different roles depending on the experiences we are part of.

Each new experience we encounter in our life helps us evolve. They alter our values, our likes, and our dislikes because with each one, we become more informed. With each new experience, we are challenged to throw out the previous narrative we had set for ourselves and begin again with a new or altered one.

Our past helps shape us, but it doesn’t define us.

 You are allowed to try out different stories or even start from scratch. This isn’t to say you need to revamp your personality or neglect the past experiences that are attributed to your identity, rather, you take a step out of your comfort zone to experience who you can be. You’re not changing your personality altogether, you’re balancing your expressions and being aware of your situations to decide the best way to respond. You are self-monitoring — shifting your behaviors to match your experiences.

I’ve read a lot of self-improvement articles and books that discuss how important it is to have a clear sense of who I am. On top of that, I used to have a boyfriend who told me over and over that I needed to “figure out who I was” because I was changing too much. When he said this I thought something was wrong with me. He seemed to know exactly who he was and what he wanted to do. I tirelessly tried to prove to him that I did know who I was and who I was going to be.

Then I realized that if I don’t show up as myself now, the self that is evolving and transforming every day, then I’m just showing up as the person someone else wants me to be.

I wasn’t allowing myself to be fully seen by trying to fulfill someone else’s expectations of me.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” — Steve Jobs

I’ve realized that to be fully authentic, you have to look at yourself as a work in progress. You must be open to all the different sides of yourself as you experience life. It doesn’t make you an imposter to not be who you were last year or even six months ago.

Don’t let your past narrative hinder your present one. Continue seeking experiences that let you be your authentic self and in turn, your happier self.

“I think when you’re authentic, you end up following your heart, and you put yourself in places and situations and in conversations that you love and that you enjoy. You meet people that you like talking to. You go places you’ve dreamt about. And you end up following your heart and feeling very fulfilled.” — Neil Parscha, author of “1000 Awesome Things”

You will carry many different identities in your lifetime but the truest version of yourself will always be who you are in the present. It’s not who you were yesterday or who you will be tomorrow but who you are right now.

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