What does it mean to be authentic? More importantly, Why does it matter if we are authentic or not? A cursory search through Medium and Psychology Today define “authenticity” what I might call a “nice person.” We can get lots of advice about the five to seven things you need to do to be authentic. “It’s all good,” as we say. I was searching for something with a little more behavioral science behind it.
I remember reading Rogers, Buber, Satir, Erickson, Maslow, Schutz, and May during the glamor days of the Human Potential movement. Authenticity was a big part of the discussion then. Being authentic aligned with open inquiry and self-actualization. It required work, the real work of self-discovery through serious, reflective research.
My definition of authenticity comes from “Life Orientations” training. I am surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. My definition starts with the idea of “congruence,” – the alignment of Intention – Behavior – Impact ( IBI). I intend for something to happen. I behave in ways that align my behavior with my intention to achieve the impact I want to have. Doing so is neither easy or instant. In some ways it’s like hitting a five iron. I have an intention, but my behavior does not align to produce the desired impact. It takes focus practice, feedback, and a resolve to continue until I see real results. Even then, a disciplined approach to reflective self-assessment and openness to feedback needs to become rooted in habit.
Feedback and self-reflection are acquired tastes. Each requires a desire to know combined with a will to improve. What I learned from LIFO training is that understanding my strengths can make the path visible and explorable. LIFO allows me to see myself under both favorable and unfavorable situations. I can see how I might change my behavior when I feel out of sorts, defensive, or blindsided by behaviors I did not intend. Overusing my strengths is a concept that allows me the possibility of dialing things back instead of embarrassing myself when confronted with the things I don’t like seeing.
Knowing more about how I orient myself helps me to understand my interactions. I can see areas where I can increase my ability to supplement my behaviors and fill in the blind spots that I discover from interacting openly with others. It also allows me to focus on developing in areas that are clearly not my strengths. I can ask for help from others, or try new behaviors that are difficult for me to learn and to sustain.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that authenticity is a journey and not an end in itself. It’s about seeing the balance I try to create in my life, admitting to my inconsistencies, challenging my mental models, and moving forward with the support of others. The answer to why authenticity is essential suddenly hits me right between the eyes. This quote from “The Little Prince” sums it up perfectly. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Giphy.