There is an interesting interplay between what we call success and authenticity, both of which are incredibly subjective, and as such, must be defined by each of us for ourselves. And in defining these aspects of ourselves and our desired path in life, It’s important to create space in our lives to consider the interplay, or relationship, between these two concepts. Can they exist together? 

I think most of us in this day and age would say that authenticity and success are definitely not at odds with each other – we feel like we know at a cognitive level that authenticity is actually the path to success. We’ve learned over the years to be our best, truest selves, and we’ve been told that success will come as a result. And yet, if we are truly honest about what goes on inside ourselves, the truth is that most of us doubt that our (weird, unique) authentic self is the right kind of authentic to lead to success. 

We see authenticity ‘working’ for others’, and have the experience of it ‘not working’ for us, and this leads to a kind of cognitive dissonance, in which we explicitly believe authenticity leads to success……just not for me.

We have misconstrued ideas about what the “right” kind of authenticity is. 

Many of us tend to believe we’re the wrong kind of person, that our true authentic selves aren’t good enough to allow us to live the life we want. We think we’re too lazy, too weird, too quirky, or a number of different pejoratives, and we wonder how we can change ourselves so that our authentic self is a “better” kind of authentic. 

This perspective stems from a lot of deep feelings of shame. 

This is the part most people don’t want to share. We can have all these high-level conversations around authenticity and being yourself, and we do believe the link between authenticity and success to be true, and we may even encourage others to be their true selves because we believe it will help them find success. But somehow, when it comes to our own selves, we just can’t accept it. 

We constantly try to “fix” aspects of our identities to better fit the ideal we’ve projected onto ourselves, because we think that if we were just better people then maybe authenticity will work for us.

Authenticity is just a new area in our lives to feel shame

Something I see happening a lot is almost like a ping-pong ball movement between being authentic and trying to change ourselves, or do things the ‘right’ way. 

We volley between thinking we need to work harder or rest more, create more structure or relax and let things flow, follow our intuition or follow this or that framework perfectly. We get caught feeling as though we’re never doing the right thing, and this is where we feel shame. Neither being authentic nor changing ourselves seems to work for us. 

However, there is a third option. 

Rather than trying to choose the “right” path, either being authentic OR making ourselves “better”, we can take the middle way. Now, the middle way isn’t just halfway between the two paths, nor is it a straight line – it’s not an equal balance of authenticity and self-improvement efforts. It’s more of a winding path, with some straightaways, some hills, some sharp turns, some beautiful vistas – and it’s completely unique to you. 

This may sound easy enough, but our shame around not being authentic enough (or the right kind of authentic) can often obscure our middle way, making it difficult to find an entrance point onto this winding path. We jump from pole to pole trying to make it down the road, without ever finding a balance point or hitting a straightaway, and we keep getting held back by moments of shame & self-judgment. We worry we don’t post enough on social media, or we aren’t getting up early enough, or we don’t have enough structure & routine in our lives. 

This way of thinking is normal. A lot of us harbor these “not good enough” thoughts, but we feel like we can’t reveal them because everyone knows authenticity is the best, and we should be going with the flow and resting more and just allowing our natural selves to carry us towards success – and everyone else seems to have it all figured out. So we hide our authenticity behind shame. 

This ultimately leads to exhaustion, and we end up stagnating in life without any forward momentum. There’s an enormous amount of movement, but very little forward momentum. It’s a lot of work to hide your authentic self while still trying to appear authentic from the outside. This is where a lot of burnout comes from. 

We are who we are, every step of the way

I’m not trying to say that we can’t ever change, grow, evolve, or expand. Of course we can – part of authenticity is staying true to yourself as you change, and not trying to inhibit transformation in response to external influences, trauma, or learning experiences. 

However, what we need to internalize is that we never need to be a different kind of person than exactly who we are at any given point in our lives. 

Authenticity is about honesty, and learning to work with the being that we are, not boxing ourselves in or trying to fit ourselves into our preconceived notions about who we are or should be – other people’s OR our own. 

A common misunderstanding around authenticity is that anything that doesn’t feel “in flow” is inauthentic, or anything that doesn’t ‘feel good’ or isn’t easy is inauthentic. I believe there’s a real difference between our authentic expression – the essence of who we truly are that is pulled from our depths to become present in our daily lives – and these ideas that we come up with about ourselves telling us we’re not good at something or we’re not the right kind of person for what we do. As paradoxical as it may sound, sometimes being your authentic self & offering your true expression to the world IS hard work, and won’t feel ‘in flow’, because it’s been blocked for so long.

You don’t need to be a different person; rather, explore how the being that you are can do the work you do or move towards the relationships you desire. 

How can you work with the being that you are and move yourself towards the life you truly want, instead of pushing back and fighting against your authentic self? What are all the pieces of structure you need in certain areas of your life to enable you to do the things you want to do, live life the way you want to, and express yourself the way you want to? 

It’s not that we can’t or don’t need help or structure, it’s that you can’t follow someone else’s structure to create your life.

Moving beyond authenticity as a limitation

A lot of people tend to use the concept of authenticity as another box to put themselves in. They think, well, I can’t change that because it’s just the authentic me. Or, they’ll take the opposite side and say, well doing that wouldn’t feel true to me, so I shouldn’t try it. 

It can be a useful exercise to start playing within this realm to find out what your authentic expression is in various areas, like leadership, compassion, or generosity. Be more playful with your sense of self!

What we can find in these places is not in the realm of “I need to be just like this” or “I need to emulate that exactly”, but rather along the lines of, “How can I can work with this part of the being that I am to improve my communication in these situations?” or “How might marketing look, given that I am also a naturally shy & private kind of a person?” or “Knowing that I prefer to sleep until noon, but I also want to participate fully in an event that starts at 9am, what might I need to put in place (before, during & after) to support me?”.

We have an entire range of expression available to us, and it comes through our unique being in unique ways. This is what makes us who we are and what makes us uniquely valuable in the world. 

Weaving the threads of our lives

The ultimate goal in discovering how our authentic selves can best serve us and enable us on the path towards success is learning how to weave between states of structure and flow, action and trust, commitment and devotion, hard work and rest, and so on. 

This is the tapestry of what it is to walk as a whole human in this world, and to gesture as a whole human in this world. It’s the interplay between Fierceness and Grace, between masculine and feminine, between devotion and commitment – all of which are present and authentic to us – and this is what makes life so rich. 

It’s not about having an equal balance of each of these things; it’s about being able to navigate between them at different times depending on what you need, and trusting that every possible combination of these things can still be authentic, and representative of your truest self. 

The solution lies in honesty

The only way we can find real success through authenticity is if we are completely honest with ourselves. We must be honest about who we are, what support we need day-to-day, and what rhythms and structures are actually supportive to us. We have to be honest about how we define success, and how we define our happiness. We must be honest about where we are, and where we want to go.

Through this kind of inquiry, we can discover and clarify our True Internal Compass. This compass acts as a reminder that we don’t need to already know everything about what lies ahead, but that we know we can always reorient, using our Internal Compass. 

The compass changes as we follow our winding path – we stray a bit towards the east, or over to the west, and we make adjustments to our orientation and next steps as necessary. 

When something happens in life that was unexpected or unplanned, or when we make a mistake, we have our compasses to orient us. When an offer is made to us and we think, well, this wasn’t in the game plan but it looks like an amazing offer, we can use our compass to check if this is in line with where our true north is at this time in our life. 

Our own minds are not always the safest space to explore our authenticity.

The importance of discovering and defining our own compass is not just knowing how to use it, but also knowing when and how to experiment with it to find your true boundaries and the limits of your authentic self.

This can be a challenge because we have an inherently biased view of our own emotions, minds, hearts, and thoughts, so when we look inward we don’t always get an accurate mirror of what’s truly going on inside us. Our own perception of ourselves can be a bit warped at times. This means we are more likely to spin out, get flustered, or retreat into habitual patterns of limiting ourselves because we are scared of failure. 

Because of this, when experimenting with our guiding compass & becoming more playful with our sense of self, it is helpful to be in a safe space. Within this space we can more easily conduct experiments because we feel held, supported, and loved, which helps us feel more okay with potentially making mistakes. 

One way of creating a safe space for this experimentation and exploration is by finding a mentor, a teacher, or a community of people who can more easily orient us and help us see that which we’ve overlooked or misunderstood. Obtaining a 360 degree view of yourself through the eyes of people who love you and want to see you succeed is incredibly empowering. 

The purpose of a safe space is not that there’s no risk, or that you won’t ever be challenged, but that no matter what you get to experience the loving gaze and compassionate witnessing of people who truly want the best for you. When you’re in this safe space, it’s not that shame never arises or doesn’t exist at all, but it’s allowed to be seen and felt and witnessed in a way that enables it to dissipate, like mist on a meadow as the sun comes in. 

The Fierce Grace Incubator is this kind of a space; one where you are held in enough safety to be able to take risks & explore. One of the key components of Fierce Grace is working with discovering, recovering, and clarifying your own True Inner Compass. To learn more, complete the Fierce Grace application

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