What Authenticity Really Means And How To Excel At It

In 2018, I did my own version of Eat Pray Love. In the book Liz Gilbert travels around the world after divorcing her husband—I divorced my life.

If it sounds dramatic, it was. I cold turkey quit a good job and a “sensible” career track for what…? I didn’t know.

I had played by a particular set of career rules and ended up empty and alienated.

To bring myself back to life, I traveled abroad with full license to do exactly what I wanted for a year — Mysore style yoga in India, learning French and French cooking, and volunteering for experimental theater and art shows in NYC seeking or open to a very tall woman’s body (I’m 6’3”/191cm). It was supposed to be a grand gesture of authenticity and self-authorship, but I came back to the U.S. in month 7 on crutches feeling hapless and lost.

It was the first time I had risked living in complete alignment with what I wanted, but a series of surprise health issues cut me down until I couldn’t do what I wanted at all.

Authenticity is usually defined in individualistic terms — to be authentic is to be guided by internally generated beliefs and desires versus conforming.

But as I’ve learned in hard ways and in kind ones over the last 3 years, not conforming doesn’t mean rejecting and disconnecting from the world. Nor is it the same as saying and doing whatever you want without regard for consequences — which is why I love the trend toward increased consciousness not only of individuals but also of companies.

We really are all part of something bigger. In every single moment, everything I believe and do directly or indirectly impacts you, and everything you believe and do directly or indirectly impacts me, generations pass down beliefs, culture, gifts and trauma — and the cycle continues.

Authenticity, in being self-loving, inclusive of light and shadow, is by extension other-loving and mindful of impact. Free to be, connected with our true nature, working out psychic knots and embracing fears and resistances allows each of us to unleash positive energy, purpose, and impact that is unique.

When we connect with ourselves and the world around us, we can authentically, consciously and harmoniously co-create a better world and a better experience of living. We thrive and inspire our clients, partners, cultures, companies and countries to thrive too. This kind of alignment is unshakeable and goes well beyond ego — steadying and supporting us and those we impact through dips and challenges.

Here are 5 tips for how you can live and work more authentically right now:

1 Take an honest look at your job and career track. Is it what you want to do? What would you do if your options were unlimited? What would you be proud of 10 or 20 years from now?

2 Ask yourself, what kind of life do I want? Am I actively pursuing it? What are my stops or hesitations? Look for excitement, underlying fears, and action killing mindsets (for example “I don’t know”).

3 Take responsibility in your relationships. What can you own, what are your stories and interpretations? Do your relationships serve both parties? What are the needs and desires, are you consciously creating the same thing or do your paths diverge?

4 Practice awareness of where you are hiding or misrepresenting your truths, including avoidance, white lies and outright deception. What are your motivations? Practice leading courageous conversations.

5 Safety is a mindset requiring nurturing as well as something we create. Notice where and with whom you feel safe to share and be seen. Lean into or replicate the opportunities — and pay it forward or give back.

Authenticity starts with self-love and ends with connection. If you want to live more authentically, identify the change that would be most impactful, and take action. Go big, or take one small action starting today.

As for my interrupted travel year? I healed my foot and completed Part 3 (which was NYC, minus the experimental art volunteering), I love my work, and I have clear goals now — and it’s still going strong.

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Casey Onder, PhD

Psychologist, success coach, believer in solid behavioral science and the power of tuning in.