I think it is because it seems to have become a buzzword for my generation. We want to see ‘authentic’ leaders, live ‘authentic’ lives, have ‘authentic’ experiences, but what does this actually mean?
Authentic experiences are usually a very close imitation of what it is we want to experience, but somewhere else. For example, getting an authentic experience of China might be a tag line for a Chinese spa – but, it probably isn’t the experience the majority of Chinese people have of day-to-day Chinese life. It is the perfected version, the one we imagine. This, in essence, is my problem with the word. It has become a desirable trait, to be ‘authentic’, so desirable that we are trying to imitate something real. It has, more often than not, become a new way to be attractive. We live ‘authentic’ lives, which we design in such a way, that everyone loves our authenticity, but it is a copy of true authenticity, perfected and preened so that within our constructed ‘authenticity’ we are presenting a beautiful image of successful rawness.
Authenticity, in its truest form, is a desirable trait. But, in a world that is dominated by a drive to be perfect, this desirable trait has been corrupted – authenticity in our lives, must, to be accepted, be perfected… Somewhat defying the point of trying.
The thing is, true authenticity has a cost, when you share a part of yourself, without edit or design, there is enormous risk of rejection, humiliation or just simple indifference. To live truly authentic lives we have to sacrifice some of our pride and not try to mitigate the risk of real authenticity by shaving down the sharp edges.
The reality of the social media age is that we can present a carefully constructed image of ‘the real us’, with all its filters and edits in place, eliminating the need to be wholly you. The problem with this type of authenticity is that it isn’t real, and at some point someone will scratch the surface to find that the depth we have presented is not what is really there. Then what do we do?
There is of course the risk of going too far the other way – authenticity does not need to mean sharing every thought and concern with the whole world, without thought of who will lash out or what others might need to know. It is possible to be authentic without leaving yourself exposed and unnecessarily vulnerable. It also, must be noted, that there has been growing confusion between authenticity and vulnerability.
Vulnerability can be truly authentic or ‘authentic’ – we can feign vulnerability in the same way we can pretend at authenticity. But, we can be authentic without being vulnerable as long as we do not pretend to be vulnerable. There are many wonderful people who are honest about the fact that they do not wish to share all of their thoughts and secrets. This is true authenticity, in the same way as someone sharing a part of themselves is.
I love the private person who states that they are private; I love the vulnerable person who shares what is real in their life. This is the authenticity I want to see. People living honestly, transparently, fully themselves – because if we are not ourselves we are left with being poor quality clones.
To live a life that is real, vulnerable and authentic takes risk, but also requires wisdom. When do we share and when do we hold back? The one thing we can’t do in that is to pretend. True authenticity is a brave move but the alternative is to hide behind fear and lies, and yet somehow that has become a norm. We all do it. I just wish we didn’t….