People today want real. Most of us could agree that we crave authenticity, originality, and vulnerability. We crave real, and we feel refreshed and more connected to others when they are real with us. But it’s often a catch-22 because being real with others doesn’t always feel safe.

The lack of safety we feel in regards to opening up and being real creates a fear around sharing our vulnerability and our truth. Despite the clear need for authentic truth, many facets of our life will always place a disproportionate emphasis on appearance, perception, and expectation, and that emphasis can work in ways that stifle our voice and silence our self-expression.

It’s interesting that we’re wired for connection and belonging, things that arise more strongly out of showing up as our true self, but yet it is easy to choose to live an ideal or an image in order to gain the approval and belonging we so desperately crave. Living with a mask may seem safer, but it isn’t sustainable, and it’s often more lonely than living a life of authentic expression. Living with a mask can leave us feeling empty, inadequate, and sometimes even ashamed of who we are.

“If you trade authenticity for safety, you may experience:

Anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and grief.”

-Brene Brown

For almost 10 years I fought my own battle in authenticity, a battle of finding and owning my voice, and that battle nearly destroyed me. I was so far removed from my sense of self and so caught up in other people’s acceptance that it could have taken a costly toll on my life. Look, I know the pain of trying to find acceptance and trying to “fit in.” I know the pain of putting more weight on the opinions of others than on the opinion of self. I know the pain of losing sight of and not knowing your authentic self, and I know the roads that pain can lead us down.

Fortunately I learned how to give myself the approval I was seeking. I was able to fully embrace the journey of discovering and loving myself. My journey forced me to look past the surface and discover the truth in my own voice, despite the world’s constant, unrelenting attempts to get me to be or act a certain way for the sake of acceptance. Today, while attachment and belonging still matter (they are of course essential for health and well-being), I’ve found a stronger, more stable, more relatable way to achieving it – by owning and embracing my unique self.

I’ve learned that each and every one of us has a truth to share with the world, and we all resonate at our own frequency. We are all part of the greater collective fabric of life, and each of us has an important role to play. When we recognize this, we can embrace our truth and our authentic self with a greater appreciation and love for who we were made to be. Once we know and accept who we are, we have a responsibility to share that piece of ourselves with the world.

Self-discovery is a continual, dynamic process that unfolds. As various circumstances and events arise around us, our identity grows and changes with the time. As such, authentic expression is a continual process, but the more we practice finding our voice amidst the voices of others, the easier it becomes to stay true to and stand firm in what is real and authentic. Brene Brown is an expert in the study of authentic expression and the author of “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She writes that “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.” The more we embrace this daily practice, the more we can confidently and unapologetically share our truth.

How to Find Your Authentic Self:

    • Beyond chronicling your day, journaling is an opportunity for you to have a conversation with yourself and to ask the hard questions. It is a chance to set personal goals that allow you to create a style of living for maximum well-being. The beautiful thing about journaling is that there aren’t any rules. It’s a blank canvas for freedom of expression. All it requires is a few minutes every day or once a week to sit down and explore through words, lists, drawings, etc. I’ve kept a journal for the past 14 years, and over the past 14 years I’ve learned more about myself and about life than I ever imagined.
    • Defining your values is a skill that has to be developed in order to have an authentic life. It requires taking a dedicated look at your life, your passions, your actions, and your strengths. It requires that you separate yourself from the crowd. Once you have a clear idea of your deeper values, it allows you to purposefully maintain alignment and congruence between who you are and the actions you take. Scott Jeffrey has a great online resource for discovering your values, found at this link:
    • Boundaries set the limit for where you end and where other people begin. People with poor boundaries often sacrifice personal values in order to please others, thus allowing the influence of others to define them. When you establish healthy boundaries, you free yourself up to choose what and who you allow within your realm of influence. You get to choose how other people impact your expression of life, and you get to choose when to say “no.” Saying no helps you honor and maintain your personal integrity.
    • Similar to defining your values, your personal mission statement guides your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Your personal mission statement is your reason for existence, and it’s an overarching theme that encompasses the many hats and roles you wear as you go through your day to day life. Your personal mission statement recognizes and honors the value that you bring to the table and provides a framework for aligned action. This is perhaps the hardest of the 4 tools and can take months of revision to refine down to a statement that 100% reflects your essence, but be patient with the process because it’s also the most powerful one.

“By being yourself you put something wonderful in the world that wasn’t there before”

-Edwin Elliot