"Discretion of speech is more than eloquence, and to speak agreeably to him with whom we deal is more than to speak in good words, or in good order." - Francis Bacon
Being an authentic person is something you may hear said from time to time. Many people do not know the answer to the question “how do I be my authentic self?”, because they don’t understand the question. It wasn’t until I became much older, after hearing this question, that I understood it. What do you mean my “authentic” self? My thoughts are my thoughts, and my words are my thoughts; how is that not my authentic self? To better understand what the question is asking, you must first analyze your own behaviors. How much of what you are doing is done because you genuinely wanted to do it? How much of what you are doing is done to fill a societal expectation of you? Familial expectation?
A prime example of this can be one from my own personal experience. When I was in high school, everything on the outside of me told me that, in order to have fun, I would need to be at some kid’s house with a red solo cup in my hand yelling “woooooooo!!”. And so, that’s what I did. And I told myself I was having fun. It wasn’t until much later when I realized one night that I wanted no part in it. I didn’t like loud music or large groups of people that I didn’t know. It made me uncomfortable going to a party where I didn’t know the host. I much rather preferred being in a familiar environment with a few close friends watching a movie or talking. It was at this point that I realized that although it had been my idea to attend these parties in my youth, it was not a genuine part of me. If I had been completely honest with myself from the start, I would have known that I wanted nothing to do with these occasions.
How much of your life consists of fulfilling societal expectations, satisfying an ego, or doing what you think is expected of you? When you are being genuine in your thoughts, words, and actions you know it immediately. I know when I’m saying something that I truly believe in because I say it with complete confidence. I don’t question for a second whether it is real. I simply know that it is.
Small talk is an excellent example for this. Most people can’t quite put it into words, but they simply know when someone is being disingenuous toward them. It’s a feeling that you have, because you can sense that the person does not believe in what they are saying. If you are forced into an interaction with a person you have had a history of conflict with, they may say things like “it’s so great to see you”. Even though you know that it isn’t, everybody plays pretend to avoid the unpleasant honesty of the situation: the truth, that if you were being completely honest, you would say something like “it is extremely unfortunate that you are here, and if it were up to me I would never have the displeasure of seeing you again”. It is rude but also exactly what you feel at the time. This is the reason people learn to hide from their genuine selves. The comfort of normalcy. Of fitting into the middle of the pack. Of not being uncomfortable even for a moment.
I can’t tell you a simple rule to follow in all situations to stay genuine to yourself, because in all honesty you shouldn’t. There are times when the best course of action is to put on a mask and say “hi how are you”. The distinction you have to make for yourself is when to take the mask off. When is it time to truly say what’s on your mind, or when is it time to stop attending things you do because it is expected of you. What I can say from experience is that when you start to make these distinctions, you will naturally have more confidence in your voice when you speak because you believe in what you say. You have spent time separating the fake and the real, and now you know for certain what the “real” is. You will enjoy things more because you know you absolutely want to do them.