What is being authentic? It means knowing your limits and being transparent about them. It means not making excuses to get out of something, but standing with your own two feet and saying no. It means portraying who you really are, rather than fitting a mold of who you or others think you should be. We don't always "know who we are" in the way that we think monks would hope we do, but at any given moment in time we can say we know how we feel and what we want in that moment; and I'd say that's pretty much close enough. If we can truly own those feelings and desires then we can be authentic.
Sometimes it's easier to describe what it looks like NOT to be authentic, because well frankly, it's our human nature to see a description and try to fit into it and identify with the positive traits. When we are shown the other side of things and identify with that we are also able to see where we have growing to work through.
- If your friend asks you to babysit her kids and you don't feel like it, but you don't have any other plans - and you feel guilty about saying no, so you say yes and then feel irritated with yourself or resentful toward the friend: that's not being authentic. If you make up an excuse to get out of it, you lie: that's not being authentic. On the contrary, if you say, "I'd love to help you, but I just don't have it in me to watch children today." or "I'm sorry, but I can't." that's being honest and authentic. Those are true statements and you don't have to feel guilty for not doing someone a favor that will cause you to harbor ill feelings about yourself or your friend.
- You say "yes" when you mean maybe or no. Your spouse asks to go on an outing, but it just doesn't sound fun at all. But you don't want to hurt her/his feelings, so you smile and say, "let's go!" But the whole time you just want to be home. If you can't say no when you mean no or if you can't say, "maybe, let me think about it." when you're not sure - and you jump to people pleasing: you're not being authentic. On the contrary, if you say, "Babe, that sounds like something you'd love and I'd probably enjoy on a different day - but today I'm just not feeling it. Can we stay home or is there something else that sounds good to you to do today?" That's being authentic.
- Are you allowed to give yourself praise? Are you allowed to own your flaws and work on them? I ask this because many people feel like they're being overly prideful or arrogant by praising themselves, so they take a false humility and use that to arm themselves from internal or external perception of egoism. Some people also have difficulty admitting flaws because they fear that they'll be labeled or judged as flawed - so they take a defensive stance to others and to themselves, constantly justifying why they just did this or that. How exhausting! Neither of those are authentic. On the contrary, REAL & AUTHENTIC people are both flawed and deserve praise. It's okay to say, "I'm amazing and I did a great job!" and it's okay to say, "woah, I really messed up, big time." without the "but" (but, so-and-so didn't do their part, etc).
- Do you wait for your significant other to know what you need "because I shouldn't have to tell them, they should know by now." With your marriage vows neither of you were bestowed the ability to mind read - and your marriage vows didn't include "I vow to vigilantly be on the lookout to meet your need before you state it." Waiting for someone else to do something isn't being authentic, but stating your need or want is - even if sometimes your spouse should know that thing.
Why would you want to be authentic? Because it's freeing! It's liberating! It feels really, really good.
You get to just be you without all that guilt or pressure to be or do otherwise.
Are you still tactful and diplomatic? Yes. Absolutely!
Do you still find compromises with your spouse and friends sometimes? Of course, you're not selfish. You don't just turn everything down because you don't want to do it, but you're honest about not wanting to go and you find a way both people can make a situation work.
Do you know how to be honest about what you want or need, and don't feel ashamed to cover up what you're going through? Yep!
Do you end up feeling like the people in your life know and like the real you - not the "if they only knew the real me..." version of you? They do, and you know they do, and there's TRUE JOY in the knowledge that people like the real you - warts and all.
Learning to be authentic is scary and takes time. But each time you're authentic and it goes better than expected you build a little reserve of confidence, making the next authentic experiment easier. It snowballs over time and gets easier and easier and easier. Until one day, you encounter someone inauthentic and you have no patience for it. You realize that you've been operating with honesty with yourself and others for so long without realizing it that someone else's inauthenticity is frustrating and intolerable.
And then you realize you need to work on the character trait of grace: "there, by the grace of God, go I." You were there once upon a time, so giving them a little grace for their journey will go a long way in your heart.