What is authenticity? Who am I?!

These are the questions I’ve been thinking about recently, but where to even start?

what-if-and-why-notDara over at Good at Life has dedicated this month as Authenticity August and it’s great to read her insights and advice and be inspired (I’d really recommend you take a look if you haven’t come across her blog before). One of her first posts of the month talks about letting go of what people think, and until recently I didn’t realise quite how much I struggle with this.

Often if I have an idea I’ll test it out with others, mention it in conversation, looking for confirmation that it ‘fits’ with who other people think I am, that it’s something they encourage and could see me doing. I shouldn’t be doing this. I think we should listen to others, because it’s important to know how we come across to other people and there are often truths in how others see us. But I don’t think we should ever let this dictate our actions or hold us back. We shouldn’t be looking for approval, only insights to help us to come to our own conclusions and enable us to make our own decisions.

Following a job interview where I was asked “what 3 words would family and friends use to describe you?” I decided to actually ask 3 family members to answer this question. After getting pretty positive answers I also asked them for 3 ‘negative’ words to describe me. Sometimes our ‘weaknesses’ can actually reveal our biggest strengths. The answers provided an interesting insight into how I come across to others, and most of them I’d agree with, at least to a certain extent, though some I think only apply in certain contexts.

Authenticity is accepting the good and the bad, strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not about immediately accepting the opinions of others as facts about ourselves and our characteristics. I guess the opinions of others are actually a pretty good insight into how authentic we’re being – how much the way we act reflects our values and who we truly feel we are.

wavesofdoubtauthenticself

I recently attended a meet-up group to discuss personality types. I’ve always found this sort of thing interesting but meeting and learning about the different types was just fascinating.

I’d always thought my type was INFP but, never having done an official Myers-Briggs test, I spoke to some knowledgeable members of the group about this, and was surprised at the suggestion that I could possibly be an ENFP as these types are very close. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert, and after some more thought I’m almost certain I am, but it’s surprising how much influence your environment can have on who you think you are.

Maybe we’re not necessarily who we’ve grown up to believe we are. We might have to dig a little deeper to find our true authentic selves.

For a more full and detailed explanation of authenticity have a look at what Kevin Rafferty has to say: What is authenticity? and Connecting to your authentic self

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Like it vs Good at it

In the past I’ve written about the distinction between strengths – things you’re innately good at, and skills – things you learn to be good at. But recently I’ve got to thinking, why just stick with the things that come most naturally?

Now I’m naturally quite a quiet, introverted person. Because of this I doubt many people would describe me a ‘people person’, ‘charismatic’ , ‘outgoing’ or the like, but I really enjoy working with people. I guess in a way I’ve taught myself to do small talk and to be comfortable speaking to new people, and I now genuinely enjoy carrying out presentations, no matter what size the audience (a formal presentation is a great chance to speak without anyone else taking over the conversation!). I also really enjoy working in groups – sharing ideas and discussing things with others.

Maybe I have always been good at these things, just a lack of confidence held me back, but maybe some of them are skills that I’ve learnt, rather than strengths that I’ve always had. How do you tell the difference between what you’re naturally good at and what you’ve learnt to be good at? And if you enjoy it, does the distinction even matter?

bebestyouI guess what I’m really getting at here is should we be finding our authentic selves or working at becoming the people we want to be? Or is it possible to do both – are these actually the same things? According to Steve Peters in The Chimp Paradox, who you want to be who you really are, so is life an opportunity to discover yourself… or to create yourself?

I’d been planning on writing about this for a while but yesterday I found a post over at Career Avoidance 101 which is looking at a pretty similar question – Is the search for an authentic self worth the hassle?

And I think yes, it is worth the hassle. While you’re searching for this ‘authentic self’ you’re going to discover so much more – likes/dislikes/strengths/skills – so I’d say life is about discovering your authentic self AND creating the version of that self that you want to be.

There are no wrong decisions

I was aware of the book I’ve just finished for a long time before I decided to read it. I guess I thought the title said it all, but it’s actually been a really positive and encouraging read, and it’s got me thinking more about whether I push myself outside of my comfort zone enough.

8. Just say yes – you can’t losefeelthefear

(Feel the fear and do it anyway, by Susan Cain)

Often I feel the fear, do it anyway (once) and then be done with it, feel good, but generally I don’t keep pushing the same boundary. It’s like I can superficially do the fear thing, but only for a limited amount of time (maybe that’s got something to do with my introverted energy levels).

A couple of things stood out to me while reading – the key one relating to my usual dilemma: decision-making. We often see choices as black and white, right and wrong, but each option will just lead to different opportunities, no better and no worse in the long run. I find this hard to accept. Being the maximising perfectionist that I am I feel that one path must have even a slightly better outcome than another. But I can’t think like that – the paths are different, there is no good or bad, just one set of future opportunities versus another, neither of which can be known at the time of making the decision.

The other key point that stood out to me was, and at first this does sound a bit mystic, ‘saying yes to your universe’. All this really means is being open to life and all it has to offer. It doesn’t mean literally saying yes to everything, just accepting what comes your way knowing that you can handle it and therefore you really have nothing to fear.

The book’s about being positive and not relying on external things to make you happy. Yes a lot of it could be described as common sense, but I know I need reminding. This is a great motivational read and it makes me want to go out there and take some risks. Because we’re capable of handling so much more than we think we are, and because If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got, and I want something new and different.

It’s an extrovert’s world

I’ve just finished reading a well-known and well-reviewed book on introversion. It’s funny how I can’t imagine saying directly to anyone that I’m an ‘introvert’ – the word just sounds negative and abnormal due to our culture – but I would imagine that someone could quite easily describe themselves as an ‘extrovert’ with a much more positive reception.

I’ve heard people argue that you can’t separate everyone into one of two categories, yet I think doing so helps us to understand and accept that there are people on both sides of the spectrum and both should be treated equally, without pressure for the quieter ones to conform with the louder majority. Something needs to change in western culture, and I hope that this book is the start of that.

quietWhy we don’t all need to be ‘all-rounders’

(Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain)

Such a well-researched and well-organised book, and a very interesting read. Some great ideas on different kinds of leadership and work environments – the suggestion that extroverted leaders are better when staff are passive but introverted leaders are better when staff are proactive is a really interesting one, and I personally hate open plan offices as I need my own space.

Cain also covers the nature-nurture debate, explaining how some people are simply born more sensitive to what’s going on around them, and although they can learn to think and act differently as they grow older, those in-built sensitive reactions are still present.

The book also covers cultural differences in personality, specifically comparing America and Asia. While obviously you can’t stereotype whole nations, Americans do seem to prize charisma and speaking out while Asians tend to value quietness and thoughtfulness much more highly as an indication of wisdom.

We definitely need extroverts, introverts and all those in-between; we just need to make sure that all of them are heard and accepted for who they are without pressure to conform.