“I don’t need a role model or mentor,” protested a proud seventh-grader. “I am my own role model.”
Many children believe having a role model or mentor is a sign of weakness. They hide behind invisible screens of confidence to mask fear; suspicious they will be judged if others find out who they really are.
“You be you” is a popular phrase that encourages everyone to accept and embrace their own uniqueness. However, being authentic in this screen-obsessed world often involves risk – and considerable courage.
The dictionary defines authentic (particularly as it refers to things) as “worthy of acceptance or belief based on fact.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone believed their authentic selves were worthy of acceptance? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone believed they were enough?
People who are authentic know what they like and don’t like; what they value and what they abhor. They know what they believe and why they believe it. They may have regrets or second-guessed the intuitive voice that warns them about upcoming dangers, but they learned how to transform challenges into life lessons. They grew into their authentic selves because, somewhere along the line, they got sick and tired of trying to be someone who they are not.
Most of us were taught conflicting messages as children: Be yourself. Be quiet. Don’t be ridiculous. Be proud of who you are. Can’t you try to fit in? Author and well-being expert, Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., explains, “We developed beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us acting in the ways we were taught to act — not in the ways that make us feel like our authentic selves.”
Davis continues, “To reclaim your authenticity, you need to discover your Authentic Self; the self that prioritizes living according to your values, pursuing your purpose, and fighting for the causes you care about. For most of us, our Authentic Selves are buried deep in our unconsciousness, were it remains hard to identify and let out.”
If you want to claim – or reclaim – your authentic self, try these suggestions:
- Examine your family belief systems. Think back to episodes when you were growing up that led you to stop feeling comfortable in your own skin. When did you stop doing things that you enjoy? When did you stop sharing your opinions with others? What were your first experiences of shame? When did you talk yourself out of feeling sad, angry, or anxious? Davis explains, “By examining where our behaviors come from, you learn a lot about your authentic self.”
- Identify discrepancies between your actions and beliefs. Identify thoughts and language that may be racist, sexist, or judgmental. Ask yourself whether you really believe the words you speak or thoughts you think. Self-awareness and accepting responsibility for your actions (including your thoughts) are the first steps that allow you to change and reclaim your authentic self.
- Face your fears. People tend to be comfortable with what is familiar. Painful memories often trigger fear. Fears are “loud,” repetitive thoughts with negative consequences. It is important to remember most fears are false evidence appearing real. Examine your core beliefs. Identify, experience, and accept who you are now. Let go of beliefs or fears that no longer serve you.
- Explore your values. What virtues are important to you? What character traits – such as integrity or honor – reflect your values? Use your values to guide how you make decisions.
- Practice habits of self-love. Author and speaker, Wayne Dyer, said, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” Find ways to fill your own confidence tank. Monitor your own self-talk. Do you focus on negative or positive thoughts? Try creating positive affirmations to acknowledge your belief in yourself.
- Have compassion for others. Before casting judgment on others, remind yourself that you may not be informed of all of the facts of any given situation. Refrain from criticism and focus your energies on your own thoughts, actions, decisions. As Jesus Christ once said to an angry mob who were ready to stone a woman to death, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast the first stone” (John 8:7).
- Tell the truth. Be honest. Lies distort our perceptions – especially lies we tell to our ourselves. Lying chips away at our self-esteem because it distorts how we see ourselves and others. Over time, lying strips us of the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. It strips you of integrity. It is impossible to stay grounded in your own truth if you are dishonest. Lying destroys relationships because others will find it impossible to trust you.
- Make conscious statements and decisions. Slow down. Don’t let anyone push you into making decisions you feel unprepared to make. Use your moral values as a litmus test for decision-making.
- Listen to your intuition. Learn to listen to your inner voice as you make decisions. Oprah Winfrey advises, “Learning to trust your instincts, using your intuitive sense of what’s best for you, is paramount for any lasting success. I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen.” Trust in your intuitive voice strengthens your confidence.
- Allow your intuition to reveal your life’s purpose. When you can clearly articulate your beliefs and values, you become more sure about who you are. Your passions will begin to reveal themselves to you. Use your inner voice to help you set goals. Your intuitive voice can help you more clearly define who you are and what you want to do with your life.
When you silence your inner voice and allow others to dictate who you are and what you believe, your self-esteem diminishes. You lose trust in your ability to make sound decisions. Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, said, “If you trade in your authenticity for being liked, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.”
Amy Purdy, two-time world Paralympic snowboard champion and author of On My Own Two Feet, adds, “When we embrace the things that make us unique, our true and remarkable capabilities are revealed.” The things that often trigger regret or shame within us often reveal our life’s purpose.
Long before I spoke to audiences about mental health awareness, I facilitated teen and adult leadership workshops. My career path changed when I received an invitation to speak at a mental health youth leadership event. I knew if I was honest and shared a chapter of the story I swore I would never publicly address – my own struggle with depression, anxiety, and addiction – that my life would never be the same. The risks I took to reveal my journey as part of a much larger and important message – how to be authentic and proud of your story – became my mission.
When you own your story – including your mistakes, decisions (good and not-so-good), gifts, and unique self – you get to write the ending.
How can you be more authentic and proud to be who you are?
Use these tips to Write a Personal Purpose Statement.
Recognize common patterns that cross your awareness with suggestions from7 Ways to Recognize Your Calling.
Get moving! Use these tips from How to Write SMART Personal Goals and pursue your passions.