Let’s talk a little bit about authenticity and being authentic. It makes a lovely buzzword, doesn’t it? You hear about authenticity as a marker of quality or sincerity, an antidote to artificiality. We talk about valuing authenticity in our lives, but the way we live is almost always anything but. We live in a world that encourages us to be fake, to put on masks, to hide who we are and put up barriers between ourselves and the rest of the world.
Look at social media; for the first time in human history, we are able to connect with others in ways that people before us could never even dream of… and we use it to lie to each other. We may be sharing our lives with others, but we do so in a very carefully curated manner, picking and choosing what we share in order to craft our brand. We want to cultivate a specific look and narrative, so that when people think of us, they see what we want them to see instead of who we really are.
Small wonder that relationships are so damn hard for us; we’re trying to get people to connect with the illusion of us instead of the reality. We’re exhausting ourselves trying to carry the weight of these false expectations. Being authentic, on the other hand, is freeing. It’s attractive. It helps build trust and form true and lasting connections.
It’s time to start taking off the masks and learning to embrace our true, authentic selves.
The Fear of Authenticity
It’s not surprising that we have a hard time living with authenticity. While we may fling authenticity around like a moral judgement, we rarely welcome it when we see it. We like the illusion of authenticity, not the reality. We appreciate celebrities who seem unpolished and klutzy because it humanizes them in our eyes. We love politicians who “tell it like it is” because we’re so used to the idea that the people in charge are just lying to our faces.
But deep down, we know that this isn’t real. That aw-shucks personality is a persona; maybe it’s based on reality, but it’s not the real thing. “Telling it like it is” means they’re openly saying what we want to hear instead of using social code or dog-whistles to hint at meaning, not that they’re delivering unvarnished truth bombs. We’re getting the appearance of authenticity; artificial distressing over a slick surface to disguise the polish and the craft behind it. Real authenticity can be disturbing, even intimidating, because we’re seeing the truth and the truth isn’t always pleasant. Moreover, though, we’re seeing somebody demonstrating their strength and that can make us feel as though we’re being judged. It’s easy to create a persona or a false front when it feels like everyone is doing it. When you meet somebody who’s being truly authentic, that justification disappears; we’re left without the excuse to hide behind and thus we feel awkward and exposed as a fake.
But being authentic is surprisingly difficult. We resist putting aside our masks and personas and being truly naked. We tend to get authenticity wrong, confusing emotional vomit for vulnerability, bluntness for honesty and self-loathing for self-awareness.
So what do we mean when we talk about authenticity?
What It Means To Be Authentic
Authenticity, at its core, is being your true, honest self. It’s being comfortable not just with who you truly are – which isn’t necessarily the same as who you think you are – but also being willing to be that person to the best of your ability.
The trick is not to mistake being authentic for shitting on yourself or to use it as an excuse for bad behavior.
For example, we tend to see someone being negative as being more truthful. We’re used to the concept of flattering lies, blowing smoke up people’s asses and inflating our metaphorical resumes. As a result, someone being negative can be read as though they’re dropping the pretense and saying how they “really” feel. It’s cynical as hell, but it feels more authentic. Somebody who talks about how awful they are is “just being honest”, right? After all, it’s not like you get bonus points for admitting that you’re the worst. But being down on yourself isn’t authenticity; it’s as much of a mask as pretending you’re the biggest thing since World War III. It just feels more “true” because our brains have a natural negativity bias, reacting more strongly to negative stimuli than positive ones. It’s an illusion, a mirage, a lie that we don’t realize is a lie. Being needlessly negative is a way of avoiding taking responsibility and being your true self; if you’re a bad person, then in a perverse way you’re absolved from taking ownership of your life. You’re uniquely fucked by the universe and thus there’s no point in trying to do better.
Acknowledging your weaknesses and becoming comfortable with them is authenticity. Defining yourself by them and refusing to try to address them, on the other hand, is not. Of course, false modesty isn’t authentic either; if you want to be authentic, you have to be willing to own and be comfortable with your strengths too.
(And no, Mr. Clever Boots, “I don’t have any” isn’t being authentic either.)
Along those lines, being authentic means being connected to your emotions, to own them and be willing to express them. At the same time, however, it doesn’t mean not having a filter. Someone who is willing to tell a woman he’s attracted to “Look, I really like you and I’d like to take you on a date” is being authentic; he’s taken ownership of his emotions (attraction) and his desires (he wants to date her) and is being up front about it instead of, say, being a Nice GuyTM. You’re sharing something genuine about yourself without trying to control how the other person perceives you. Saying “You’ve got amazing tits and I want to stick my face in them and make buh-buh-buh sounds” isn’t being authentic, it’s being rude at best. Similarly, going on and on to a stranger about how she gives you a boner isn’t about being honest, it’s being creepy as hell.
Being authentic isn’t a pass on developing your social calibration. Spewing emotional vomit all over somebody about how much you loved your ex-girlfriend and she dumped you and now she’s dating this other guy and you’re not over her yet isn’t authenticity, it’s turning somebody into your therapist without their permission. There is a time and place for everything, including sharing your feelings about your last relationship. It’s one thing if you’re relating to something the other person shared with you; then you’re just relating part of who you are. It’s another if you’re hoping that they will be moved by your plight; now you’re just being manipulative and trying to coerce them into behaving how you want.
Similarly, telling somebody “Look, I think you’re a cool person and I get nervous around you, so I’m sorry if I’m a bit awkward at times,” is being authentic; it’s taking responsibility for one’s behavior and owning the fact that a) you think they’re cool and b) sometimes you stick your foot in your mouth. Telling somebody that they’re not “allowed” to get upset at you for doing something wrong because you’re socially awkward, on the other hand, is the opposite of that. It’s manipulation, trying to make other people give you a free pass, not being authentic.
Why Being Authentic is So Hard
Living with authenticity is hard to manage because it requires that we learn to make ourselves vulnerable. It’s hard to bring down those shields, to not try to shape people’s expectations and open yourself up to others without flinching.
More often than not, our lack of authenticity can be traced back to fear – fear of rejection, fear that we don’t measure up, that we’re not good enough. Being relentlessly negative, for example, is a way of managing fear. Not only are you pre-empting other people’s judgement of you, but you’re protecting yourself from that fear of failure. After all, if you’re so ugly, so awkward, so whatever, then you don’t have to worry about failure; you’ve simply given yourself an excuse to never try in the first place. Somebody who continually talks in jokes, quips and diversions and refuses to take anything seriously is using humor as a shield to keep people at a distance. They’re afraid to let people in or afraid people will see them as fake or empty, so they throw up clouds of verbal flack instead.
To give a personal example: part of what attracted me to pick-up was the idea of becoming someone else – someone cooler, sexier, smoother. However, most pick-up is based on being inauthentic, presenting an illusion instead of the “real” you. When you’re running “game” on a woman, you’re not being yourself, you’re trying to manipulate them by presenting a false front. Demonstrations of higher value, for example, are supposed to generate attraction by giving you the appearance of being a higher-value man; you’re theoretically tweaking inborn attraction switches that cause women to desire you. You’re not trying to create genuine physical attraction or bonding over shared interests or goals, you’re trying to short-cut the process through illusion and magic bullets. Becoming a desirable person is difficult; why put effort into becoming a better person when you can just play tricks and get what you want instead? You hide your lack of substance by trying to baffle them with bullshit. It covers your fear of being judged, your fear that you have nothing to offer, by letting you paper over it with gimmicks and manipulation. It can even work… for a little while, anyway. But it carries a heavy cost and everyone I’ve known who’s followed those gimmicks inevitably hits the wall.
Living with authenticity, on the other hand, forces you to confront those fears. You may not necessarily overcome them – even the most socially adept can be afraid of rejection, after all – but it does mean that you have to own them. You may choose to avoid rejection by not approaching, but then it’s an authentic choice on your part; you’re acknowledging your truth and that truth is that you’re not ready to take the risk yet.
Authenticity requires vulnerability and vulnerability can be scary. But facing your fears is how you develop the confidence to realize that they may be valid, but they won’t destroy you.
Authenticity Encourages Authenticity in Others
There’s a phrase, cliche though it may be, that I like: you teach other people how to treat you. While this is frequently used to blame people for shitty relationships, there’s a truth to it: the way you behave serves as a signal to others and affects how people respond to you. Part of being authentic means having strong boundaries; just as you’re not being manipulative, you don’t allow other people to manipulate you in return. The fact that you’re willing and confident enough to be vulnerable doesn’t mean that you’re also willing to let people use it against you. Living with authenticity means expecting authenticity in others and having little tolerance for other people’s bullshit.
As I said earlier: part of what can make truly authentic people intimidating is that they throw off the idea that everyone lies and deflects and deceives. We expect to see in others what we see in ourselves. This is why Red Pillers and MRAs will throw out terms like “white knight” or “mangina” at men who treat women with respect; they believe the only reason why anyone would do anything nice for a woman is to get laid. They themselves are deceitful and manipulative and expect everyone else to be the same. Similarly, when people make rape jokes or racist or homophobic remarks, it’s with the expectation that “we’re all really like this, right?”
There can be an incredible amount of pressure to “go along to get along.” To avoid making waves and just let things pass. But while there is value in picking your battles, being authentic means being willing to take a stand when it’s called for. You’re providing an example for others, showing that no, you’re not like them and refusing to be passively dragged into their circles. Being authentic will drive some people away – people who have a vested interest in not being authentic. True authenticity, however, is incredibly appealing. Being genuine gives you a certainty and assuredness that is attractive to others and it encourages others to find that same level of confidence. Mirror the behavior you want to see in others and you’ll soon find that those people are naturally brought into your life.
Discovering Your True Self Is Process
One of the hardest parts of being authentic is simply discovering your truth in the first place. After all, who you are is a moving target; we grow and change and adapt, changing our self-concept as we age and gain experience. If you’re the same person you were ten years ago, five years ago, one year ago, then something is horribly, horribly wrong because you’ve done literally nothing and really, the only way this can happen is if you’ve been frozen in ice for a hundred years…
Of course, while we may have changed, our self-concept may not have kept up with the times. Like the story of the elephant and the mahout, it’s very easy to let your idea of who you were define who you are. I spent years convinced that I was The One Who Was Not Good With Girls because… well, I’d had some bad experiences. Other people were happy to give me that label and I was willing to adopt it as my identity. In rejecting that label and finding my truth – it wasn’t that I was inherently bad with women, it was that I didn’t know how to be good with them – I was able to become closer to my authentic self. I became a Pick-Up Artist because I thought that was the life I wanted. But in doing so, I was creating a self that wasn’t me. I was living up to somebody else’s standards, trying to cram myself into a personality that wasn’t my own and that hindered me. I wasn’t able to express who I really was as long as I was a PUA, so I had to learn to let it go and keep digging, finding my real truth.
To find your true self, you have to be willing to question and challenge your assumptions; just because you’ve believed something for years doesn’t make it true. Checking your motivations, and doing “Why” exercises is a powerful way of digging through years of self-limiting beliefs and finding out how you really feel about things.
Don’t mistake uncertainty or not knowing your true self for being inauthentic. It can take time and experimentation to find your truth and that’s fine. Sometimes we have to dig through who we’re not to find out who we are; that’s part of how we learn. I spent years trying to be an artist before having to admit that it wasn’t where my passion or talents lay. Authenticity doesn’t mean having the answers; it just means that you’re willing to ask the questions in the first place.