With so much talk about living authentically, we seem to have forgotten the origin of the word “authentic”. Etymologically, it derives from “one acting on one’s authority” – from the reflexive “auto” – self, one’s own, by oneself, of oneself. If authentic, you author your life, acting on your authority.
On the other hand, most of us get stuck trying to find our way back to “our authentic self” – as if there were some original, static version of self that we could find and refer to.
If only I were true to that version of me, I would be authentic!
Which version of you is the real one that you should align with? And if you don’t know what version that is, how do you expect to build strong relationships with others. Who are they relating to when they interact with you?
Choosing to build authentic relationships:
Like everything else in your life, relationships are something that you build, maintain and deepen. Some relationships might happen organically, but at any time, you choose whether to nurture the relationship or prioritise something else in its stead.
Great relationships create happiness, well-being, and self-esteem. Building authentic relationships require genuine and vulnerable communication and interactions.
To build genuine relationships, you must reveal your true self to others: what you think and feel. You say what you mean and act congruently with your values and priorities. Moreover, your feelings, thoughts and how you act and interact with others must align internally and externally.
The more you practice self-awareness and emotional intelligence, the more authenticity you will bring to your relationships. Consider these aspects of writing the story of your life:
- knowing what you think;
- noticing the lenses and perspectives through which you look at life and situations;
- choosing to have heart-to-heart connections and not just a meeting of the minds;
- learning to speak your mind with kindness and compassion;
- living according to your values and priorities;
- recognising and respecting your feelings and learning to self-regulate;
- establishing healthy boundaries in your relationships;
- consciously establishing your identity of who you are and who you are becoming; and
- proactively making decisions and choices about how to live your life.
Author your life: get clear on what you think.
When was the last time you sat down and thought clearly about your relationships and how they create the life you have? While you might be unable to “opt-out” of many relationships in your life, you have choices about how much time and energy you invest in the people around you.
Consider your intentions for each relationship: what needs, wants, and desires are fulfilled by building this relationship? Do you think about this relationship as a transaction – what you will get from it – or as a connection for creating something better?
When you are clear on how you think about the people around you, you can choose to interact with others and build stronger connections authentically.
Notice the lenses and perspectives you look through.
Take time also to consider the labels you assign to relationships and people. Labels impact the meaning you make about yourself, others and situations. Unfortunately, these labels prevent you from seeing the whole picture, including other perspectives and points of view.
Until you are aware of your biases, prejudices and beliefs, you won’t notice that you are limited in your view of the situation or person.
It also limits your ability to change how you invest your time and energy in the relationship and your growth options.
Choosing heart-to-heart connections, and not just a meeting of the minds.
While a meeting of the minds is impressive, look for heart-to-heart connections with the important people in your life. Take time to listen to hear and understand, rather than to respond and be heard.
When you approach relationships from the heart, you will notice your feelings and responses and have a deeper awareness of the emotions and feelings of those around you. This will allow you to hold space for others to be heard and felt, staying curious about their thoughts and feelings.
It is in these little moments that you build stronger relationships.
Author your life: open your heart to speak your mind kindly.
Notice the people with whom you are open to hearing new perspectives and points of view. What about the relationship or situation that allows you to keep your heart open and listen? Your willingness and eagerness to be challenged will enable you to inform your point of view with new information and opinions.
At the same time, be willing to express your thoughts and feelings with kindness and compassion. Speaking your mind is not an excuse to treat others harshly or cruelly. Instead, look for these opportunities to speak with kindness, even if your opinion or point of view clashes.
Building relationships requires handling differences and conflict openly, rather than shutting down and purposefully withholding information from the pool of meaning (Crucial Conversations, Joseph Grenney et al.). When we are silent and hold back crucial information, we damage the trust in the relationship.
To build authentic relationships, you need to speak in times of difficulty and conflict to create the possibility of shared meaning and understanding.
Author your life according to your values and priorities.
Have you considered how your values and priorities are reflected in the relationships you are building?
Do your friends, family, and colleagues share your values? If not, how much time and energy do you want to invest in building those relationships? Or would you prefer to create authentic connections with others that share your values?
At the same time, when you look at how you invest your time and energy in building your professional or business network, does this reflect your priorities and goals? Covey reminds us to make sure before we climb the ladder of success that the ladder is leaning against the right wall. The same applies to the time and energy you spend building professional relationships.
At any time, you are either buying or selling: are you spending your time and energy on your values and priorities, or are you buying into someone else’s? Another way to see this is whether or not you are performing on your stage or simply a supporting role on someone else’s stage.
Emotional intelligence: respecting your feelings and conscious regulation.
Before you can regulate your emotions and how you respond, you need self-awareness to know what you are feeling. Recognise when you are sad, mad or scared. How do these emotions reflect in your body language? Notice how this body language impacts your interaction with others.
If you are mad and holding it in, others will pick up on the cues and become defensive. It’s not about swallowing it down and pretending to be calm. Your words will be judgemental or critical if you are heightened emotionally. If you are sad, you will appear withdrawn and not wholly present.
Consider what you need to create in the environment to communicate your feelings, rather than ignoring them. This allows you to build authentic relationships.
Healthy relationships do not require you to edit out parts of yourself for others.
Choosing to respect boundaries for safety.
As you build your life and invite people into your network, consider where you find yourself mincing your words or swallowing your feelings. Are your boundaries malleable to be acceptable to others? Do you move the line to please others, fawning for their attention?
Is it any wonder you feel others don’t know you well if you keep changing your identity to curry their favour?
As you create and build your life, consider the safety you feel in being yourself. Can you clearly define “me / not me” in each relationship? Can you trust your gut when it suggests that you are being inauthentic and need a boundary for greater safety?
Author your life: creating and recognising your identity.
Any lack of consistency in how you act around others harms your self-image. Can others count on you to consistently show up, reveal your feelings, speak your thoughts, and be yourself?
You are what you consistently do: so how do you “do you”?
While we are all human beings, we are also “human becomings”. Your identity is not something static, stuck at a particular moment in time. You constantly grow and adapt as life changes and overcome challenges and obstacles.
Be intentional about creating that identity – becoming who you want to be as you interact with those around you.
Your identity is something you create through your small choices and decisions. You can choose to live by another person’s standards and expectations, or you can create reality as you wish to be.
Proactively take action: to author your life is to be responsible.
Authoring your life is something you do each minute of each day. More often than not, in the small and mundane choices, you carve out your identity and how you relate to others.
When you choose authenticity, you decide to author your life – being original and conscious in your choices. You choose to be the real deal in your relationships, thoughts, and feelings.
Make each day an opportunity to be faithful to yourself and the person you are becoming.