Do you remember that classic TV game show “To Tell the Truth?” It was one of the longest running game shows ever, airing shows in every season for 45 years.
The premise was that four celebrity judges would try to guess which of the three contestants was the genuine character being described in an unusual and unique life story read out loud by the host. All contestants introduced themselves by the name of the true character. The two “imposter” contestants could lie with their answers, the true character had to tell the truth in every answer. After questioning each contestant, the judges would vote. The host would then say those famous words, “Will the real [name of the character] please stand up.”
I used to love watching the show, trying to guess which was the real character. I sometimes got it right. But often I was completely surprised. And I’ve never forgotten the host’s line at the end of the vote: Will the real ________ please stand up.”
So what was the appeal to such a simple game show? The drama of trying to figure out who was who? Deception? Humor? Seeing judges voting? Unusual life stories? A competition of winning and losing?
Probably all of the above. But I think there was also something else at play. We are drawn to that which is true, to people who are able to stand up and truly be themselves. We call this Authenticity.
I’m inspired by the way Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, defines Authenticity:
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” (p. 50)
The “letting go” of this ideal self we think we’re supposed to be (and even that can change depending on which environment we’re in at any given time) is really hard. Isn’t it? Why?
Why Living Authentically is So Difficult
Our external culture. We live in a world that strongly encourages, sometimes even demands, that we fit in, don’t stand out too much, conform to accepted expectations and standards. Though our country was founded on individuality and the pioneering spirit, our culture has strong ways of limiting all of that.
We’re raised to acquiesce to authority—the authority of parents, adults, institutions, people who know more than we do, power, position, status. We’re taught not to trust ourselves or our gut instincts or to look too deeply inside ourselves. All true authority is outside ourselves, we’re told.
No wonder we have in our culture an authenticity challenge.
Our internal Culture. Compounding this cultural squeeze is the truth that inside ourselves we often have another battle raging. It’s a self-esteem and self-worth issue. So that whenever we feel shame or unworthiness or guilt that creates self-doubt, we can quickly and easily sell ourselves out and say, “I can be anybody you need me to be. Watch me!”
So we can allow our self-identity to shift with the winds and tides of our surrounding people—whatever it takes to please them or get their approval so we can feel good about ourselves.
We definitely have an authenticity challenge these days.
So how do we learn to choose authenticity more and more in our daily lives—to choose to be our real Selves in every context, living out the fullest and most confident expression of our true Selves?
Three Steps to Choosing Authenticity
Notice the three actions described in Dr. Brown’s definition of Authenticity:
- Daily practicing
It’s unrealistic to think that all of a sudden, one day we can simply declare, “Okay, I’m perfectly authentic now. I’m good to go.”
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true Selves be seen.” (p. 49)
When you consider that we are making this choice against everything that we’ve established through the course of life as being “true” about ourselves and what’s really important—pleasing others at our own expense, living up to everyone else’s expectations, letting every situation determine how “real” we should be, hiding behind masks, or trying hard to be someone we’re really not—it’s no wonder authenticity is a daily, even moment by moment, choice. We have to practice it regularly. We have to develop a new normal.
Authenticity is a process of becoming—a journey into being more fully genuinely ourselves. So our practice demands: “In this moment, faced with a choice of how I’ll show up in this situation, I choose authenticity. In this moment, I choose to be real and genuine and honest. I will not hide myself. In this moment, I will not let fear of what others might say or think dictate how I show up. I choose to let my Self be expressed. In this moment, I will be Me to the best of my knowledge and ability and in a spirit of respect, love, and compassion.”
- Letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be
We have to stop living our lives based on other people’s expectations and standards. We need to respect and honor their choices. But we don’t have to emulate them. We are each unique individuals. We have to let our masks go. We have to let go of our attempts to squeeze into someone else’s mold. We have to let go of our obsession with pleasing and seeking approval in order for us to feel good about ourselves.
For a trapeze artist to let go of the trapeze and fly through nothing but empty air takes courage. It’s scary and even risky.
So is letting go of false identities—especially if we’ve lived them for a long time. We end up flying through uncertainty, even at times lack of clarity about who we are. We risk rejection and lack of acceptance. People close to us might actually like us the way we’ve been. We might “fail” at being Ourselves. Yes, it takes courage to let go.
But we can’t grab a hold of the true identity (the other trapeze bar) without letting go of the false.
- Embracing who we really are
Think of a time when you felt really true to yourself, when you felt completely safe, loved, accepted, honest, when you felt really strong and energized. What was happening? How were you showing up?
Chances are you were actually being your true Self. That’s what you have to embrace and grab a hold of. That’s the new trapeze bar you’ve been flying through space to catch.
That story you remember is a snapshot of your Authenticity. Remember it. Relish it. Visualize it again and again. Those powerful positive memories will give you courage to choose Authenticity again and again. Embrace who you really are.
Embrace vulnerability. Let go of the need for perfection, even in trying to be You. Give yourself permission to fail, to make mistakes, to not do it really well every single time you embrace You. That’s okay. You’re on the journey of Authenticity.
Embrace compassion for your Self and for others. Remember that you are made of both strength and struggle, as Brene Brown puts it.
Embrace that your greatest gift to the world—to everyone around you—the gift that God has given you and you alone, is You. No one else is or can be You. Stand in your Truth and that truth will set you and everyone around you free. Only Authenticity gives freedom. Don’t deprive the world of your Authentic You.
So next time, when the situation arises and says, “Will the real You please stand up,” jump to your feet, hold your head high, and with joy reply, “Here I am, you lucky people!” And the rest of us will the better because of it. So will You.