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What Are the Three Steps to an Authentic Life?

Know yourself, own yourself, be yourself.

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To live an authentic life, it is not enough simply to try to be ourselves. We also need to know ourselves and own ourselves.

To be authentic, we need to be able to face up to the truth about ourselves, no matter how unpleasant we might find it. Authentic people are honest with themselves. They challenge and question themselves; they look for ways in which they are being self-deceptive and try to see things from different angles. They know what they think, but they are willing to change their views if new information comes their way. Authentic people know themselves. They are able to listen to their inner voice — their gut — and to understand the complexities of their feelings and hear their own inner wisdom.

The authentic person will not let others blind them to their own truth or let others bully them into taking a position they don’t agree with. Authentic people respect others’ right to be the agents of their own lives, because that is what they expect for themselves from others. When faced with attempts to control or manipulate them, authentic people resist external pressure to go along with how others think. They will not conform to ideas, opinions, or views because others want them to, or because that is the majority view. They will weigh up evidence for and against an argument, reach their own judgment, and then hold their ground on what they think rather than compromise themselves.

Authenticity requires us to be able to overcome our desire to fit in and be part of the crowd. The authentic person is not fearless, but is willing to feel their fear to be authentic. Think of Henry Fonda in the classic movie Twelve Angry Men , which tells the story of one juror who stands resistant against the other 11 and, over hours locked together with them in a claustrophobic room, pushes them to change their minds. We, as viewers, see that he was right to stand his ground against the all-too-quick judgment of guilt made by the others, despite their pressure on him to agree. Most people like to imagine that, if put in a similarly challenging situation, they too would rise to the occasion and champion justice, even if other people stood against them.

In these ways, the authentic person owns their decisions and takes responsibility for their actions, fully knowing the consequences. They know that no one else is the boss of them; they are the boss of themselves. By taking responsibility for themselves and their choices, they are welcoming of feedback from others, curious to hear other points of view, and always open to learning about themselves, no matter how painful the revelations may be.

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Authentic. How to be yourself and why it matters