Updated: Dec 4, 2018
If you were in a room full of people you've known from different parts of your life, would they see the same person?
Some people may interpret this question through the lens of self-growth; throughout your life, you are constantly changing so that you will not be like the person you once were two, five, or ten years ago. However, I wanted to screw on a different lens and encourage everyone to think about all the people in your life right now, from family and friends to coworkers or people that you've met for the first time. If they all compared notes on The Person You Are, would they all line up?
I started my first class at University of Pennsylvania as a graduate student (which is going spectacularly so far, thank you to anyone wondering), and my professor encouraged us to think about the spectrum of authenticity. She discussed how on one end, there's people who are deeply ingrained in their sense of self, who don't deviate much from their morals, values, opinions, etc. On the other end are people who cater their behavior towards context--who they are with, where they are, the emotions of the situation, etc. At first, I thought about social media and identified with the former end of the spectrum rather than the latter. There are many people who post what they think will perform best among audiences, which is not inherently bad, especially if one is trying to obtain more likes and followers for whatever reason. However, I like growing my personal brand as something, well, personal. Not for anyone else, but myself. And if people like that and resonate well with that, then great! But if they don't, I am okay with that, too. Not your cup of tea, I get it. So, hey, yes! I know who I am, and I stick with it.
But then, I really, really, really thought about the room question as presented above and stopped in my tracks of certainty. Would people see the same person? I don't think so. I'm not saying that I am "fake," but who doesn't tie on a mask for certain situations, whether that's a job interview, meeting a significant other's parents for the first time, or speaking in front of a crowd? Someone once pointed out to me how they thought it was funny that all my friends don't hang out together even though we all attended the same school. I never found that weird, but he went on to ask, "Why don't you be the connecting link among a group of semi-strangers?" I reflected on this reason and found that I unveil only particular parts of my personality to particular people, depending on the nature of my relationships and their personality as well. So, I guess you could say that I was being authentic with the part that I chose to share, but is that really being authentic?
So now I ask, what really is authenticity? Many philosophers and famous scholars (I'm going to generalize and paraphrase a bit here because I, and I'm sure all of you, don't want this to become a scholarly research article, because let's be honest, we've all had enough of that in school) discuss the presence of media or religion as deviating from one's authentic sense of self. What we see in the media tells us what is trending or popular, what the "buzzwords" of the day are. But do we like these things because we actually like them or because we default to popular opinion? And no offense to religion (because 1. I believe that anyone should practice what they believe in, as long as it makes them happy and does not harm others; and 2. religion provides a morality baseline for many individuals), but how many people would actually believe some of the teachings if a religious authority did not tell them to? There's so many thoughts and ideas that are passed down to us, and we have the luxury to sit there, wait for them, and decide which of them we choose to keep.
I guess what I'm poking at is: through our search for sense of self and the formulation of our own mind, we learn what being authentic really means. If we have to try out both the good and bad, then so be it, but we are taught to cower and backtrack our decisions under the judgmental eye of an inauthentic, and oftentimes, hypocritical society. If being our authentic self deviates from the norm, but we know that this will empower ourselves and other people, then don't be afraid to embrace it! Authenticity may be the popular buzzword that anyone can easily talk about, but actually applying it, discovering it, and living it? Not so easy to do, or fake for that matter.