There are two words that I can’t quite wrap my head around recently: “personality” and “authenticity”. When I googled these words, I got the following definitions:
Personality: individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving
Authenticity: the quality of being authentic. So then authentic means, genuine or real.
So now let’s think this through. Individually first and then together. Warning: what follows is the epitome of overthinking. This is about to get messy and incoherent really fast. Be prepared!
The reason I’ve been thinking so much about personality is because I’ve been hearing two phrases over and over recently: “that wouldn’t work for me” and “you do you”. This has been important to me because both responses seem really dismissive and minimizing to the other person. Personality is tough to navigate and it’s always changing. People judge our personality the minute they meet us. (More about this when authenticity is brought into the conversation.) And then, when we think about the definition and consider our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving it’s hard to delineate which informs which. In an intense moment we might respond impulsively and then be reminded later (by ourselves or someone else) to “think before we act”. Sometimes we’ll blame this kind of behavior on temperament. Conversely, we may think (possibly too much) about a choice before we behave but no matter how much consideration and attention we give to a decision we may not feel confident or like we made the “right” choice. And all these things (yes, feelings too) create our personality. We likely all can recall a time where we felt like our actions were in conflict with our values or what we thought was correct. It’s like your insides, your personality, are splitting and that’s partly because we all have a conscience and rational thinking. So then, how does consciousness or morality or even mindfulness play into the equation?
ENOUGH! When I googled “personality” I got 305,000,000 responses in under a minute. I also realize people write entire books, courses, etc. on this and I could reasonably go on and on confusing myself in my own negotiations and wonderings forever if I wanted to (it happens ALL the time!). Moving on…
Now for authenticity. Being genuine. If you were to look up genuine, you would find words like “real” or “honest”. The first things this makes me think of (aside from the retail industry) is Brene Brown. However, that’s not what we’re directly talking about today. Authenticity is doing what’s best for YOU and recognizing how you feel, what you’re thinking, and what you need. It’s also about acting authentically. Do you know anyone who you feel like is always acting “so fake”? And you can tell can’t you? Sometimes I do that too. When people first meet me, I’m enthusiastic to a nearly off-putting degree. It’s a front. Because, when people get to know me they realize I’m actually less dynamic than that most of the time. A more accurate depiction of me would be complacency. For example, I am known to say “that sucks” and “that’s great” with the same inflection. When people get to know me they also get to know about my experience, aspirations, morals, and obviously my thoughts (including what’s important to me). At this point (if they REALLY know me) they can begin make associations between me and my actions. It’s also when they can better understand my intentionality and (hopefully) correctly judge my behaviors. In fact, even if they don’t know the “real” me, they’ll be conjuring up their opinions of me. Authenticity is really hard. It’s especially difficult in new environments where social anxiety is typically at the forefront and when good first impressions feel imperative.
So how do these come together? You have to know yourself to act authentically. That’s first. The sassy comment “you don’t even know me” that we’ve all heard could perhaps be turned inward and be point a self-criticism or reflection too.
Before we get too deep, a side note: in the act of attesting that we feel people don’t know us or drawing attention (subtly or not) to our differences (we are all different, as we know), we’re also not inviting people to engage with us. Rather than taking the opportunity to create conversation and bolster relationships we’re too often deepening the crevices between ourselves in the vein of “personality”.
This is also interesting because our personalities are always changing and being challenged every day. Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t even know myself anymore. I’ve quite literally lost sight of who I am in this program. Graduate school challenges you and makes you super vulnerable. So what complicates this is that while we attest that others don’t know us, we also likely don’t know ourselves as well as we think. Or in some regards, at all. You have to be honest with yourself and that’s part of knowing yourself. So recognizing there’s work to be done is a huge first step. I am also temped at this point to question myself and exclaim “you just said we’re always changing so how could we know ourselves?!?” But I think instead I’ll just say, personality is super complicated. At a simplistic level, our experiences inform our values and actions which shape our thinking, feeling, and behaving ie. our personality.
So it’s a bit cyclical (isn’t everything?). And that’s why I can’t wrap my head around it all. It’s like what comes first, authenticity or personality? Is the act of being authentic how you represent your true personality? Does being attuned to your personality allow you to be authentic and act authentically? Anyway, I don’t have all the answers but I know these words are important in nearly every interaction and every sphere of our lives. In an effort to attend to more self exploration and self learning I’m going to be paying close attention to these words. If I’m quick to reply with “oh, that wouldn’t work for me” I’m going to try to ask myself why.
Likewise, I am practicing owning my experiences, thoughts, values, feelings, etc. Being authentic means answering even the hard questions or problematizing (my favorite not-word word) your inclinations and behaviors. It could also mean just attending to your tough thoughts. Then, acting in a way that is authentic and aligns with your personality rather than the role it seems like you’re expected to play out in daily life.
To conclude: You’re better than conformity. If you’re lost, be lost until you find out who or what is authentically YOU. And do the work to figure it out! Then act accordingly. Don’t settle for the prescribed trajectory people have carved out for your life. Challenge assumptions (yours and others). Be okay with not knowing.
Explore. Live. Find you. Be you.