Are We Addicted to Inauthenticity?
THE COST OF OUR CULTURAL CONDITIONING
Do you remember the first mask you ever wore? Was it store bought or painted on? Frankenstein? Freddy Krueger? Or Wilma Flintstone? Before you keep reminiscing, let me stop you because I’m not talking about your childhood Halloween memories.
Long before you first dressed up to go trick-or-treating on All Hallows Eve as a child, you wore masks—not to get candy—but to get along. You’re not alone. From the beginning of time, humanity has been hiding behind masks as a means of survival.
We learn to wear masks from an early age. While we innately know it’s unhealthy to be inauthentic, we instinctively wear masks and call it protection. It’s akin to how we eat food filled with artificial additives and preservatives and call it nutrition.
The tragic irony in both scenarios is suffering. We’re being poisoned by the food we eat because we’re addicted to artificial. And we’re being suffocated by the masks we wear because we’re attached to inauthentic. But we can’t seem to break these bad habits.
Masks Are Still Miserable
My first costume was Underdog—complete with a mask and cape. The cape was tight. And the mask was hot as hell. Ten minutes into the night the damn string broke. No matter how much better masks are now compared to then, masks are still miserable.
Do you ever feel as if you’re wearing a mask? For many people, life is 365 days of Halloween and never-ending-costume-parties. They’ve worn masks for so long they don’t even recognize themselves. Many people despise what lies beneath their disguise.
I’ve seen this scenario too many times in my work of helping people discover their true identity. Even this morning, I had a painful conversation with a person who has masqueraded their way through for life so long they can’t imagine life without a mask.
As I mentioned, feeling the need to put on a facade begins as children. We learn that certain behaviors get rewarded while others get punished. If we say and do the right things, we get a treat. If not, we get in trouble. We get invited. Or we get left out.
As we age, life continues to condition us to act a certain way around specific groups of people. We adopt behaviors and beliefs instead of being ourselves. Maybe your mask is a means to impress your boss. Perhaps it’s a way to be accepted by your co-workers.
Please be honest as you ponder those last few paragraphs—there are no masks required here.
Trading Genuine for Junk
I’m trying to eat healthy but last night, I went to the kitchen for a snack. My plan was to eat a clementine, but I consumed five mini Snickers® left over from Halloween. In a moment of weakness, I abandoned authentic for artificial trading genuine for junk.
When our behaviors are less than genuine or we act in ways that go against our nature, we live inauthentically. Needless to say, it’s unhealthy. But we’ve done it so long it has become second nature even while we desperately long for healthier lives.
So how do you live with authenticity in an artificial world? How do you live free from other people’s image or ideas for your life without feeling like an outsider—or worse—an outcast?
I’ve been working on writing a new definition of authenticity. For now, let me suggest that being authentic is living according to your own values and goals. And it’s being true to your personality rather than or regardless of the pressures others place on you.
Authenticity doesn’t mean you disregard others, but it does require being honest with yourself and others while putting your own needs first. It also means taking responsibility for your actions and making sure your values, goals, and behaviors align.
The title of this blog and my podcast, Square Peg Round Hole, isn’t a derogatory statement. Because you can absolutely not fit in and still be 100% comfortable and confident. And that’s where I hope to lead you as you continue to read or listen.
Motivations or Manipulations
There will be times as you live and lead with authenticity when you go against the crowd or culture. You might miss out on opportunities because you don’t go along to get along. But the pain of being duplicitous is worse than the pain of being disingenuous.
Wouldn’t it be freeing to never have to worry about what you said or never need to look over your shoulder to see who’s watching? Wouldn’t it be a relief to know that your decisions were based on your motivations and not the manipulations of others.
As I mentioned earlier, becoming authentic begins by being honest. You don’t need to be ashamed or embarrassed to admit that you’ve been domesticated. But that’s exactly what has happened to humanity—we’ve been conditioned to perform and pretend.
No one ever woke up one day and said, “I want to fake it to fit in with the crowd.” “I want to bury the very best of myself to be accepted.” “I want to be miserable to make everyone else happy.” That lifestyle evolved over a lifetime. And it will take a lifetime to change.
As I wrote last week, you only discover diamonds when you dig deeper. The cost of cultivating authenticity in every aspect of your life is worth it. Or as my friend and CompleMentor, Monty Hipp, says, “The health of it all is worth the hell of it all.”
Pathways from artificial to authentic are possible but only when we admit the pain of our predicament. The lies we live and the leftover Snickers® we consume will never truly satisfy even though culture and TV commercials try to convince us otherwise.
Today, I’m asking for your help in two ways. First, please share this post to help me bring greater awareness to this crisis. Second, please answer the two questions below by commenting or by emailing me. I value your voice, and I would love to hear from you!
What are the greatest obstacles facing society that prohibit authenticity?
What is the greatest obstacle you face personally that prohibits authenticity?
If you need help with the subject matter of this blog for your personal or professional life, please email me to discuss one-on-one options. I will reply to you personally. —T.
Timothy Eldred is a writer, speaker, and friendly disruptor of the status quo with a mission to end aloneness. He gives leadership and provides strategic support to profit and not-for-profit organizations to develop a sustainable culture of authenticity. Tim is also a member of the CompleMentor training team. Follow him @timothyeldred.