“Authenticity…what the hell am I even looking for??” I asked myself this question so many times. On the surface it seemed like a fairly intuitive concept—”Be Authentic!”—but what did that actually feel like? I had realized that I couldn’t trust my impostor voices. I had figured out that I needed to shed my layers of emotional obesity to tap into my authentic voice. But then what? Where was my authentic self and, more importantly, how would I know when I had found it?
The answer was: I needed to let it find me.
When it comes to tapping into your authentic self, there is no big “A-ha” moment in which you are washed over with a sense of Buddha-like calm, Ghandi-like wisdom, and brimming with self-assurance and readiness to proceed forward down an enlightened path. Nope. It’s subtle. Like a beautiful sunset, or watching a smile creep over your baby’s face as he nuzzles against you—you feel something inside you open. Time slows down and your mind quiets. Suddenly, somehow, the only thing in the world is what is directly in front of you.You feel full. Content. It is a feeling that is as much about recognition as it is about discovery.
I can’t tell you what your authentic self looks like and feels like. You are unique, and what works for me may not work for you. To find what your authentic self feels like, you must use your own experience as your guide. We’ve all had these moments in our lives and the first step to recreating them is to be aware of how they made us feel.
So How Do I Get Me Some Of That?
I hate to open myself up to social criticism, but I am going to admit to you something that might sound like a character flaw. Please, no snap judgements. Here it goes: I like cats. There, I said it. And the best way I can think of to explain authenticity is through the a story of my own furry feline. Dog lovers please forgive the analogy. I promise it will be worth it.
My family had a cat when I was growing up, Kyoty. I was 10, don’t ask. He wasn’t allowed in our bedrooms at night but every now and then he’d find a door that was just open enough. He’d bolt inside and run straight under the bed. I would have to drop what I was doing to get Kyoty out of the room before my dad noticed he had broken the rules. It was basically impossible to do so, and made me extremely frustrated.
Around my 15th birthday, I finally understood that if I wanted get my cat out of my bedroom, I had to settle down, be super quiet, patient, and wait for my cat to ease himself closer to me. Some days it would happen in a minute or two, but other days he just won’t come out, despite best efforts.
Authenticity is like trying to get a cat out from under a bed. The louder you yell, the harder you try, the more you grasp at a tail or paw to pull him out, the more likely you will fail. The cat will go deeper under the bed, press himself against the furthest wall or any space that is just beyond reach.
I set a goal to find a life that felt more authentic and then presumed that I would just grab authenticity by the leg and that would be that. Boom! Authentic self, attained. Now, as you know, it didn’t happen that way—there was no instant success. I cried, yelled, pushed harder, worked longer, thought more, and did whatever I could to force my made-up timeline. And, like a cat under the bed, my authentic self slipped further and further out of reach.
It was not until I learned that authenticity required space, time, and patience in order to come out and be heard. And some days, even with all of that in place, my authentic voice did not lead me to an answer. Some days it let me know that I was still unsure—that I needed to consider my options further and should take a few days or get more information. Some days the answer was an obvious, “No!” Or a resounding, “Yes!” When that happened, I would try to follow up with a body scan to see how I was physically responding to the message the voice was telling me. I would also compare the way I was feeling to other truly authentic moments, like a sunset or the feeling of my infant son nuzzling against my chest.
In moments like that (and again, only you can say what those moments are) your thoughts slow down and you become truly present. You’re not thinking ahead about what you have to do later, nor are you ruminating on something that already happened. Past and future don’t exist. It’s just you in that moment.
When you do find these feelings, it is important to connect with them in the moment. Notice how they feel on both a physical and emotional level. Then practice tapping into them on your own. Learning to reconnect to that feeling will teach you to connect to your authentic self. And it starts with slowing down.
And when I felt the urge to “grab the cat” I take these steps to slow myself down:
Start by becoming aware of your thoughts. Is your brain going a mile a minute?
Slow them down by focusing on your breath. Breathe in slowly, hold your breath for a second, and then exhale in a long, slow breath. Keep breathing in this way.
Allow your thoughts to pass through your mind, one at a time, without attaching to them or following them down the direction they may try to pull you. Treat your thoughts as though you are watching a movie.
Practice this every day for a few minutes so you can learn how to slow thoughts down at will.