A word that crosses my mind rather often is authenticity. When I ask myself what I aspire to be, my first answer is authentic. When I wonder about the secret to true happiness, it is authenticity. I have found, over and over again, that it is an incredibly rich and all-encompassing word, yet it is utterly vague, all at the same time.

I would like to explore what authenticity means to me. I want to rip apart its layers, and I know that in the middle, I will find the realisation that will make the ground beneath me shake, and my knees tremble. I know what I will find; maybe that’s why we are so afraid to dive into our authenticity. It will hold a mirror with truths so true that it will tear apart everything we thought was true about ourselves.

Let’s start with the outer layer of who I am, the shell of my soul that is closest to ‘reality’, guarding my inner world against the dangers out there. I would call this layer my mask; it’s the part of me that smiles when I am offended or hurt; it’s the part of me that swallows my words because I ‘don’t always have to speak my mind’. This layer was created by school systems and work environments where I was forced to act like a ‘professional’: i.e., comply with our expectations and don’t be a pain in the ass. You are punished if you step out of line and praised if you follow our orders. There is only one logical consequence: adjustment. Its side effect: the painful death of your creative, emotional inner child.

While we neglect our emotional and creative side, we also neglect our ability to express ourselves. This is where authenticity becomes a little deeper than ‘just being yourself’. Every time you fail to show your needs, wants, desires, or boundaries, you are betraying yourself. Over time, you are so good at anticipating what the outer world desires from you that you lose the ability to recognise what you want within. At one point, you are so far into this game that you are living a life entirely based on expectations and values that were never yours to begin with. The tricky part? You are not aware that these are not your desires.

How can one become authentic? I believe this is not about becoming at all; instead, it is about unbecoming, learning to recognise how your surroundings influence your behaviour and emotional responses: family, friends, colleagues, teachers, culture, society, entertainment, all of it. Once you become aware of this, the unbecoming will follow, not effortlessly but gradually. Step by step, you will become ready to release a part of yourself that was never you in the first place. Accepting you are not who you thought you were is a scary process, let alone being able to let go of who you thought you were.

It can start small. Not laughing at that joke you find offensive. Saying no when someone demands your time when you have none. Buying that dress you were too afraid to wear but always loved.

It can get a little bigger. Deciding your current career path is not for you and changing. Moving away from the place that made you feel small. Cutting out toxic friends and focussing that energy on yourself instead.

It can get much bigger. Realising the whole world around you is made up of systems you do not feel aligned with. Deciding you are going to build your own life instead. Speaking up and living in alignment with the world you envision, no matter how far away from the norm this may be.

The main thing I had to tackle in this journey is shame. What will people think when I become my authentic self? Will they still like me? Will I be accepted? Are people I have known for a long time going to talk behind my back?

Well, they might. And that’s okay.

I continuously remind myself that I would rather live a life being true to myself than to be accepted. If you constantly live your life in that outer layer, living through other’s expectations, never letting your real emotions and creativity come out, then are you really living?

I have felt lonely because deep down, I felt different, yet I was wearing that thick, suffocating mask. I understand now that I was the one stopping myself from finding people I truly connect with. How can you expect people to recognise your true self if you hide it from the world? You can’t.

Now, what does authenticity mean to me? It means having the guts to dive deep into who you truly are. This is painful; you will discover how little of yourself you have been allowing to come out throughout your life. There is grief. But it is mostly beautiful to finally be seen, heard and felt. The world needs your sensitivity, vulnerability and creativity, so stop hiding it.

© Text by Jessica Jansen (JJ’s Writing) | Edited by Alice K. Burridge (Green Writing) | Photo by Seth Matahelumual (Epicart) | The Gifted! Foundation