Authenticity is learned and has to be practiced.

We often think of authenticity as a dichotomy–you’re either an authentic person, or you aren’t. But that split actually simplifies the concept too much. You may act in an inauthentic way from time to time, but somewhere inside is your authentic self waiting to shine. Being authentic is being who you are when you don’t allow yourself to be affected by external factors, such as other people’s opinions and expectations.

Very young children are often truly authentic.

Young children often live their lives uninhibited. They aren’t as influenced by others’ opinions at this time in development, so they are more in touch with their authentic selves. Think back to who you were when you were a young child. What did you want to be? What did you like to do? Who did you like to spend time with? And what play activities gave you the most joy?

For me, it was playing teacher. I had a little clubhouse of my own that I transformed into a one room schoolhouse for my stuffed animals. I would sit them in a circle around me as I read them books, taught them math, showed them science experiments. I even took them all in my backyard for recess, tying them to the swings for safety. We made art projects out of clay and even wrote our own stories (I wrote a story for each animal). It’s not surprising, then, that what brings me the most joy as an adult is teaching new ways to look at situations and solve problems, helping people play and find joy, and mentoring people as they “write” their own stories.

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Your authentic self now

Think of the activities you are involved in now. Looking at each one, ask yourself how much your authentic self really wants to do them. Are there some that you do just because you feel you should? Maybe there are some you do because your friends are involved? Are there any activities where you feel more like a visitor than a participant? If you answered yes, then you might want to reconsider how much those activities align with your true values.

It’s important to determine your core values.

Determining your core values can help you determine what you stand for and what activities and meaningful work align themselves to who you truly are. I have a couple of exercises that I often give clients for homework that help them determine their core values, and they report really enjoying the process. It’s important to revisit your values when you make decisions and to redo the exercise at various points in your life, since our values often change as we age. If you find that the way you are living doesn’t align with your values, it might be time to make some changes. Values are what we want to be remembered for. They are our legacy to the world and an indicator of who we truly are.

When we are truly living our core values, we can feel confident in the choices we make. We aren’t as concerned about what others think because we are standing strong in who we truly are. It’s a very powerful asset in our lives.