Mike Robbins

How often do you not say or do something because you're worried about how it'll be perceived? For most of us, myself included, this happens more often than we'd like to admit.

We live in a culture that is starving for authenticity. We want our leaders, our co-workers, our family members, our friends and everyone else we interact with to tell us the truth and to be themselves. Most importantly, we want to have the personal freedom and confidence to say, do and be who we really are without worrying so much about how we appear to others and what they might think or say about us.

Sadly, however, even though we may say we want to live in a way that is true to our deepest passions, beliefs, and desires, most of us don't. It's not that easy. We've been taught by our parents, teachers, spouses, friends, co-workers, politicians, the media and others that it's more important to be liked and to fit in than it is to be who we truly are. In addition, many of us assume that who we are is not good enough and therefore we're constantly trying to fix ourselves or to act like others who we think are better than us.

However, as the famous 19th-century author and poet Oscar Wilde so brilliantly stated, "Be yourself—everyone else is already taken."

Happy woman

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2. What It Really Means to Be Authentic
Authenticity is about enjoying a new sense of freedom to be who we really are—ourselves, natural and without a mask in our relationships, our work and our life. It takes courage, commitment and depth to:

  • Look within ourselves
  • Tell the whole truth (even when we don't want to)
  • Be vulnerable
  • Admit, own and share our true thoughts, feelings, desires, insecurities, passions, embarrassment, dreams and more
However, being open and real about all of these things (and more) is what it means to be authentic in life.

In order to utilize the power of authenticity in your life as a way to enhance your relationships, increase your fulfillment and empower yourself use these five key principles as a guide.
Close friends

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3. Know Yourself
The first essential aspect of our journey to live a more authentic, meaningful and fulfilling life, is to know who we truly are at the deepest level. Knowing ourselves, like being authentic itself, is a lifelong process. The more deliberate we are about this, however, the more we can grow and evolve consciously.

For me, knowing myself has been, and at times continues to be, a little tricky. For many years, I thought "knowing myself" meant knowing about myself (my "story," my issues, my drama, where I'd been, what I'd been through, etc.). While knowing about ourselves is important, it's only a small piece of who we really are.

Being fully aware of ourselves is about looking more deeply within. This can be challenging, confusing and scary for some of us, myself included. We often aren't sure where to look, what to do or how to deal with the aspects of ourselves we don't understand or even like. There are times I find myself wanting to avoid or deny certain aspects of myself, rather than confront them and deal with them directly based on my own fear or self-judgment. However, as we're willing to really go within ourselves, know who we are and make peace with ourselves, we can create what we truly want in life. As Eckhart Tolle says in his best-selling book A New Earth, "Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free."

Stressed, scared woman

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4. Transform Your Fear
Fear is something that we all experience throughout our lives, especially on our journey toward deeper authenticity. Being who we really are, expressing ourselves honestly, being bold and going for what we want in life can cause a great deal of fear in us.

I get scared all the time. When I was younger, I thought there was something really wrong with me because I would get so nervous—in sports, in school, in social settings and more. I now understand that everyone else experiences their own version of the same basic fears I have (being judged, making mistakes, looking bad, failing, disappointing others). It's just part of being human.

Many of us run away or hide from our fears because they seem scary, uncomfortable or embarrassing. We also erroneously think we "shouldn't" have them or that we are somehow "wrong" for feeling scared. However, most things that mean a lot to us in life don't show up without any fear at all. As we strive to live with authenticity, it's inevitable that we'll experience quite a bit of fear along the way.

The question isn't whether we experience fear in our lives (because we all do and always will for as long as we live); the more important question for each of us to ask and to answer is: How can I move through my fears in an honest way so they don't stop me from being who I really am and going for what I truly want in life? We're able to transform our fears by admitting, owning and expressing them, thus allowing us to move through them in an honest and authentic way.

Expressive woman

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5. Express Yourself
While most of us aren't bald-faced liars who go around deceiving people consciously, if we're honest with ourselves about it, we often don't fully speak our truth or express all of our emotions. We've been trained and have in turn trained ourselves to be "appropriate" and to say and do the "right" thing so we can get what we want and look as good as possible in most situations.

For me, being a "nice guy," a "people pleaser" and wanting others to be impressed with me often poses a challenge when what I want to say or express doesn't seem to fit into the "likable" category. Most of the people I know and work with have some "story" about themselves they want others to believe and therefore only feel comfortable sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings that match up with this story or the public "identity" they put forth.

However, what if, even with whatever fear or resistance we each have—we were able to fully, passionately and honestly express ourselves? When we're willing to passionately, vulnerably and boldly speak up and express ourselves, we tap into our power in an authentic way.

Woman hiking

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6. Be Bold
Some people may consider themselves "bold," but most people I know and work with—myself included—admit that they don't often think of themselves as a "bold" person. Or, if we've done or said bold things in our lives, they seem to be few and far between...and they also seem to scare us half to death. Hence, we often don't find ourselves being bold in life—or not nearly as much as we'd like.

Being bold, while scary and challenging for many of us, is essential if we're going to live an authentic life. Boldness is about stepping up and stepping out onto our "edge" in life—pushing the limits of what we think is possible or appropriate. It's about living, speaking and acting in ways that are both courageous and true to who we really are.

Because we're all unique, our individual versions of boldness will look quite different. Something that might be "bold" for me may not be so for you—or vice versa. Being bold has to do with us getting in touch with our deepest truths, passions and desires in life and then having the courage to live and act "out loud" in a way that is congruent with this.

Smiling woman

Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

7. Celebrate Who You Are
The ultimate goal of being ourselves in an authentic way is actually about celebrating and loving ourselves in a generous way. If we truly love ourselves, most of what we worry about and even much of what we strive for in life becomes meaningless. We may still have some worries, and we'll definitely continue to have goals, dreams and desires. However, from a place of true self-appreciation and self-love, the fear behind our worries and the motivation for our goals dramatically changes from something we have to avoid or produce in order to be accepted and valued to something we're genuinely concerned about or really want to accomplish.

On the flip side, if we don't love ourselves, nothing much really matters. No matter what we conquer, create or experience ,we're never able to appreciate it or ourselves or to be fulfilled in the process, because we're constantly striving to be validated in an insatiable way.

Self-love is what we're all searching for. Sadly, we spend most of our lives thinking that someone or something else can give us what only we can give ourselves. To be truly fulfilled in life, we have to find that love within us and give it to ourselves. No other person, amount of money, material possession or accomplishment can do it. It's up to us. We have an opportunity to celebrate who we are for any reason and at any time.

Being your authentic self is not for the faint of heart, but once you're willing to truly engage and do the work to become more real—your life, your work and your relationships will be more exciting, meaningful and fulfilling!

Mike Robbins is a best-selling author, sought-after motivational keynote speaker and personal growth expert who works with people and groups of all kinds. Robbins is the author of the best-selling books Focus on the Good Stuff and Be Yourself: Everyone Else Is Already Taken. He and his work have been featured on ABC News, in Forbes, Ladies Home Journal, Self and many others.

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