The Art of Being Oneself: Reflections on Authenticity (And Self-Hype)

Sinéad O'Connor
License: CC BY 2.0 Deed | Original posting (Flickr)

Millions and Millions Had To Happen For You To Be Here and Be YourselfA Wrinkle In Time

People are not meant to fit into boxes. Each of us is born with a unique DNA and character that shapes who we are. Being authentically oneself requires releasing inner demons and trauma. One may face many struggles in one’s life, including depression, heightened or knee-jerk reactions to specific situations, emotional distress and emotional reactions. It may be ugly and that is just part of life. Your trauma shouldn’t be respectable for others to laugh at nor should it be the end of as life journeys are different iterations of self-discovery.

Letting go of societal expectations brings freedom. Much of our journeys as workers or creatives or artists, managers, and assembly workers involve a great deal of rejecting expectations on a daily basis possibly of what societal role you should play whom you should appease or what baggage you should haul in because of your identity. By letting go of the boxes she felt pressured to check, she has found liberation.

Being your true, unfiltered self takes great courage in a world that so often pressures conformity. Yet living authentically earns admiration and leaves a lasting imprint. The late Sinead O’Connor boldly challenged norms throughout her career, like dramatically ripping up a picture of the Pope on TV to protest church abuse. Though controversial, she exemplified what it means to live truthfully even when it means isolation. Authentic figures like Muhammad Ali or Sinead O’Connor endure because they embody aspirational boldness – being unabashedly themselves without apology.

Reinvention was part of O’Connor’s journey to find her identity. We are all composites to some degree. She reinvented herself multiple times – shaving her head, converting religions, taking new names. But in each version she remained a courageous truth teller, staying true to her core.

The journey to be authentically yourself is an ongoing process, not something perfected or completed. Jada Pinkett Smith explains that true healing requires releasing inner demons and trauma, which can take a lifetime. Letting go of societal expectations brings great freedom. But healing also needs maintenance through practices like meditation, therapy, and strong support systems. By candidly telling your story, you can give oxygen to others who may be struggling and illuminate the path.

Nonetheless, there are limits to radical transparency. Oversharing or being carelessly provocative can undermine your goals. As a professional, you want to be authentic but also careful with how much you expose and how your words may be construed. The workplace often still defaults to conformity and isn’t the best venue for working through personal trauma. Doing so can unfairly shift the burden onto marginalized groups like people of color.

Outspoken Trailblazers

I write this article also in fond memories of Sinead O’Connor and Suzanne Somers who passed away this year and who broke barriers by speaking out in male-dominated industries. O’Connor ripped up a photo of the Pope on SNL to protest abuse, while Somers was fired for asking for equal pay on Three’s Company. Though provocative, they inspired change. Their bold authenticity made them icons who showed that defying conventions, however uncomfortable, can empower women to advance society.

The Uneven burden of civility

For people of color, calls for civility have often been a vehicle for suppression, not genuine inclusion. White society has imposed its definition of “civilized” attitudes and behavior. People of color don’t get to define themselves – they have to respond to standards set by the dominant white culture. This inherent power imbalance is unequal. Pushing back against the status quo is seen as disruptive or uncivil, even though it’s often been necessary for social progress. Anger from marginalized groups is stereotyped as dangerous, something to be “contained.” But calling out injustice should not be dismissed as unreasonable.

Being the only or one of few persons of colour at work is exhausting due to scrutiny, lack of support and access. Many feel isolated and weary of being the sole representative of their identity. Expectations to educate others or conform to standards not their own is an emotional tax. Scrutiny is also greater on persons of colour, who have to repeatedly prove basic qualifications and competence. Damaging biases persist that diversity means lowering standards, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ultimately, living authentically means embracing your unique voice. But it requires using judgment on when and how to use it responsibly. We each have a distinctive perspective that deserves to be heard and recognized. Yet we must also acknowledge the real challenges others may face in being their true selves. Mutual understanding comes from telling our unfiltered stories. Change often happens slowly, but each story told brings us closer to a society where everyone can live wholly as themselves.

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