Authenticity in Community

wp_20130826_015My Word of the Year for 2016, which I chose late last fall, is AUTHENTIC. I made a good choice. It’s been really fulfilling, and quite freeing. My good friend Dawn recently posted the following goal in an online group we’re both part of (shared with permission):

“My goal right now, in life and in my business, is to be my authentic self 100% rather than trying to ‘fit in,’ which leaves me feeling insecure and awkward. I am so much happier and successful when I am ME without apologies.”

Such an awesome goal! Yet it can be tough to reconcile being yourself fully, and being a part of your various communities. Think about it – is your personality the same no matter who you’re with? Even when you’re being authentic?

Mine isn’t.

When I’m with my wild women full moon sisters, I get giggly and sometimes loud, and more daring than I might otherwise be (skinny dipping? I’m in!). If I’m in a group of people I don’t know very well, like at the women’s business dinners I’ve been attending, I’m much more likely to be quiet and observant. I’m not putting a damper on my wild-woman self, I just feel more authentic scoping out the situation first, before I open up. There’s nothing wrong with either scenario, or with opening up to varying degrees.

For me, being my authentic self in community means going with the flow and following my intuition as I interact with others.

It’s also important to be kind and respectful, even when you’re being authentic. I had another friend, years ago, who felt it was okay to yell and make accusations when she was upset with someone. “I’m just being authentic,” she would say. She felt comfortable enough with certain friends to lash out at them when she was angry. Is that being authentic, though, or just plain rude? Acknowledging when you’re upset with someone is authentic, but I feel like it should be done in a way that’s respectful of their feelings.

Here’s Dawn’s insightful take on how to keep things balanced:

“An important part of me being authentic is empathy. Empathy for others keeps me in check even when I have loud opinions and strong feelings. Empathy for myself allows me to speak up for my self even if it is not a popular opinion or easy emotion.”

So, if you’re sometimes your wildest self and sometimes playing it cool, if you share your feelings in ways that are both empowering and respectful, what does being authentic really mean?

What I’ve discovered this year is that being authentic means that I get to decide where (and how) I place my attention. When I follow this flow, in community or on my own, my intuition won’t steer me wrong. Here’s an example. This year I wanted to be part of starting a women’s full moon group with some friends. Organizing activities in advance and trying to get women to come – wasn’t really satisfying. Scheduling time to meet at the beach and celebrating with whoever could make it by doing whatever felt right – amazing and powerful!

It also means knowing when to let go. I’ve stopped participating in some activities and groups I was formerly part of, because it was no longer fun or fulfilling. I’m no longer friends with the woman who wanted to vent her anger loudly, because it made me feel afraid and hurt. I don’t generally hang out with people that I feel anxious around – or if I have a good reason to do so occasionally, I’m careful about setting my boundaries and staying centered in my own self-worth.

To me, being my authentic self means staying in tune with my intuition and following her cues. To return to my earlier example, sometimes howling at the moon and dancing around the campfire with my wild sisters is the most wonderful thing I can imagine. Other times, I want to stay home in my pajamas and curl up with a book, or take a quiet walk with just one friend.

Being true to yourself isn’t always easy. Choosing to stay home might disappoint friends who were excited to see me. But ultimately I think they’d rather I spend time with them when I’m feeling joyful about it, rather than obligated.

Being your most authentic self in community allows you to go with the flow and follow your heart. It means you trust yourself to know what’s right for you in each situation. It’s so freeing, and deeply rewarding. And your authentic tribe will understand.

Tell me what you think!