Dare to Be Your Authentic Self

You matter.
Your life matters.
You belong.

Yoga teaches that being authentic can lead to a happier, more intimate relationship with life. I know that this is easier said than done; authenticity can be a big ask. The truth is if you asked anyone if they feel like they’re 100 percent authentically themselves, 100 percent of the time, most would say “hardly ever.” We juggle many roles every day, and each comes with a prescribed set of rules. We’re supposed to be serious working professionals, authoritative yet kind parents, loving partners, or diligent students. Yet sometimes we want to be playful children, introspective thinkers, or driven activists. Too often, we overidentify with these roles, and forget or push aside who we really are at our core.

Part of the quest for authenticity is figuring out how we align what we say, think, feel, and do—and also discover work that gives us meaning, relationships that are fulfilling, and unveiling our life purpose and our values. Yet so often what we say or do is actually vastly different from what we are thinking or feeling. This lack of alignment can create anxiety, exhaustion, or depression.

For instance, many people struggle because they live in a state of illusion or delusion—they view their life through a lens of fear, fantasy, and distortion. Many fears, such as a fear of speaking up, a fear of heights or fear of flying occur when people view a situation thinking the worst-case scenario will happen—they crash the plane in their mind before it has even taken off. It’s like being put in a room that has a coil of rope in the corner, yet you have decided that it’s a venomous snake. When you are looking through a similarly distorted lens at your life or what’s going on around you, as in a fun house, and create judgments about yourself or others, you aren’t giving your authentic self a fighting chance to shine.

You might be living inside a distortion if you are knowingly not telling the truth about some part of your life—to yourself or to others. The fear of hurting others, or living with the ramifications of who you want to be, can hold you back from being authentic. You might realize that your sexual preference, or identity, is different than what your friends and family think. You might realize that you’re in a totally unfulfilling career, or a draining and destructive relationship. Yet owning these feelings and coming out to the world as your authentic self could be your one degree shift and could change the course of your life.

Even more important, authenticity means tapping into, and embracing, who you really are. Every moment, of every breath, of every second, of every day, you have the opportunity to appreciate that you are uniquely you. Yet we often fail to recognize the precious gift that we are because we fall into the seduction of comparison. Some people claim they aren’t able to fully express their authentic selves because they are afraid of being judged. We rely so heavily on the opinions of others because our culture can be focused on image, social media stimulation, and surface judgments (both positive and negative). It’s no wonder that self-image and worth can be heavily influenced by what we think others think about us, instead of relying on the internal potency of who we know we are.

When you compare yourself to others you can fail to recognize your unique gifts, and you can end up feeling worse about yourself. All of a sudden, everyone else is more beautiful or more talented or has a better family life or . . . fill in the blank. I once saw a woman I didn’t know hugging my partner and the first thing I noticed was that she was strikingly beautiful. As soon as I saw her, my initial reaction was surprisingly triggering. In that moment an old wound of not feeling beautiful enough was activated, and I was seduced by comparison. When I paused, and checked in with my reaction, I stopped comparing myself to her and I realized that while she brings something beautiful to this lifetime, I also bring my own beauty and gifts forward. My perception of the situation shifted when I started to awaken a sense of gratitude for who I am.

Yoga teaches that when we experience discomfort, and are willing to unpack the lessons underneath it, we’re able to heal parts of our wounds and have a greater sense of feeling at home with ourselves and the world around us. Stopping the cycle of vicious comparison is one of the most courageous things you can do. Instead of falling into the seduction of comparison, start to relish who you are and what you bring to the world that is unique. We are not all supposed to have the same type of beauty, or bodies, or intelligence, or humor. Think of it this way: zebras are cool. Zebras are amazing. Now, imagine going on a safari and all you see are zebras. Where are the lions? Where are the giraffes? Where are the jaguars? We need all of the creatures to show up in order to create the beautiful multiplicity of life. The truth is, the world needs you as you really are more than it needs you to be what you are not.

It can feel risky to be authentic around others. At some point most everyone can feel this way. Though we have the ability to be loving and kind, we can also be critical and judgmental. And many of us fear being judged and criticized—so we often don’t expose our true selves. If this is the case for most everyone, then we are all walking around hiding our true selves. By diving into the inquiry of authenticity, you might start to see that we’re all colluding within a bizarre game of “I’m going to pretend not to be me and you pretend not to be you, and we’ll judge and criticize each other anyway.”

Instead of judging others, take that energy and create a boundary. Risk being judged (and appreciated!) for who you really are rather than who you are not, and learn to take off your mask and embrace what it means to be your authentic self.

One Degree Shift Inquiry: Meeting Authenticity

To begin this quest of authenticity, ask yourself:

  • Where is what you say, think, feel, and do out of alignment with how you perceive your most authentic self?
  • Are you afraid of fully expressing yourself?
  • Are you compromising your values just to fit in?
  • Are you showing up differently at home, at work, or with your friends in a way that feels insincere or inauthentic?
  • What is the impact?
  • What is one thing you could do today to begin to align what you say, think, feel, and do?

Excerpted from One Degree Revolution: How the Wisdom of Yoga Inspires Small Shifts That Lead to Big Changes, © 2020 by Coby Kozlowski.

Coby Kozlowski, MA, E-RYT, is a faculty member for the Kripalu School of Yoga, founder of Karma Yoga Leadership Intensive™, and author of One Degree Revolution.

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