In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after our basic needs of sustenance, shelter, and safety are met, we turn our focus to finding love and belonging. It’s just human nature to want to be accepted and be part of a community, but often times we have a specific idea about the kind of person that others will embrace and we try to project that instead of being ourselves. The sad part is that in our efforts to be known by others, we don’t really give them the opportunity to see who we really are – the unique us.
But nothing I just said is surprising. It’s nothing new – in fact, in an effort to compensate for this we’ve tried to swing to the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s the trend now to “be unique” and “love ourselves for who we are,” but in the striving for self-acceptance I think we sometimes miss where true authenticity lies – in being willing to show up, stand up, and build up.
Showing up to life takes guts! Authentic people have the courage to try things they might fail at because they know that life isn’t about perfection and that the alternative is plodding through life restless and unsatisfied. International speaker and writer, Matthew Hussey, says, “We find out who we are by having new experiences, adventures, by trying things, figuring out what we like and don’t like, and by judging our actions upon reflection.” I know from personal experience that the times I’ve learned the most about myself were the times that I popped my comfort zone bubble and did something that terrified me. Authentic people also have the strength to feel emotion intensely – to empathize deeply with the hurting and to express their feelings fearlessly. They allow their hearts and minds to be open and vulnerable, even if it might end in pain.
Being truly authentic also requires us to have the self-awareness and humility to stand up and say, “I need help”. As empowering as Taylor Swift’s lyrics – “haters gonna hate” – sound, I’ve found that the most authentic people I know are those that don’t feel the need to compete with others. They don’t take criticism or suggestions as personal attacks and get defensive, they listen closely for feedback on what they can improve. When we can stand up and admit we are wrong or that we struggle with something, that isn’t weakness! It’s having the confidence in ourselves to know that in that moment we are choosing personal growth and development over the fear of what others think of us.
Lastly, I think truly authentic people look for ways to build up others and encourage them in their own striving for authenticity. When someone’s armor cracks and we see those hints of hurt, or low self-esteem, or uncertainty, we can choose to push it aside as their problem to deal with, or we can partner with them and help them take a step forward. Maybe that looks like supporting them when they try something new, being willing to listen without judging when they need someone to talk to, or even challenging someone when they are making a poor decision.
These are the kinds of actions that lead to the love and belonging that Maslow is describing. Authenticity isn’t something that we achieve all of a sudden or can look back at our calendar and circle the date that we became authentic – It’s the little choices throughout our lives to intentionally chase that dream, dare to be vulnerable, and see that spark of authenticity in someone else and fan it into a flame.