In the era of social media, there’s more to worry about than taking a photogenic selfie. Sometimes, it feels like your personality, your values, what you’re doing with your life, and the way you talk are all on display and open for judgment. As a result, the pressure to stray from “being your true self” is overwhelming.
But why is authenticity so challenging? Shouldn’t being yourself be easier than playing a different part?
According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, love, belonging, and self-actualization follow basics like food and shelter in the hierarchy of most important human needs. Yet none of these things are achievable without authenticity — being your true self. Because authenticity is so vital, any serious challenge to it can leave you feeling vulnerable and lead to unhappiness.
If there’s one habit of highly successful, happy people, it’s authenticity. Even in the midst of superficial social media, those who engage thoughtfully and according to their own true impulses and views, without paying much mind to how others will see them, are more satisfied and genuinely engaged with their networks than those who ask, “Will my photo or status be liked?”
But authenticity can quickly go out the window if you don’t do an occasional audit.
Staying Authentic in an Inauthentic World
The hard truth is that the pressures of social media have created a world of artificiality. We have too many “friends” to keep track of, let alone foster meaningful relationships with. This leaves us feeling like we don’t know them well enough to share and be our real selves.
To make matters worse, social media is full of curated lives. Words and photos can be carefully chosen to create certain impressions. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Michigan found that people feel lonelier and more anxious on social media due to feelings of inadequacy.
With so much more control available than in real life, social media can be used to perpetuate a fraudulent view of who we are — to ourselves and to others, even when we’re narrating nothing but our own thoughts, opinions, and duck faces. Think about how often you see a “friend” post something and think, “He’s just fishing for likes.” Social media has become a tool for personal validation — and a false one at that.
Retool Your Social Media Presence
To combat this, it’s important to consciously reflect on your social media presence. In short, you need to audit yourself. Here are five questions your authenticity audit should include for every tweet, post, message, or share:
1. What’s your frame of mind? If you’re composing a status update and all you’re focused on is how witty it is or how it will impress your friends, your authenticity probably isn’t at its peak. Spend some time thinking about what you really want to express to your friends. If you can’t write that particular post without feeling anxious about how you’re coming across, delete it for now, log out, and take some time to reflect. It’s hard, but it’s well worth it.
2. Why are you posting? Questioning your reasons for posting a particular update or opinion can unveil your most authentic self. Are you posting or liking something just because you feel it’s expected of you? Do you feel that sharing this update is relevant to your own needs, passions, and self-expression?
3. Who’s your authentic audience? Don’t assume you’re the only person struggling to be authentic. No doubt, many of your friends and followers grapple with the same insecurities. But being authentic is always easier with a certain group of people. Share with the people who know and love your authentic self best, and you’ll start feeling closer to the real you — and to them.
4. How much do you curate yourself? If you find yourself retaking your selfie dozens of times to get the perfect angle or hair flip or rewriting your tweet to strike the perfect tone, you’re a little out of touch with your most authentic self. It’s OK to want to carefully craft a comment so you’re saying exactly what you mean, but obsessive moderation is never going to produce your most authentic expressions. Think about what you would do in the real world when meeting a friend. Would you do 12 retakes of “Hi! How’s it going?”
5. Are all your selves aligned? This may be the most important checkpoint on the authenticity audit. Envision all the versions of yourself, including how you see yourself, how you put yourself out to others, how others see you, and how you see the world. If all of these versions are generally the same, you’re doing a great job of being authentic. If they’re completely different, you know you need to spend some time realigning yourself. When you do, the benefits will be innumerable.
An authenticity audit is one of the most valuable investments you can make. When I commit to the practice of being authentic, I’m happier and healthier, my relationships are richer, and I’m simply more joyful.
The MBA in me thinks about this investment in authenticity with a “return on investment” mindset. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” And in the age of superficial posts, messages, and tweets, his words couldn’t be truer.
Paresh Shah is a seasoned entrepreneur, executive, yogi, life coach and dad of four kids. He’s the founder and CEO of Glimpulse, the Human Expression Company that creates products to challenge, inspire, and equip people to be happier, healthier, and more giving through authentic self-expression. Prior to Glimpulse, he co-founded a wireless multimedia company and raised $130 million. He has served as an adjunct professor in business strategy and entrepreneurship and earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.