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Insights: Authenticity
March 03, 2009


“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle.

Oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, they’d be singing so happily.
Oh joyfully, oh playfully, watching me.
But then they sent me away, to teach me how to be sensible,
 logical, oh responsible, practical.

 And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, 
oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world’s asleep.

The questions run too deep for such a simple man.

 Won’t you please, please tell me what went wrong?
I know it sounds absurd. Please tell me who I am.”

- From The Logical Song by SuperTramp

Every year in February, the high school that my children attend, runs an ‘Orator’s contest’. Each class holds a mini competition and chooses two of its number to represent them in the finals, to which parents are then invited.

This year, with the weather being baking hot, the school chose to hold the event outside in the garden. The setting was both inspiring and challenging for the kids who had to speak up to prevent the moderate south easterly from whisking their oratory away on the breeze!

As with last year, my wife and I sat in awe at the speaking abilities of those chosen for the finals. Whereas there were no talks that one could label as poor, there were many that were quite outstanding, whether judged by content or delivery.

Most of all, though, it was the range of topics chosen by the kids that fascinated me. The school allowed the children completely free range in their choice of what to speak on, yet the maturity of the subject matter chosen by most was quite remarkable.

Speaking on authenticity

This year’s winner was a pretty young girl who chose the topic ‘Authenticity’. Though hers was perhaps not the most perfect or forceful delivery, she clearly won the judges’ hearts through the authentic manner in which she spoke about her topic.

I admit to being impressed by the youngster’s courage. After all, being genuinely authentic is possibly one of the most difficult things to ask of a teenage girl who has to deal with enormous peer pressure to ‘fit in’, not to mention all the pressures brought on by hormones, exams and the difficulty of relating to parents of another generation.

This young lady talked passionately about the need for each of us to stay in touch with who we really are and resist the temptation to present ourselves to others as someone who we clearly are not. She warned that while it might seem like a good idea at the time, there would undoubtedly come a time when we would be found out, leaving us despondent, anxious and frustrated.

The cause of much stress and frustration

As I later reflected on her talk, having already decided it would inspire this week’s newsletter, I came to the realization that lack of authenticity lies behind much of the stress and frustration that we, as humans, experience in our day-to-day lives.

For most of us, straying away from our authentic selves is not something we do consciously and deliberately. Very often, it tends to be more of an unconscious, reactive instinct that you could view as something of a ‘protective mechanism’.

The desire to please others

In many cases, inauthentic behaviour and practice is brought on by the desire to please others. We feel that if we act and speak in a way that is likely to be more acceptable to others then we will be, well… more accepted!

And the need to fit in – to feel connected with others, respected by others, or even loved by others – is a remarkably powerful human need.

Craving significance

At the other end of the scale, there are those of us who crave significance – and we may choose to act completely out of character in order to achieve this. One only has to look at some of the celebrity figures on the world stage with their wild mood swings, crazy antics and occasional bouts of debauched behaviour to appreciate this.

Living authentically in this world is more difficult than it sounds. If you think about it we are all constantly under pressure to meet or abide by the norms (written and unwritten, visible and invisible) that we as humans set – either in our families, our schools, our peer groups, our communities or our society as a whole.

Gaining acceptance

Sometimes we forego our authenticity in order to be seen to be an accepted member of a group or community of which we have chosen (either voluntarily, or forcibly) to become part.

How many people working in the corporate world can honestly claim that they are completely authentic in their business dealings? Corporates don’t reward authenticity; they reward performance – or perceived performance – and that is often judged by the eye of the beholder, or manager in question. Is it therefore surprising that many people go to chameleon like lengths to imitate the actions and behaviours of their seniors?

What is authenticity?

So what, then, does it mean to be authentic and why is it important?

In my personal experience, living authentically means to live a life in which one’s current values and aspirational values are the same. Taken one step further, it means living life in alignment with one’s deeper purpose – knowing who you are and what you were put on this Earth to do.

I would argue that only by living life authentically can one enjoy a life that is truly and lastingly meaningful.

Living with purpose and meaning

Possibly one of the most important – and certainly one of the most fulfilling - outcomes of the life coaching process is the ability to live life authentically, with purpose and meaning.

Life coaching is a powerful means by which a person can liberate him or herself from living the inauthentic life that he or she feels is necessary to feel accepted by society. That liberation is a vital step on the road to positive self-growth.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about hiring a life coach – or even becoming a life coach yourself?

If so, then New Insights Africa has just what you’re looking for.

We have a well-trained group of certified life coaches who are passionate about helping others.

We also offer an acclaimed home study certification programme in life coaching for those who want to join us on our mission to bring personal freedom, confidence and growth to the people from all walks of life in South and southern Africa.

With warm regards as always,


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