3 min read

The Impossibility of Authenticity

Striving for authenticity is an impossible, and largely useless endeavour. Between our ever evolving roles and relationships, and the nature of flux in our world, finding the one, true, exact, genuine version of yourself is impossible.
A shallow river with large boulders and lush green vegetation.
Photo by kazuend / Unsplash

Last week a friend, via text, asked - "How do you choose your topics? I'm enjoying your contrarian brand!"

I chuckled, because I don't really choose topics. They seem to choose me. Like a proverbial pebble in the shoe or mosquito in the dark as you're trying to sleep, topics tend to emerge because I'm slightly aggravated by something.

My response was along the lines of "basically, I take whatever bullshit is being thrown around as 'truth' and think that the opposite is just as likely to be true, and write about that instead."

Which brings us to today's topic.

Being your authentic self.

Authenticity. A perennial favourite for the inspirational speaker-writer-podcaster-lifestyle-leadership-celebrity-instagrammer-guru (I know that's a lot of hats to wear).

And something I believe is impossible to actually attain, at least in the singular sense. There is no "authentic Jeff".

It was Heraclitus (one of those pre-Plato and Socrates Greek philosophers) who said;

"You'll never step in the same river twice. For you're not the same person and it's not the same river."

A few definitions of "authentic" to get us started;
- being actually and exactly what is claimed.
- of undisputed origin; genuine
- representing one's true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or the person identified

And it's actually in these definitions that the questionable usefulness, and impossibility, of achieving true authenticity begins to emerge.

When I think about showing up in the world as my authentic self, I immediately struggle to articulate what that is, or what it looks like.

Primarily because of the many different roles and relationships that I find myself navigating. Here's a few off the top of my head.

  • Father
  • Husband
  • Son
  • Son-in-law
  • Brother
  • Brother-in-law
  • Business Partner
  • Speaker
  • Consultant
  • Advisor
  • Volunteer
  • Neighbour
  • Friend

There's a baker's dozen without even trying. Add voter, citizen, blog-writer, uncle, nephew, grandson and dog-owner and we're up to 20.

Twenty different roles, and that doesn't account for the differences within those roles. Anyone who's a parent knows that you're not just "a parent" (unless you only have one child), you're a parent to individual children - each with their own unique needs and values, demanding something different from you. Requiring a different version of you than their siblings.

My daughter needs quiet connection and 1:1 time. My oldest son loves nothing more than an outdoor adventure, preferably on a mountain bike. The youngest will play Connect4 or CandyLand for days.

The old dog prefers belly scrubs and a slow walk by the creek.

The pup wants to chase balls and herd kids. Or cars. Or all of the dogs at the off-leash park.

You get the point. Not only do we inhabit many, many roles in the world, we have hundreds (if not thousands) of unique relationships in the world.

And somehow we're supposed to be one, true, complete, genuine, exact version of ourselves?


Layered on top of the complexities of roles and relationships (enough, I'd suggest, to make the idea of a "one true and authentic self" impossible) is the reality that as people we're constantly changing.

Growing. Evolving. Learning. Experiencing.

Have you ever outgrown a friendship? How about a job?

Ever gone back to school to learn a new skill, or taken up a new sport?

The point is that authenticity (if it truly exists) is fleeting. Temporary. It exists for a moment, in a role and relationship, and then it changes as we change, and the people in our lives evolve and grow alongside us.

And let's face it, if there's one constant in our lives.... it's change.

But if not "authenticity", Jeff,  then what do we have to aspire to?

That, my dear reader, will have to wait for another day.

It's late, and I'm tired. Just being authentic ;)

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And hey, if you want to connect in the real world you should hop on one of the lunch and learn's or workshops we have coming up over at The Ally Co. Details below.

  1. The Great Attrition: A Beautiful Design Problem? We'll be exploring why everyone's resigning lately, and what you can do about it. Perfect for leaders, owners, managers, human-resource professionals, etc.
  2. Trust: Why it's Breaking and How to (re)Build it. An exploration of interpersonal and institutional trust with some practical strategies for trust building.
  3. Power Principles. A half-day workshop on the core principles of the Right Use of Power framework to help you navigate power dynamics (and power struggles!) with greater ease and skill.