The Authentic Self – What does it Mean?

I have always enjoyed a good, philosophical debate as to the perceived rights and wrongs about life, the world Thinkerand our existence within it. Which is probably why I was originally attracted to academia. Academics used to get paid to pontificate such weighty subjects on behalf of society, but alas less and less so. I digress, a topic for another day.

Given my attraction to such matters, my eye caught the invitation from the local philosophical society to attend a debate on Authentic Ageing. Being of a certain age, combined with an interest in philosophical debate, it was irresistible. The speaker who set the scene for the ensuing debate was a Professor of Psychiatry, specializing in aging and its associated consequences. I was intrigued by how the speaker would be linking the idea of authenticity with ageing.

The question of authenticity is a fascinating one and closely associated with what we might define as our identity. As a coach, clients would often reveal an internal tug of war between what they perceive their identity to be versus what others, and often their organisations, expect them to be. As you can imagine, there is no simple definition of authenticity and philosophers have spent a considerable time debating what the definitive definition might be. In my simplistic and humble opinion authenticity is the unique way in which each one of us expresses and engages with the nature of Being. The challenge for all of us is to accommodate and integrate with the authenticity of others.

Often society, cultures and organisations make a value judgment as to what is deemed authentic or inauthentic.Masks Pressure is then exerted consciously or subconsciously on those within these structures to subscribe to these definitions and their associated behaviours. Ageing is no different and there are pressures on people of all ages to behave in what society deems to be appropriate behaviour for that age group. The tension then arises how one accommodates the expectations of society and the authenticity of the individual when these may be in conflict.

However, I also believe that our authentic selves evolve through our interactions with others and life experiences and that this is both desirable and necessary. It allows us to define, develop and express more of who we are. EinsteinThe challenge for each one of us is to take ownership of what constitutes our authentic self and organize our lives accordingly. I subscribe to the suggestion of Kierkegaard that there is a time to break out and not only become authentic, but possibly even eccentric. Being less inclined to conform as we get older, it might be the right time to do just that.

What I didn’t however expect from the debate on authentic ageing was that it would prove to be a very significant topic for me on a number of different levels. Those of you who have been following my blog would know by now that the purpose of it is to share with you my journey of writing a tribute to my brother, Eugene and his partner, Pieter and their challenges of coping with terminal cancer. So, in the first instance, as gays the concept of authenticity is probably even more significant to them than for heterosexual couples, in particular during the era and culture within which Eugene and Pieter grew up.

My original interest in the topic was that being of a certain age and adjusting to a different cycle in life, I was interested in exploring how I would now define my authentic self. Would it be different from say five or ten years ago? If so, what would change and how would I now express my authentic self? It is both scary as well as exciting and there is the hint of an opportunity to redefine or rediscover aspects of my self that may have been hidden beneath layers of conformity to external expectations.

Finally, the bonus was that it also helped me to explore the challenges of writing and made me reflect on what authenticity might mean to me as a writer and the act of writing. I have taken the time to explore the many do’s and don’ts of writing as I perceive them. However, I have come to the conclusion that being an authentic writer means I need to first and foremost express my authentic self. It is therefore, as I have alluded to in previous blogs, part of the journey of finding my own voice as a writer and interpreting, accepting or rejecting any perceived rules of what constitutes good writing.

In the words of Shakespeare, To thine own self be true!

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