The basis for authenticity is to think your own thoughts, know what you value and boldly live it no matter how strong the pressure to conform. When something is true for you, you HAVE to live it, even if the path is hard, your voice shakes, and few people understand you. The alternative is to slowly die inside. The reward of authenticity is that the truth sets you free to truly live.

Of all the pieces of wise advice about authenticity I’ve received from mentors in my life, two stand out:

1. When you’ve done a bold thing, don’t tremble at your own audacity.

2. Never be afraid to be a minority of one.

This is something I’ve had a lot of practice in. I’ve felt the fear and known the thrill. When I found this Gandhi quote it brought a lot of things together,

Even though I have to face the prospect of being a minority of one, I humbly believe I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority.

All great ideas, innovations and movements begin with minorities. One person, or a few people, are crazy and passionate enough to stick with an idea until it spreads and grows until a majority accept it. Margaret Mead was right,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Innovations like computers, causes like women voting and the end of slavery, movements like religions, not to mention most social trends and cultural practice were all begun by minorities and are now taken for granted by the majority.

Ideas take a predictable path, from minority to majority views. The philosopher Schopenhauer said,

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Gandhi made the same point, a little more personally.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

If you’ve ever stood in front of parents or friends and told them a plan to change careers or travel the world, you might have had this experience. If you’ve ever fronted up to a group of angel investors, or started a Kickstarter campaign, with a bold plan to change the world, you know what I’m talking about.

Your idea may make little rational sense, and the rightness or wrongness of the idea is less important than the passion behind it. As an authentic living person, you are free to change your mind, listen to feedback, and make lots of mistakes along the way. You just aren’t ruled by the risk of failure or the power of peer pressure. In the end, authenticity always wins, even if you get some scars along the way, because you remain free to try and open to growth.

There is a strong temptation to scare ourselves out of authentic dreams. We make one bold move, and then get scared off by feedback or imagined pitfalls. Make bold authenticity a habit. Don’t pause and tremble at your own boldness. Keep going. Turn bold initiatives into a habit of courage.

Most of our fears about being authentic are unfounded, based in an assumption about what people will think or a belief that mistakes are fatal. People think what they think, and mistakes are rarely fatal. Mistakes are part of the trial and error, give and take of being human. Others who don’t allow you this freedom are simply battling their own demons. Those with courage are often considered foolhardy by those who prefer to play small.  George Carlin or Nietzsche, or whoever it was,  said,

Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music.

Our fear of danger is also mostly unfounded, certainly compared to others in more volatile parts of the world. When I think about young Malala standing up to the Taliban as a minority of one demanding the right to education for girls, it puts things in perspective. She literally risked her life in the cause of authenticity for herself and millions of others.

Her story also causes me to pause and think. Millions of people around the world are now getting behind her. Her cause is becoming mainstream. This is great. But she is lucky to be alive right now, and her death would have rested on all of our shoulders. We should have supported her before it got to this. Why do we wait so long before acting? We still seem to need a quorum of support before we act. We should use our freedom and relative safety to support causes like Malala’s before they become mainstream.

It comes back to authenticity, which is never just about personal liberty. If more of us are prepared to be minorities of one, or two, or a few, or whatever number it is, on issues that really matter, and do it without certainty or guarantees, we can be part of ushering in important leaps in humanity before the brave ones like Malala get hurt. As Steve Jobs said,

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

There is so much more to be said on the issue of authenticity, but this is enough for now. Be bold and be true. Think your own thoughts, and follow your convictions wherever they take you.

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  1. JJ says:

    But “authentic” about what?   Should I really “follow my convictions wherever they take me?”  Doesn’t every fanatic do that?  Shouldn’t there be limits on the degree to which I act on my deeply-felt convictions/impulses?  If guidelines exist, they must necessarily come before “being authentic.”  If guidelines don’t exist, authenticity is nothing more than “if you want to, do it.”

  2. ian says:

    great point JJ- i wrote about that issue. You can read it here.
    I wouldnt say one comes before the other. You find them both in a dynamic process of trial and error.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Thank you. Lovely words.

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