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Authenticity, in short, is becoming who you are.

The agricultural allegory is selecting and planting seeds.

The key here is choice. We are not a solitary, static self. We already contain multiple selves and face many more potential paths as we grow. We select the seeds of those potentialities, just as we chose the field in which we plant them.

Knowing oneself is not so much a question of discovering what is present in one’s self, but rather the creation of who one wants to be.
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Good Business (sequel to Flow)

“Authenticity” has become both a misused and overused term in our culture. Authenticity is not simply being yourself or loving yourself as you are. That would be stasis, stagnation: the equivalent of not planting a seed (the only way a seed can remain a seed.) So a stubborn “that’s just the way I am”, or the unfiltered “I’m just saying what everyone is thinking” guy (and it’s usually a guy) are examples of stifled  development.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. —Lao Tzu

Rather, true authenticity is a process of becoming, of growth((Carol Dweck contrasts “growth mindset” (can develop talent) with “fixed mindset” (talent is innate); while everyone has both “personas”, more of the former brings resilience, less stress, more fulfillment and effectiveness. See her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success)). A sown seed doesn’t remain a seed for long. It contains 100% of the genetic information of the adult plant and grows towards that potential.  Of course, while selecting and sowing seeds is necessary, it’s not sufficient. Growth depends on planting in the right field and proper care.

Those seeds of becoming—and the information they contain—vary from individual to individual, but everyone’s fall into several categories:

Virtues: natural gifts, strengths and talents

What do you do better than anyone else? If you were to receive an award, for what would it likely be?

Values: our drives, inclinations and standards of behaviors, what you prioritize.

Which topics can you discuss endlessly?  At your best, how do you behave? What are your top pet peeves? What situation makes you feel angriest or most annoyed?
Vision: your unique perspective, How you see the world around you—and what it can become.

Vocations, or Callings:

What part of your job do you love the most?

What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned…
The lists laid aside,
And the Wild Iris blooms
By itself
In the dark forest…
What still pulls on your soul?

–Mevlana Rumi

Voice: an outward expression of who you are—that goes well beyond aesthetics and style.


It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are. —E.E. Cummings