I’ve talked a lot here about authenticity. Finding authenticity in our work, and living an authentic life, are issues which are really important to me. Indeed, my free e-book on this blog is all about how we begin that journey of authenticity in regards to writing and artistic work.
But one mistake people can easily make when talking about authenticity, and being authentic, is to confuse this with exposing ourselves completely.
I’ve talked to writer friends going through very painful family circumstances, who are concerned if they don’t share information about this on their blog, if they don’t talk about it publicly, they aren’t being authentic.
And this is utter garbage.
Authenticity doesn’t mean telling the whole world every intimate detail about our lives. Authenticity is acting and speaking honestly, and with integrity. (you can tweet that)
A great example of this is one of my favourite and most authentic writers, Sarah Bessey. Sarah posted a while back that because she was heavily pregnant, and other personal circumstances, she wouldn’t be sharing so much of her private life publicly. That there were some things she felt needed to be private
Because some, in fact, many circumstances are more important than public blogging.
You see being honest with our readers, and in life with people we meet, doesn’t mean we give away every intimate detail about our lives to everyone. It means we write, speak and live with integrity, and if people need to know something, if there is an issue which impacts our readers or those we care about, we’re honest about it. And if we need to talk to close friends about an important issue, we do, but in private.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t write whilst we’re suffering – definitely not. Journalling through difficult times can be one of the most helpful things you can do.
But that writing doesn’t have to be public.
The Importance Of Distance
And it’s also not to say we shouldn’t talk about our circumstances publicly. People like Don Miller do this a lot – and his story has been beneficial to myself and to many others. But what I’ve found both in his writing and in sharing my own story, it’s that it’s better to leave the public telling of your story until that season of life is over.
It gives you distance away from the events. It gives time to reflect. And then you have lessons which you can pass on to others – whether you’re a writer or not.
In all of Don’s books, he’s told personal stories, but he’s always spoken in past tense. They’ve never been written nor published whilst the events were happening. And this has allowed him time to reflect and create work which has not just told a story, but shared it in such a way which has been able to help others, and allowed him to create practical resources for others.
In fact, on occasion, sharing all the gory intimate details of your life can actually be less authentic – someone sharing it all, in the hope it will bring them attention and fame.
But that’s not being authentic. That’s more like a tabloid expose to get newspaper sales. It’s like pornography – which shows us everything but isn’t in any way authentic.
Because what makes our art authentic isn’t how much information it shares, it’s the character behind it.
Unauthentic work tells the truth – but in a different way. If it’s not authentic, it tells us something about the person who created it. And indeed, truly authentic work tells the truth as well – because all art tells the truth about it’s creator, whether they wish it to or not.
I’ve been guilty of a lack of authenticity at times. I still struggle with it. Maintaining authenticity isn’t easy, and it’s probably what I struggle with the most. So we need to keep paying attention to our writing – and our lives, to maintain authenticity.
The questions we should ask about authenticity, both in ourselves and others, are these:
– Are we/they speaking with honesty and integrity?
– Are we/they being up real and honest with others about who we are and what we genuinely care about?
– Are we/they sharing this part of our story to benefit others, rather than gain attention and popularity?
And finally, if we’re not sure whether to share a story or not, we need to ask ourselves
– Is this the right time to share this story, or will this better benefit others with the benefit of reflection?
We don’t need to share all our intimate circumstances or struggles to be truly authentic in our lives or work. We just need to act with integrity. And be honest with both ourselves, and those around us.
That’s how you live a life of integrity, and that’s the path to creating authentic work. We won’t always get it right, but it’s a start.
Are you with me?
Question for Reflection:
What lessons have you learned through reflection on your journey?
Let me know in the comments below!
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(Picture Sources: thecripplegate.com/ceotrust.org)
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