I just finished reading an article on people-pleasing and the need for authenticity. According to the comments I read, my happiness depends on how willing I am to pretend. One person summed it up this way:

“To actually be true to yourself the vast majority of the time puts you at great risk for making less income, not advancing in your career, being rejected and reviled by some or many….”

It seems that some people confuse authenticity with saying or doing whatever the hell they want.

Now and then I spend time with someone who sees life very differently than I do. Sometimes I find his statements downright offensive. I learned years ago that disagreeing with him just makes him angry – and not for a short while, either. Am I being inauthentic when I don’t speak up? Am I simply a people-pleaser with no backbone?

I don’t think so. When I disagree with a friend, I usually speak up. I respectfully express my disagreement along with the key reason(s) for it. This leads to more information from my friend, and soon we understand what’s behind the disagreement. That’s a worthwhile conversation. My friend and I get to know each other better, and there’s a chance that we’ll both have something to think about.

But disagreeing with someone who doesn’t respect my opinion accomplishes nothing. It leads to a conflict that can never be resolved – because only one of us in interested in resolution. So I keep quiet. I hope for (or actively seek) a change in subject. And if I feel offended, I walk away.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should follow my lead. But I am saying being authentic doesn’t mean saying everything that’s on your mind.

Being authentic also doesn’t mean doing whatever you want. Plenty of us would love to spend the next year traveling the world (or just lying on the beach). But most of us don’t, because we have responsibilities. Our children need to go to school. Our mortgages need to be paid – or we’ll return from those vacations with no place to live.

And how many of us have never wanted to tell off a co-worker, or even the boss? Keeping quiet when you’re angry is an exercise in self-control. Ranting and raving whenever you feel like it isn’t authenticity – it’s a lack of respect for yourself and others.

For me, authenticity is about honoring my highest values. I don’t get into arguments for no good reason – but I won’t avoid them at all costs, either. Sometimes the choice is difficult: Do I hurt someone with the truth, or do I keep it to myself? Do I express my feelings, sit quietly or walk away? How much is too much?

Sometimes I do pay a price for authenticity. When I decide to speak up, I may be subjected to anger and aggression. When I set a boundary, I may see hurt or disappointment in the eyes of someone important to me. It’s hard.

But the price I pay for not being authentic is even higher. When I hide too much of myself, my relationships suffer. And I don’t feel good about myself, either. So I have to balance the pros and cons of showing myself with the pros and cons of hiding.

That balance is different for everyone. And the greater your social skills, the more options you have. When you know how to express yourself gracefully, you don’t have to worry about missing out on promotions or being “rejected or reviled”. When you don’t, you may find yourself staying quiet more often than you’d like – or paying the price for trampling on people’s egos.

The choice is yours. Don’t let anyone make it – or define it – for you.

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