The Word of The Year
Merriam-Webster declared "authentic" as 2023's Word of the Year. America's leading dictionary defines 'authentic' as "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character." So, how does one attain authenticity?
Be yourself - a hackneyed phrase that's easier said than done. What does it even mean to "be yourself?" We're born a blank slate, without any impressions of the world, so we live to discover ourselves. We cry, get hurt, have our hearts broken, laugh, and smile to uncover our true selves.
But it's hard to do that now. It's as if everything stops teenagers from achieving individuality, especially with peer pressure, conformity, and social media. So, here's what it means to be authentic.
Living Without Fear
As a society, we shun negative emotions like jealousy, heartbreak, grief, fear, anxiety, and anger. Sometimes, we avoid situations that end up with these emotions, but we shouldn't be afraid of them. We must live in the dark moments to appreciate the good moments.
Life's like a book; we won't understand the happy parts without reading the sad parts. So, authenticity comes from within, and blocking the "negative" emotions means blocking your identity.
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However, there are limits. You shouldn't have a full breakdown or a screaming match in public, so you should have an area where you can be yourself. It can be the confines of your room, a soccer field, an afterschool club, or even a coffee shop.
This area has to be a place where you can pursue your passions, like recording a podcast, writing articles, drawing, solving math problems, playing music, or reading comics. Sometimes, we label activities like watching anime or reading books as "nerdy," but you shouldn't trash talk something without trying it. Stereotypes diminish the enjoyment of activities, so try first and then decide. Live your life like it's your own because it is.
Don't let anyone stop you.
Peer pressure and conformity constrict individuality. It's hard to "not care about other peoples' opinions." It's a normal human response. For most of human history, we lived in small tribes where we relied on each others' opinions.
In these tribes, social rejection could be fatal. Unfortunately, this behavioral trait still dwells in our brains. But you can still change.
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Choose your "small tribe" carefully. This is hard, but you can recognize red flags in a friend. Don't go for too big, as you'd rather have four quarters than 100 pennies, but don't go for too small either.
The people you surround yourself with affect your mental health and authenticity. Find a group of friends that you can be yourself around. You shouldn't change personalities just to "fit" in. But, we sometimes lose track of the best friend we'll always have - ourselves.
Be your top supporter, guardian, and best friend. It sounds weird, but it helps. Treat yourself kindly.
This means avoiding negative self-talk and choosing uplifting internal positivity. If you need a break but your friends are insistent on hanging out, take the break. No one is worth your mental health. Take regular breaks from the hectic world around us. We need to normalize doing things alone. It's not a bad thing to go on self-dates. Sometimes, going to the mall or Starbucks alone is just what you need since this is where true authenticity comes from.
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Value and Worth
Your looks don't constitute your self-worth. The downside to basing self-worth upon looks is they're so volatile. One day, you can have breakouts and puffy eyes, but the next day, you're "feeling yourself." You need to create a self-worth that is authentic and internalized.
For instance, "I like the way my energy radiates," or "I like how my work ethic is improving." Rather than looks, focus on the things you can control. Complimenting yourself and practicing self-love is not narcissism. Unlike self-love, narcissism is when you think you're higher than others.
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Moreover, don't change your values for others. Relationships and friendships exist to strengthen both parties involved. You shouldn't change your values because you feel like you're not worthy.
Your environment - which includes the people you surround yourself with - determines your value. Imagine this - you're in an arid desert and desperately searching for water. In front of you are diamonds and glasses of water, but you can only choose one. You'll pick the water, so in that same way, the environment determines your value.
The Big and The Small
Please - and I repeat, PLEASE - don't use "wyd" in a conversation, especially at 6 in the morning. What do you expect them to be doing? Saving Gotham?
Instead, focus on the big things in your conversations. Schools and teachers branded socializing as useless, but deep conversations are fruitful. Through these conversations, we learn about our purpose and identity. Here's a brief list of deep conversation starters.
- What does success mean to you?
- What would you be if you could be anything you want to be?
- What does family mean to you?
- What's your favorite thing about you?
- What's a fear you have that comes from childhood trauma?
Additionally, focus on the small things as well. We take a lot of things for granted. Gratitude is a component of authenticity.
Reflect on your day for a few minutes after coming back from school or before sleeping. For instance, "I'm grateful for my friend who held the door for me when my hands were full." It doesn't have to be big because the small things add up eventually.
A Bigger Picture
In conclusion, self-discovery comes from living. Build authenticity and identity on stable self-worth, a nurturing environment, and unwavering self-values. While it's challenging amid peer pressure and social media, self-discovery is a journey, not a destination, and authenticity fuels it. When facing life's experiences, remember that being a teenager is like being on an unsinkable ship—rough seas lie ahead, but you can navigate them.