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The Fallacy of Authenticity

October, 2023

‘’Found’’ by Kerrie L. Clarke, Plymouth, England 2023

I’ve watched all my rivers run dry
Can’t keep on fixing the things I haven’t broken
I’ve searched the rubble of all my decisions

Somebody like me ain’t perfect
Somebody like me needs care
In the moment I’m heavy and hurting
Can anybody meet me there?
Somebody like me….

Joy Oladukun – ‘’Somebody Like Me’’ (Proof of Life, 2023)

What, really is authenticity?

I read an article from the late best-selling author Tim Keller that made me think.

Imagine a Viking warrior in the year AD1000 in Norway. He tries to find himself, looks deep into his soul, and senses two strong impulses and feelings.

One is anger and a propensity to lose his temper. Living in an era where warriors were revered and there was a culture of being ‘macho’ and violent, he will feel an immense sense of pride and justification. He’ll say, “Yes!! That’s me! Don’t mess with me or you’ll be dead!!’’

The second is a strong sense of same-sex attraction. He’d probably say – ‘’No!! That’s not me!!’ I’m going to suppress that!

Let’s say that same person is alive today. The opposite would be true. He’d probably say, “This anger I feel is not authentic to me!” He’ll seek out coaching or counselling to learn mechanisms to control that. However, he’ll look at the same-sex attraction and say, ‘’Yes, that’s me! I need to express that.

There are a plethora of articles and books that claim to help us ‘find ourselves’ or to be ‘true to ourselves’ or to find the ‘best version of ourselves’

Does it mean that we’ve mislaid themselves (like I do for my phone or keys or the TV remote under the sofa) and need help to ‘find it’?

But as Berit Lewis, best-selling author of ‘Ageing Upwards’ writes:

‘To find ourselves is a very misleading concept, because by believing we need to change ourselves, we are telling ourselves that either we are inadequate, or we need to strive to become some kind of predetermined version of ourselves’’

The truth is it is a complete illusion to the point of fallacy to think our identity is simply an expression of our strong innate desires and leanings.

People say, ‘’I just have to be myself, no matter what other people say’’, and as Berit Lewis says, ‘’so often we excuse bad habits by identifying with them.

I fall into this trap. I say things like ‘I’m just disorganised’, or ‘I hate paperwork’, or as Berit says ‘I hate exercising’ or ‘I hate people’. These are not necessarily true.

We all have many strong feelings, and in a sense, they are our ‘authentic selves’ but like the example above, we all use some sort of filter – a set of external prevailing beliefs and values to determine the parts of us we express as ‘authentic’ and the parts we suppress as ‘inauthentic’.

All our beliefs and values come from somewhere, and most are picked up unconsciously from our culture, society, or community.

Dr Mandeep Rai’s book, ‘’The Values Compass: What 101 countries teach us about purpose, life, and leadership’’ exemplifies this perfectly.

As a BBC journalist, she travelled to 101 countries where she identified a specific value that exemplified each country she visited.

A few she identified:

China: Pragmatism
Ghana: Hope
Nigeria: Drive
Singapore: Order
United Arab Emirates: Vision
United States: Entrepreneurship
England: Steadfastness
Japan: Respect.

These values are not inherent. Japanese do not have a Respect gene when they were born. Singaporeans do not have Order in their DNA sequence. Nigerians were not born with Drive.

These values are a manifestation of the particular and specific. journey, battles and circumstances each country faced. The values came from outside.

So, authenticity as a stand-alone inherent concept is a fallacy. Rather, we need to choose what kind of person we want to be, the values we want to identify with, and take daily steps to align our decisions to those values.

That, my friend, is true authenticity.

To share:

  1. I was privileged to be a judge for the excellent London Signature Awards, ( where I was honoured to meet so many fantastic people, such as Dr Mandeep Rai who was kind to give me a signed copy of her book. I really recommend it, if like me, you’re struggling with the whole ‘values’ thing. I also met many others whose stories made a lasting impact on me. There really are some great people out there.
  2. Ladies, its breast cancer awareness month. I have had three women close to me who have suffered enormously from this devastating disease. Early detection = better cure chances. Please get screened and let’s use this month to donate to cancer research and relief charities wherever we live.
  3. My new website will be launched on 19 October, where I showcase everything, I do under one roof. I hope you’ll like it.
  4. Last week, I was privileged to be on two podcasts, the African podcast Against All Odds, my very first in-house live podcast where I was privileged to share thoughts on my story and views on African business, and Let’s Talk Legacy, part of the family of one of America’s biggest podcast groups: (Against All Odds) (Let’s talk Legacy)
  5. 5. And finally, a shout out to my friend, author, artist, and entrepreneur Kerrie Clarke who kindly donated the above painting, and the beautiful music of Joy Oladokun, another singer struggling with her identity.