“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde

“You are the best you there is. There isn’t another one person on the planet that can be a better you. Just be yourself. Just relax, breathe and be a human being that you are. Be friendly and kind. Be the best version of you that you can be.” – Nisha Moodley

I love that scene from Disney’s Aladdin where Aladdin is taking Jasmine on a date and Genie – looking like a small bee – flies up to his ear and says, “Remember… beee yourself!”

Being you should be easy. After all, how can we be anything but ourselves? And yet, if we’re honest, many of us spend most of our time trying to be someone else. It’s something I’ve personally struggled with my whole life.

It’s natural to see people who look happy, successful, and seem to have everything figured out – and to want to be like them. We think that if we do what they do, then maybe we can have what they have. But their happiness, their success, and their lives can never be our lives. We have our own stories, our own personalities, our own hopes, and dreams. And if we want our own happiness, it’s got to be authentic to us.

Being authentically me is one of my current primary focuses. I’ve noticed that I feel happiest and most fulfilled when I’m the most true to myself (which includes being more playful – my overall theme for 2016). So I’m making an effort to be more authentic in my choices, in my writing, and in my moment-to-moment actions.

Authenticity, Happiness, and Fulfillment

Authenticity is the foundation of happiness. It’s so important that Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin lists it as the top principle by which she tries to live her life: Personal Commandment #1 – “Be Gretchen.”

When we know and are at peace with who we are, we spontaneously act in ways that bring us the most fulfillment and help us connect most deeply with others. There’s something magnetic about people who are confident in who they are and show up in a genuine way.

“As a culture, we’re craving authenticity,” points out Jacob Sokol, extraordinary coach and founder of Sensophy. “We’ve been told this cultural narrative about who we should be, and the way we should live, and the way things ought to be. Oftentimes we don’t fit in with that story about what’s important and who we’re supposed to be. A lot of it is just unrealistic ideals. They’re superficial and oftentimes they don’t actually reflect what would bring us the deepest sense of fulfillment. […] So be authentically you. Be more yourself than most people are willing to be.

By the way, Sokol is one of the most authentic people I know, and authenticity is still hard even for him. One of his strategies – keeping a cheat sheet close by that says, “Be me!”

So, Who Are You?

How do you know who you are, especially if you’ve never really thought about it before?

One way is to start by identifying who you aren’t, and the most effective method of doing so is to pay attention to your body. When we act in ways that aren’t authentic, our body frequently responds with physical tension, whether knots in the stomach, increased sweating, or just an uncomfortable feeling.

Many of us are so used to these feelings that we barely notice them anymore, but if we can recognize them as a signal that we might be “off” and take a step back, we can identify what actions we took that don’t align with our true selves.

Another method is to pay more attention to that voice inside, the inner GPS or pilot light that’s always guiding us. We’re often so busy that the voice gets drowned out, so it’s important to set aside time, ideally every day, to pause and reflect. It’s one of the reasons I meditate.

If you’re really feeling it and want to take action right now, write “Who I am” across the top of a blank page of your journal and then start writing. Start each sentence with “I am…” or just freestyle. Don’t judge, just keep the pen (or keyboard) moving and see what flows out.

Whatever you do, give yourself permission to be human. Practice accepting your whole self, flaws and all. “Whatever you have is perfect,” advises author Amir Karkuti. “Your imperfections are you too.”

Who Can You Become?

“Be you” is not a blank slate to just do whatever the heck you want. Being authentic means being proud of who you are, and being good to others.

Don’t be you if you’re an asshole. Don’t put others down, or yell, scream, etc. at people. We don’t act that way out of authenticity – it’s a mask worn to avoid dealing with our own internal issues. Deep down, actions like that are done out of fear – fear of not being accepted or loved, or fear of appearing to be less than we are.

So, a caveat. First “work on being a better person,” suggests Sokol. “Then be you.”

Three Steps To Greater Authenticity

Mike Robbins is the author of Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken. It’s a book he wrote both “because I think it’s good advice, but also because I, like most people, struggle with that at times.”

Robbins suggests the following three steps to help us transform our lives with the power of authenticity. I’ve thrown a few challenges in between to help kick-start the process.

1. Bring more awareness to your actions.

“The first thing is we’ve really got to take a look at where and how and why we’re not authentic, because we’re not, most of the time. […] It’s not inherently evil and bad. It’s just it doesn’t lead us to where we want to go.” This step doesn’t involve beating ourselves up once we notice we’re not authentic, just being mindful and aware.

Challenge: For one day keep a scorecard or a note in your phone and keep track of how many times you were not authentic.

2. Push past your limits.

“The second step has to do with pushing past our perceived limits. Push the limits of how vulnerable, how open, how authentic you’re willing to be.” Do this with yourself, with your family and friends, in your work, and in general. Know that sometimes you might go too far, but when you do that, you can always just step back. “That’s just how life and growth goes.”

Challenge: Tell a close friend or family member something you’ve never shared before, or write someone a gratitude letter.

3. Create a community of authenticity.

“If we hang out with a bunch of superficial people, it’s not going to be so conducive for us to go deep and be real. If we really want to go deeper and be more real and genuine, we’ve got to look at, ‘Who am I in conversation and relationship with on a regular basis? Is that conducive and supportive of me being authentic and really being myself?’”

Challenge: Reach out to someone you know and admire for their authenticity, and invite them into a conversation.

BE YOU! For You, and For The World

When you’re true to yourself, you give yourself authentic happiness. You also give the world a gift it would never have gotten otherwise. As visionary modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham shares, “There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it.”

You are unique. There’s only one of you that will exist in all time. Honor that by living from a place of authenticity, by being genuine and true to who you are. Give yourself permission to create, and dance, and sing, and love. Give someone a big hug, act silly, and don’t be afraid to be different or make a scene once in awhile.

Live fully. You need it. And the world needs it too.

“If you are alive, if you are breathing; we need you, we need your vision.” – Jeremy Cowart