“To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive” – Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage
Authentic people are few and far between. True authenticity comes with fully embracing one’s individuality for what it is; this means not trying to alter our beliefs or personality traits due to societal pressure. Authenticity is an achievement that, when unlocked, will pave our path to true success and contentment. And I don’t think success should ever be thought of in a monetary sense, but rather in a quality-of-life sense.
Many of us fall into the trap of trying to convince ourselves that we are warriors, protecting our individuality with our lives…by identifying qualities of ours that already fit societal norms. For instance, I might tell myself that one of the characteristics that makes me a man of strong individuality is that I refuse to change my fashion sense, no matter what people think of it. But the truth is, my style of choice, blue jeans and a t-shirt, already conforms to what society finds acceptable. By choosing to focus on beliefs and traits of ours that seamlessly fit into society, we illogically comfort ourselves into feeling that we are being fully authentic.
Meanwhile, as if on auto-pilot, we continue to try to alter parts of ourselves that society hasn’t acquired a taste for. The world might even label these parts of us as “weaknesses” or “character flaws.” A huge part of our identity lies in these so-called flaws. Rather than trying so desperately to oust them in order to gain societal acceptance, we need to learn to accept and be proud of them. There are innumerable examples of people who have found true success as a virtue of engaging characteristics that society condemns. Here is one that has stuck with me:
Gaia Bagnasacco, a fiery Italian woman, is the owner of a small Italian cafe in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It is a no-frills basement cafe, with a bookshelf covering its one window. The service at the cafe is often rough, as its Yelp reviews suggest, with Gaia often taking the liberty of chastising customers who she feels are being ill-mannered or disrespectful. The cafe’s website, written in broken English, states, “we reserve the right to not serve disrespectfull behavings.” It includes a list of cafe rules, one of which states “you will receive the right amount [of bread,] but do not ask for more.” The cafe also has odd hours, with the kitchen closing at 6:30pm on most nights.
But with all this being said, Gaia’s cafe has a cult following, with long lines out its door. Regulars swear that it serves amongst the best, freshest Italian food that Manhattan has to offer – and at extremely affordable prices. There are plenty of Italian spots in the city that serve restaurant-style food, but Gaia sets her cafe apart by serving home-style food. To explain, the difference is pretty much akin to eating Mexican food at Taco Bell vs at your Mexican friend’s grandma’s house. Well, almost.
The point is, Gaia has attained true success for herself, largely because of the authenticity she exercised by refusing to shed her individuality in order to appease society. If she had gotten caught up in conforming to societal norms, Gaia would likely not tell-off customers, or have a quirky website, or have weird store-hours. She might have tried to raise prices and use cheaper, lower quality ingredients to increase her margins. As a result, her authenticity would have immediately been compromised. She would eventually have become just like the thousands of other restaurant-style Italian restaurants that Manhattan harbors. And even if this alternate-scenario restaurant did well, Gaia would surely have been far less happy as a person due to the lack of genuineness in her craft.
Gaia clearly doesn’t make money hand-over-fist, but she is far richer than most of us. She has harnessed the ability to be herself, no matter what the world thinks of her. Society today is starving of this kind of authenticity, due to a population who is incessantly wrapped up in trying to be like everyone else. If we manage to raise a middle finger to the world that is trying to change us, we’ll find that our rough-around-the edges, but genuine selves, have so much richness and character to offer. Work to develop the ability to hold on to your true-self, despite society’s stringent conventions. Doing so will eventually lead to you to morph into an authentic individual. This authenticity will set you free.