Birth of the Authentic Academic

For the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with what authenticity really is.

People cite it as being honest, being truthful, being genuine. But something about these so-called definitions just didn’t ring right. Something was off and my internal bullshit detector was ringing.

Finally, this week, I pieced it together. Authenticity is being yourself and knowingly being yourself. There is a consciousness involved in authenticity, and this is why, I believe, people struggle with it. For example: I know that sometimes I will blur past teammate’s feelings and not see their issues while working on a project. As such, I ask them to please tell me their concerns and bring to my attention anything they need. “I am not a mind-reader,” I tell them. “I need you to tell me.” I know I am like this and I acknowledge this.

Authenticity is about self-awareness. It’s about being who you are, warts and all, and knowing that this is who you are. It is the integration of knowing and being.

I have this amazing body. It displays exactly how I’m feeling — whether I’m happy, sick, angry, or maligned with soul-deep values and needs. For a while now, my migraines have been really bad and my fatigue has returned. It’s taken me some time to figure out that my body is letting me know I’m not being authentic, or not as authentic as I should be.

At work, I need to fit within certain confines: I need to interact with people, I need to dress professionally, I need to be available and present within certain hours at a certain location. All of this is counter to who I am: I’m an introvert so I find interacting with people draining; I am creative so I need to express myself through my attire and behaviour; I am a bit of a free-spirit so I need to work when I want to work; and I’m driven by inspiration and fulfillment rather than extrinsic factors. While I know myself, I haven’t been consciously living as myself.

Thankfully, I have a lovely hardwired check-and-balance system via my body.

Armed with this knowledge, I have decided to pursue a PhD. I am allowed to be authentic in academia. In academia, they don’t so much care about the result, they care about the methods. In academia, it’s about the curiosity, the questions, the critical analysis rather than the answer, the presentation, or the packaging. And despite many years of denial, of trying to convince myself otherwise, academia is my home. It is some place that allows me to be me, warts and all, and to act like me.

If some of you inside and outside of academia question the above assertions, you are likely of the mind that academia’s current purpose is a pathway to obtain a job or career. My counter-argument is this: what is truly more important, a job or a life of wisdom, curiosity, and depth? There was a time in human history when curiosity was valued. Academia was founded on curiosity. It wasn’t founded to generate jobs. Academia was a safe place to question everything, to look for purpose, to investigate the wonder of life, the universe, and everything. If we have changed academia from a place of curiosity to a place of results and paperwork, we are de-valuing our own creativity. If we want to live in innovation, beauty, creativity and curiosity, we need to focus on the journey and forget about the destination. Employers want people who can think, who can critically analyse. If students are focused on the degree academia can provide and not the curiosity, they are missing the point.

In being an authentic academic, perhaps I can bring some authenticity back to academia.

Are you living your authentic self?

What are you doing to integrate your true self with living your true self?


Further reading: 

Robert Holden: Authentic Success

Lauren Sapala: The INFJ Writer

Introvert, Dear: 12 Signs That You Have an ‘Introvert Hangover’ (Yes, It’s Real)

Scientific American: Remembering Why Curiosity Should be Boundless and Curiosity-Driven Knowledge is a Vital Form of Infrastructure

Maggie Berg & Barbara Seeber: The Slow Professor

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