Let’s Get Authenticity Right in 2024: Pen, Paper, and a Dose of Courage Required
written by jennifer nassar dohr
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I cannot wait to get authenticity right in 2024. Because we’ve mucked it up. So much so that “Authenticity, ironically, has become a performance,” announced Merriam-Webster’s a few weeks ago—while pronouncing “authentic” the 2023 Word of the Year.
So I’m writing this article because I know there’s something better, and I want to share it with you. It’s called healthy authenticity, and I’ll show you my process for getting there. Together, let’s make it the 2024 Word (well, words) of the Year.
My first reaction to the announcement by America’s oldest dictionary was mild amusement, coupled with absurdity: How dare they use “authenticity” and “performance” in the same sentence?
But then I realized they’re right, according to one definition: authenticity is a Broadway show when we try to prove our “realness” to ourselves and others.
I would know. I spent decades trying to submit evidence that my “true” self was good enough.
But here’s the truth: We do not have a “real” or a “true” self: we’re far too complex, and often conflicted, for such an oversimplification.1 Besides, chasing it only makes us feel worse.
We can, and should, authenticate “things”—Louis Vuitton bags and Adidas shoes and news footage in a time of deepfakes. Counterfeits cost us dearly, in our wallets and in our shared humanity.
People? We’re something else altogether.
What we do have is a whole self, an ever-evolving understanding forged from the moments, memories, and emotions of the entirety of our lives. When we pause to go inward, to explore the fullness of our lived experience, we develop healthy authenticity.
Healthy authenticity is an integration of all that we’ve experienced. It’s an acceptance of the parts of ourselves we try to hide and the parts we proudly display. It’s the route to uncovering our authentic voice, which can never be a performance.
Achieving Healthy Authenticity in 15 Minutes a Day
First, I set myself up with intention by finding a calm, uncluttered, space—perhaps I’ll light a candle on my desk or turn my chair to take in the hummingbirds swooping to and from the feeder in our courtyard.
Next, I settle in with two to three minutes of deep breathing and guided meditation. I drop out of my conscious mind (I call it my “troublemaker brain") and drop into my subconscious.
Then I set up my page (avoid fancy paper and expensive pens; they only intimidate) with the date and this liberating statement: “I am Free to Write the Worst Junk in All The World!” abbreviated as “WJAW!” (Chat GPT claims that “WJAW!” stands for “Write Just Any Words!” but I’ll stick with my version for the ultimate freedom from self-criticism, thank you.)
I set my timer for seven minutes and begin with a prompt (I find prompts everywhere: in poems, photographs, paintings, songs, quotes, scents, tastes, and beyond). From those opening words, I don’t stop my pen from moving, no matter what. I might draw squiggles or repeat a word until something moves me from my quiet, centered self. I might stick closely to the prompt or I might pinball around: either is fine. I trust that whatever emerges is what needs to be written. There is no right write. (And if you don’t consider yourself a “writer,” all the better.)
A common question I receive is, what if I’m afraid of what I see on the page? I get it. It’s scary to uncover your authentic voice, even though you crave it. But in twenty-seven years of teaching, I have found that people only write what they’re ready to face.
When my timer goes off, I stop while I’m still feeling the juice, the flow.
Next I read the piece back to myself in a whisper breath, highlighter in hand. I effortlessly mark moments of heightened feelings on the page. I don’t question or judge my words; I just look for places where my gut tells me “there’s more there, there.” I call this step “mining the gems.”
Finally, I select one of my gems and rewrite it at the top of a new page. I begin again with five minutes on the timer, dropping into my second WJAW! Sights, sounds, images, dialogue, insights—they all tumble out—and I go deeper.
Mining the gems: A sample from Jennifer’s notebook.
When I reread my words, I often don’t recognize them. By WJAW!-ing it out, I understand things about myself I never knew that I knew, never knew that I believed. It feels like magic. I make sense of my life in ways that thinking or talking or traditional journaling never could.
I experience inner-knowing and clarity, a shaking loose of beliefs that no longer serve me—and likely never did.
Once I’ve met myself on the page, I can meet myself in my life. I begin to fear-less. (I might not become fearless, but I’ll take fear-less any day.) I begin to comprehend my joyous moments, too, more profoundly. I realize how every part of me is connected, like the crest and the trough of the wave.
So if you find yourself at a transition point, questing for your next chapter but playing it small, ashamed, filled with self-doubt, or running on train tracks laid by others, I know your pain.
And I hope you’ll give my process a try. WJAW! your way out of the box in 2024. It’s beautiful out here. And it’s never a show.
1 Jongman-Sereno, K. P., & Leary, M. R. (2019). The enigma of being yourself: A critical examination of the concept of authenticity. Review of General Psychology, 23(1).https://doi.org/10.1037/gpr000015
Jennifer Nassar Dohr, M.Ed., is a writer and an award-winning educator. She founded Authentic Voice® to guide women in workshops, retreats and private sessions as they navigate their journey toward healthy authenticity. A mother of two, she lives in Los Angeles.
This article and the Authentic Voice® process is for educational and informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or mental health advice.