What Is Authenticity and How Does It Change With Age?

Drummer symbolizing someone perhaps autistic stepping to the beat of their own drum

Figuring out how to be yourself, is this something you do once in youth or is it something you must continually reevaluate? How does identity change over time?

At times, everyone feels the rebellious passion that drives them to destroy — their possessions, themselves, society.

Sometimes life is suffocating — all its rules and expectations.

Society dictates a right way to do everything: to think, to feel, to relax, to move, to love.

These deep-seeded expectations unconsciously influence your decisions whether you’re in public or in the comfort of your own home. This non-stop onslaught of others’ expectations is maddening!

It feels like you don’t have any power to change things.

As a result, everyone, occasionally, longs to rebel against societal norms.

People want to march to the beat of their own drum.

Upon realizing these desires, however, people often find they’ve lost their sense of rhythm.

To find their rhythm, they must, first, determine who they want to be.

Who do I want to be?

It seems like there ought to be easy right and wrong answers to this question. However, I don’t think “authenticity” exists in this way.

There is no way to know how to truly be yourself.

Authenticity is trial and error.

Authenticity isn’t understood just by thinking about it. The only way to discover what feels authentic is through trial and error.

Experimentation and change lead to self-discovery.

This sounds simple, but self-discovery is not easy.

There are infinite ways to experiment with authenticity. Join a new activity. Meet new people. Experiment with how to socialize. Or explore your own body — how you like to move or to be touched.

Obstacles to change

Granted, certain types of experimentation are embarrassing or even dangerous. Because of this, defying others expectations requires bravery.

Identifying how to change is also hard. Not every change should be welcomed.

Even if a desired change is identified, some people lack the tools to fulfill those changes.

And change can provoke anxiety!

However, the hardest problem is that you must want to change.

It’s weird. You can want a change without actually wanting to change.

I don’t want to change.

I tell myself, I like who I am.

Sometimes, I explore new things. I’m still young enough that major life changes are forced on me whether I invite them or not. But I rarely seek out change.

If I’m not angsty and rebellious, I’m not compelled to change.

Of course, I don’t want to go through life a passive hermit, sitting at home binging Netflix, wasting my life. But, sometimes, familiar things are pretty great!

Everyone enjoys familiarity. And the more familiar activities one collects, the harder it is to want to find replacements.

As I get older, I fear I will lose my angsty, rebellious passions.

I have a theory that rebellious angst is the key that ignites the fire of life. Passion, love, rage – these are the emotions that inspire self-discovery and make life worth living.

But what if my passions waned? Could I ever lose my desire for self-discovery altogether?

I fear turning into one of those people who sits around reminiscing about their glory days.

I know that the trial and error of investigating my identity will require more effort with age.

Self-discovery is “for the young.”

We’re taught that self-discovery is a young person’s game. Self-discovery is the mandatory high school and college experience, trying new things in our regulated and reproducible institutions.

We’re taught that there is a right way to explore oneself. Or we’re taught that self-discovery is required work and therefore uncool.

We’re not taught to exercise self-discovery outside the confines of the educational system.

As a result, the desire to initiate self-discovery is educated out of us.

Then, after college, people are often struck by the angst of “the quarter-life crisis.” Perhaps this is because they stop self-discovery, no longer having it initiated for them.

Authenticity as experimentation

Although self-discovery is often viewed as a “young person’s game,” authenticity viewed as experimentation requires one to explore themselves even into old age.

Once you run out of mandated self-discovery promoting life phases, you must choose to seek out new experiences for yourself.

Who needs angst?

I may lose my angst with age. Regardless, there will be times when I temporarily lose my angst — either due to depression or other life phases. But I hope my resolve to change will persist even without angst.

We’re taught that our passions are at the mercy of spontaneous inspiration, as if it’s something outside our control. But that undermines the more impressive feat of deliberately maintaining your goals despite your emotional state.

Being weird can spark change.

If you’re uncertain how to change, try doing something weird.

Research has shown that change enhances creativity; even a simple change, like making a sandwich in a weird way, boosts creativity.

Allowing others to influence how you change

In addition to being weird, you can look for inspiration in how others are changing, such as friends or cultural trends.

Doing what’s trendy may feel inauthentic, but that doesn’t make it true.

It’s impossible to remove oneself from the influence of the time in which they live. And, refusing to change because it’s trendy doesn’t make you authentic, it just makes you stubborn.

As David Bowie said, “Times may change me, but I can’t trace time.”

Society accuses people of faking to be trendy.

Today, people are accused of faking for experimenting with their gender and sexuality. People are also accused of faking for self-diagnosing as autistic.

These groups are accused of copying others to fit in or being unoriginal.

It’s hard not to let others’ expectations get to you.

But I know that experimentation is just experimentation. If you experiment and find a new activity or identity doesn’t fit, then at least you know.

Rebelling against normalcy

When you feel overcome by a desire to rebel against societal expectations, use that angst to fuel your self-discovery. This may be easier when imbued by the energy of youth, but this rebellion is not reserved for the young.

When that passion inspires you to “set the world on fire,” DO IT!

But be thoughtful about how you direct your energy.

When you’re not as passionate, practice change in small ways — even if all you can do is make a sandwich weirdly.

Directing your change

I was always one of those goodie-two-shoes kids who never experimented with the rules. Now, I regret this.

But, I’ve decided that I don’t want to settle for the thrill of breaking things or eating ice cream for breakfast anymore.

I want to figure out what rebellious acts will be felt by society even if they aren’t so thrilling.

There is a power in this desire for change. Perhaps I can use it to make the world a better place.

What do you hope for 10 years from now?

Change keeps life from growing stale, and change sustains authenticity.

So, 10 years from now, rather than targeting static dreams, I dream for change — change even when I’m not passionate, even when it’s hard and slow, and even when my anxiety screams for normalcy.

Now, I just need to figure out where to start…

Robin Williams reading literature in Dead Poets Society. Captioned: That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. WHAT WILL YOUR VERSE BE?
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5 Responses

  1. Great post. It is hard to figure yourself out, to find out who you are and what you like, especially when you find things about you that differ from what appear to be accepted norms.

    I *am* older, and I *have* lost my angsty rebellion. I don’t miss the angst one little bit. The rebellion … well, in 30+ years of being an adult I’ve learned what you can beat and what you can’t. You get tired after a while of raging against the system and you decide to work within it where you must and fly underneath it where you can.

  2. To answer the post’s title: nope. Lol. I’m 43 and while I’m far more tired, I’m no less of a bee in everyone’s bonnet. Just nurture who you are and don’t try to go along to get along. Although there is certainly a strategic time and a place for that, but it’s strategy, not a change in self. Peace.

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