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The road to authenticity

By Carol Mae Whittick, Toastmasters International

When a word becomes a dictionary’s word of the year you know that something important is happening. ‘Authentic’ was chosen by Merriam-Webster last year and I suspect that the focus on authenticity is a response to issues of artificiality that we are all having to deal with.

As we become ever more reliant on screened devices for communication, education, information, and entertainment we also need to be able to recognise the augmented reality and misinformation with which we are bombarded.

I believe this starts by embodying our own authenticity, calibrating to our inner truth and therefore being able to recognise it outside of us.

However, when you are living authentically, there is little middle ground, people either love you or hate you. Which is why it is easier to conform to societal expectations, current narratives and popular ideologies. Rejecting, or even questioning collective ideals can cost you relationships, income, and your reputation, especially in these ‘cancel culture’ days.

Despite knowing this, for me the risk is not what I lose in going against the tide but recognising that it is imperative for me to live life on my terms and avoid the greater future agony of regret.

The authentic self

After briefly thinking I would like to be a pharmacist – which seemed to appease the expectation that I would do work in the healthcare industry like the majority of my family – I changed my mind. Partially because I discovered that my pharmacist cousin did not spend her days concocting potions, but mostly because I had developed a deep passion for creativity, especially music.

As a young girl I was obsessed with pop music. Every Sunday evening I bargained with my mother to grant me a few hours with the radio while I listened to the Top 40 countdown and attempted to record my favourite hits on cassette without the Radio 1 jingle. This was my weekly masterclass. I studied the craft of songwriting, first by emulating what I heard and then honing my own style.

Even though I clearly had a talent for music, I faced constant resistance.
No-one could see how music would provide a living for me. I suspect that they thought that in time, I would tire of my pipe dream, find a real job, and do all the things I was ‘supposed’ to do.

But that never happened.

Creativity had to be the centre of my life.

The time to move away from compromise

Over the years I had many ‘real jobs’, and although I was mostly a diligent employee, I could never fully commit to them. To me they were always just a way to pay the bills, because the work would never excite me in the way that creating did. Often I would have an out of body experience, watching myself in these different jobs, like an actor playing a role, selling a product I knew the customer did not need or entangled in workplace politics. I was living a lie, simply going through the motions for the money and it was hurting me.

Eventually, I found a combination that seemed to work, a full-time position at a production company that allowed me time off for performing. All was fine for a while until those old familiar feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration returned. I knew I had to leave.

Fate intervened and I was made redundant in July 2009. One enduring moment from that Tuesday morning reinforced my conviction to figure out how to live life on my terms. On arriving at work, all of us staff were called into a meeting and told by two strangers from an insolvency company that we no longer had jobs. As they handed each of us the paperwork we needed to receive our (paltry) redundancy payments, the Managing Director – who had been a challenging man to work for – slunk out of the room, avoiding making eye contact with anyone. No thanks or apologies. His cowardice appalled me.

While I could sympathise somewhat with his predicament he could not even pretend for a few seconds and offer a basic courtesy to say he appreciated our efforts. As one of his longest serving staff members, I had given three years of my life to build up his business and now had nothing to show for it.

I was disappointed with myself for losing sight of my true goals.

Taking the road of authenticity

Returning to what has always been true for me has meant shedding the many pretenses I adopted to appease others. I got clear on what is non-negotiable in life, ready to stand firm against the inevitable resistance and judgement.

There is so much external pressure to do, be and have at particular moments in our lives, which I suspect contributes to the prevalence of anxiety in society. By placing so much value on external validation, people are hiding who they really are, building lives based on a false version of themselves. Their prevailing sense of unease is the part of them that knows something is wrong.

The desires I had as a child are central to my current work as a Creativity & Spiritual Life Coach, Podcaster and Writer. I’ve found happiness in honouring those desires. Authentic living gives me the confidence to take action when my intuition nudges me. This could be jumping into a new venture at work or joining my local Toastmasters International club to improve my public speaking and leadership skills (to give just a couple of examples). Such actions are all part of one individual’s road to authenticity and yours will take its own unique route.


Carol Mae Whittick is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit