If you would have told me three years ago that I would be writing a book on authenticity, of all things, I would have laughed. The topic made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I have often felt that being my true self was in conflict with meeting my goals, which were also a part of me; not in big ways, but in small ways that felt slowly corrosive. (And I have never done anything remotely criminal aside from speeding.)

What changed? My intellectual and emotional curiosity about the topic got aroused during a continuing education program. After that workshop, I began to dig deeply into the work of Bill George, Robert Terry, and the foundational modern research on authenticity of social psychologists Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman. I discovered a rich body of literature and a topic that provoked incredible conversations. I started talking to my clients about the topic and trying to understand their views in casual conversations. I discovered I was not alone in this struggle to be true to myself and meet my goals, nor in feeling a vague sense of discomfort around the topic for similar reasons.

I also began to envision a view of authenticity from a psychological perspective, one that was pragmatic and designed to illuminate those “small” ways in which we choose to be true to ourselves—or not—and perhaps create room for new possibilities in those moments. Practically speaking, ...

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