What does “Authentic” mean?

by Sara Ness


“It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.” — Abraham Harold Maslow


What does authentic mean?

Is authenticity total honesty in all your words and actions? Is it following your impulses, your emotions, or your beliefs? Is it integrity? Is it a popular word that writers use to get more hits on Google?

I’ve spent the past seven years teaching authentic connection. I’ve worked with thousands of students across multiple countries, and one constant issue participants run into is “finding their authentic truth.” 


What Does Authentic Mean, And Why Is It So Hard To Find?

So really, what does authentic mean? Why does it seem so difficult to find “true authenticity”?

Imagine a city. 

It’s huge, sprawling, filled with alleyways and shops that you could never explore in a year of looking. The city has many entrances. It belongs to you,...

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A Pew for Elijah: What a Funeral Taught Me About Facilitation

by Sara Ness

“You don’t belong here.”

That’s the feeling I got upon walking into the room. I was twenty three years old, and one of my community members had just passed away – a devastating homicide while he was en route to Baton Rouge to facilitate that community’s first Authentic Relating Games Night. I led the Authentic Relating community in Austin. His mother, who I barely knew, had asked me to facilitate the memorial.

Of course I said yes, and I flew down a few days later. It wasn’t until we were in the car en route to the memorial service that worry started to percolate through my shock. After all, I had never facilitated a memorial before; I had never even been to one. I asked the mom, “How do you want me to facilitate this service?” “Just get up there. You’ll be fine,” she reassured me.

I walked into the room and within a second, I knew that I was in trouble. I am a facilitator of group emotional...

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Psychological Safety and Belonging

authentic leadership Feb 13, 2019

by Sara Ness

There are twenty-two of us in my living room the day before the training starts.

I’ve run the Authentic Leadership Training more times than I can count. Actually, about thirty five times, which is countable but only because I spent an hour with my calendar. I know the content so well I can teach it without a script. I have every possible change memorized. But there’s one code that I’m still working on cracking.

The people in this room are all different ages, from their twenties to their sixties. Among them are computer engineers, managers, teachers, coaches, musicians, and entrepreneurs. They have different backgrounds, cultures, and expectations.

I prefer having multiple leaders in front of the room. They help me teach and give the participants an example of what different types of leadership can look like. They make sure that participants can focus on learning rather than logistics. I need the staff, but twenty-two different people are hard to...

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Learning How to Fuck Up

authentic relating Feb 13, 2019

by Sara Ness


What if “you did it wrong!” could be a compliment?

Our culture tends to penalize mistakes. When someone does a “wrong thing” – hits on a woman who doesn’t want it, lies, fails to keep a commitment – they are likely to end up in trouble. Our system is far more interested in retributive (punishment) than restorative (learning and repairing) solutions to people-problems.

The only problem with this is that it isn’t actually how people learn.

Around 350 BCE, Aristotle wrote: “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”. We learn by reading and researching, by seeing examples, but most of all by TRYING things, and often getting them wrong.

Imagine a woman who has repressed her sexuality all her life. Growing up, she got the model that “flaunting” herself through fancy clothes or flirtation was wrong, maybe even immoral. She saw her parents dress conservatively....

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My Journey through the Authentic Life Course - Part Eight

authentic life course Sep 20, 2018

by Jeff Jones


Module 8 of the Authentic Life Course is all about learning to deepen connection with others by checking assumptions, sharing withholds and appreciations, and setting boundaries.

Funnily enough, I happened to complete this module just before I had a challenging disagreement with my roommate and close friend.  Tension had been building between us for some time at this point.  The last year had brought some big changes for the both of us and I was feeling the disconnect.  Put that on top of some disagreements about the house, and before I knew it we got into an argument that ended with us not speaking for almost a week.
As time passed and I cooled down from the initial confrontation, I realized that there was much more to this disagreement to me than the petty house issues.  I realized that I had a couple of big withholds that I had bottled up for a long time.
Over the past year, my roommate has held two jobs that she hasn’t...

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My Journey through the Authentic Life Course - Part Seven

authentic life course Sep 13, 2018

by Jeff Jones

Module 7 of the Authentic Life Leadership course is all about deepening connections. This module came in a very timely manner, as I have just been at home visiting with my family.  My mother and I have always loved each other very much, and we also have had some big differences in how we communicate, which have ended up making for some pretty big breakdowns in our relationship.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to get more of her world when it comes to how she interacts with the rest of our close extended family.  In my eyes, it appears that she pushes everyone away, and simultaneously blames them for not understanding or not caring.  I see how much pain this causes everyone involved, including myself, and I feel that maybe there is something I haven’t been seeing that has her act in the way that she does.  I’ve asked about this in the past, and have been met mostly with “you don’t understand”, “stay out of...

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My Journey through the Authentic Life Course - Part Six

authentic life course Sep 06, 2018

by Jeff Jones

As I glanced over the names of the lessons in Module Six, I knew this would be a juicy one for me.

I have a tendency to be a real “go with the flow” kind of guy, so taking agency in group situations, or even in a one-on-one situation has always been a challenge for me.  I’m usually pretty good at seeing what I’d like to be different, but when it comes to speaking up, I get easily choked up by my fears of being a burden or getting shut down.  Who knew that a tiny change in my process could make such a big difference.

The change I speak of is simply speaking my “why” — and not just speaking my why, but actually understanding it.  Let me explain. Sometimes when emotions and tensions are running high, I have a tendency to blurt out things I want without truly understanding why I want them.  For example, sometime my partner and I have differing opinions on what event, gathering, workshop, etc to attend, and when...

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My Journey through the Authentic Life Course - Part Four

authentic life course Aug 23, 2018

by Jeff Jones

In Module Four of the Authentic Life Leadership course we begin to practice agency through making skillful requests.  Once again, my most powerful moment came out of my triad call.  Surprisingly though, it did not come through my making requests, but from having requests made of me!  After making some fun requests of my triad member, it was her turn, and her first request was that I sing her a song.

Now here’s a little backstory.  In college, I was part of an a cappella group — I was an ok singer, but certainly not a star.  After college and my departure from the a cappella group, many of my friends tried to keep the dream alive by occasionally asking me to sing kind of out of blue.  I’ve always been quite self-conscious about my voice, maybe because I feel that I didn’t measure up to the caliber of singing people would expect from a “pro”, so when my triad member asked me to sing, I immediately...

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My Journey through the Authentic Life Course - Part Three

authentic life course Aug 16, 2018

by Jeff Jones

The main teachings in Module Three are around asking for and receiving feedback.  As I glanced over the lesson titles, I felt myself contract a little bit, as I am quite aware that I spend an undesirable amount of energy thinking about “looking good” or “looking bad”.  I was especially nervous because I noticed in that moment that, while I spend a good amount of time thinking about how I’m perceived, I never really ask others for feedback.  Needless to say I jumped in anyways and had a great boost in self-awareness in my initial triad call!

Admittedly, I was a little behind in the material, and, we transitioned into getting feedback about our Way of Being (WoBs) without me really knowing what was happening.  My triad member first noted that when I’m speaking I play with my hair a lot, or if I’m wearing a hat, I play with my face.  I was a little confused why she was telling me this, but laughed and...

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My Journey through the Authentic Life Course - Part Two

authentic life course Aug 07, 2018

by Jeff Jones

Module Two is all about context — understanding contexts, noticing contexts, and seeing the impact contexts can have.  By moving through the module videos, I gained a more granular and far more manageable understanding of contexts and how to describe them — even how to understand and describe how they were affecting me. 

One of our assignments in this module was to continually track contexts.  I noticed early on that I wasn’t very good at tracking contexts in the moment.  I tend to get all wrapped up in it and find it difficult to find the birds-eye view, only realizing the full impact of the context after the fact.  As I practiced “real-time noticing” this week, I found myself being able to identify contexts and impact more readily.  To illustrate, let me tell you about something that happened this week.

To set the scene, I was out at my partner’s friend’s house, hanging out with some of her close...

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