Your personal inventory
Updated: Feb 15
From collective individualism to authenticity
From without to within: getting in touch with our needs.
For many sociologists, the term "authentic" has been reduced to fashionable jargon. What is meant by that is its usage in relation to one's own authenticity and truthfulness - in contrast to that in the context of “authentic art”, “authentic interpretation”, etc. In order to be authentic or act authentically, we have to be aware of our values and needs. This requires time and thinking space - two aspects we seem to have difficulty accommodating in everyday life. It is also often easier for us to fulfill expectations and norms that come to us from outside than to enter into a deeper examination of ourselves. Each individual only has a certain capacity available, and when this is exhausted by external factors, the necessary energy for extensive (self-)reflection is no longer available.
In this article, I aim to examine the wider concept of authenticity and place it in the context of our time. I also hope to empower you to form your own structured, step-by-step methods of self-consultation. The basic question is: how can we cultivate inner reflection and act authentically in a world that comes with increasingly dense expectations?
First of all, being authentic does not mean giving free rein to our needs, pure and unfiltered. As the communication scientist Schulz von Thun describes, it means rather living "in coherence with the inner and outer". At this point, a key dilemma emerges: purely lived authenticity is our wish, and yet at the same time is far from being a desirable state, since we would then ignore the people around us. Equally in a socio-cultural context, being authentic is not so desirable in our present era of collective individualism - an individualism in which the individual is embedded in predetermined social patterns. This hidden framework can be difficult to spot from within. In other words, the “homo stimulus” – this new human being shaped by the stimulus society – find themselves in a bubble (e.g. on Instagram) tailored to them, defining their values and understanding of individuality. This happens in relation to a collective of apparently independent thinking people. A dilemma!
Although the search for the self is almost as old as the history of homo sapiens, today it is more obscure than ever for the individual in our highly normative, economically determined society, due to the flood of stimuli that Generation Z in particular are exposed to. So who am I really and what is possibly being sold to me as my individuality?
Who are we really and what is sold to us as our individuality?
This age of acceleration and stimulus satiation can be summarized very appropriately in relation to our topic under the keyword "behavioral capitalism". The term heralds a new era in which authenticity and free development are sold to us, so that we finally find ourselves in a standardized, controlled and self-reproducing system. A construct of individuality with apparently clear framework conditions is being presented to us (the behavioral capitalism). A uniqueness is confirmed by the collective, while only copies of apparently authentic life patterns are generated, as we often experience with “influencers” (collective individualism). To make a loose connection to Greek philosophy: in the theory of ideas of the ancient philosopher Plato, we humans only see the world of senses, i.e. the reality in which we live, which consists merely of copies or imitations of the true ideas of all things. In this sense, we would be the copies of an idea of authenticity. This can lead to emptiness and unhappiness in the long run, because what is missing in collective individualism is the honest examination and acceptance of oneself. These thoughts expressed more than 2,500 years ago are still fresh, especially since Plato also stated: "To know oneself is the first of all sciences".
"To know oneself is the first of all sciences." - Plato
To live authentically therefore sometimes requires becoming aware of what is most likely contributing to our pseudo-individualism, and subsequently to try to meet oneself as truthfully as possible in detachment from external expectations. I consider regular implementation of self-reflection in everyday life to be highly necessary - in other words, to cultivate a routine in reflecting oneself. Practiced over a longer period of time, this can only lead to an increased quality of life and better interpersonal relationships.
Theo Bleckmann, a composer and singer I admire, wrote the following lines for his touching composition "Static Still":
"When will I be me or am I me already? Am I all I can be and just don't see. Longing to be free of me, ready to be!"
Existentially fundamental questions such as: "Who am I?", "What do I want?", "Where do I stand?", "What would have to change for me to be happy?", often make us shrug our shoulders, because in everyday life we simply lack the time and muse for them. Yet our journey through life risks being misguided if we do not ask ourselves these questions from time to time and in full depth. Timothy Gallwey, one of the fathers of coaching, has a frequently quoted strategy for addressing the questions above, which is to conduct a personal inventory from time to time. In coaching books, this concept appears frequently in the phrase, "Be your own CEO".
Your personal inventory
Imagine being asked overnight to become CEO of a company you know little about. What would you do first? In all probability, you would try to find out as much as possible about your company. What does this company produce? What is the guiding principle? How many people work there? What equipment does the company have? What works, or what could work better? Furthermore: how many shares are in the hands of external shareholders and how many still belong to the company itself? Which ones could or should be bought back? What shares does the company itself hold from other companies? These are questions that require a clear answer in every responsible takeover, and the same applies to our internal company.
So, what would you do if you were to embody this company? What equipment were you born with and what qualities have you acquired in the course of your life? This refers to your talents and resources, which you have either received as basic equipment, such as your body or your brain, your own language, your intuition etc. Then there the parts that you have acquired and worked on, which belong to your individual personality, such as motivation, organization etc. There are also further attributes that you have acquired through your socialization. These can be beliefs and/or a certain understanding of social etiquette.
When we talk about shares in your personal company, we mean in your life circumstances - professionally and privately - as well as all your free time that is available to you for individual development. The shares that you may have sold are no longer under your direct influence. Nevertheless, they are likely still connected with responsibility and obligation, which can be positive and purposeful in some ways, but negative in others.
Here is an example:
Your partner has bought certain shares from you and you have certain shares from them. This exchange – let us call it a deal – was entered into by both parties with mutual goodwill. Your employer also owns shares of you, possibly even in the form of unwanted overtime that has been wearing you down over time. It is therefore constructive and fair to think about the possibility and sense of "buying back" certain shares to give yourself more room to move. A personal inventory creates awareness and hopefully joy for change, since "An unconsciously lived life is not worth living”, to use Socrates' words.
Just as our values and needs are in a constant state of change, the understanding of authenticity and what it means to be authentic is also in a state of flux, so it is by no means static and requires regular adjustment.
In conclusion, I would like to encourage you to ask yourself the questions formulated in the Personal Inventory and answer them for yourself in a peaceful and quiet moment. It is a highly effective method for getting a little closer to yourself. Write down the questions and answers so you can reflect on them in time, as they will change constantly throughout your life and want to be regularly updated. Have fun and enjoy your inventory!
You can read more about this and other topics on my blog D'ACCORD and listen to the podcast D’ACCORD WITH YOU, as always accompanied by music from me.