Authenticity: You Has It
At any given time, most of us have no shortage of challenges we’re trying to work through or overcome.
Entrepreneurs must create something out of nothing — a process that is both fun and tiring. Ambitious people who work in organizations have to work with colleagues in pursuit of collective goals. Sometimes the colleagues aren’t as ambitious or have other ideas.
Those of us who go it alone have plenty of issues, too. If someone ever implies it’s easy out there, put your skeptic hat on.
Thankfully, there is one challenge that is entirely optional. This challenge is the question of how to be yourself, otherwise known as authenticity.
Good news, everyone. When it comes to authenticity, you already have it!
Authenticity is the core part of who you really are. It’s whatever you have that is deep down underneath everything you do because you think you should. No one can bestow it upon you; it’s the thing about you that is REALLY YOU.
The reason why this is difficult for some of us is because we have trouble locating the core. It is very likely that this core has been disrupted and disturbed by authority figures who thought they knew better.
What has been taken from you? How can you get it back? These are the important questions of authenticity.
There is nothing mysterious about authenticity. If you have to ask, “How can I be authentic?” you’re on a slippery slope. Authenticity is not a game to be played or a strategy to be devised.
At least twice a week, someone asks “how I make the guides and manifestos.” They often use the word “software” or “program,” and they’re not asking whether my superstar designer prefers Adobe or Quark. Instead, they’re looking for the magic service where you put in a text document and out comes a beautiful design, completely customized for you and your readers, already debugged and tweaked, with all the right small touches that make the difference between good and great.
As you might guess, there is no secret software or magic service. The secret is having a great designer who has spent years honing her skills. When you visit her in Asia you see the thick notebook pages she has filled with concepts and early drafts. Meanwhile, Reese, the designer in question, gets queries every day from people who correctly deduce that there is a design wizard behind the operation. When she asks what kind of style they want, about 50% of them tell her: “I want it to look like Chris’s site!”
Both of us are flattered… but in the long-run, all of these people will be better served through authenticity than imitation. People want you. They really do. I like how Gary Vaynerchuk said it recently: “Not being yourself is exhausting.”
I agree with Gary — from time to time I try being someone else, and the act of being an impostor really wears me out. I’m much better at being myself, including the flaws. All things considered, it’s worked out okay so far.
The problem is not how to be yourself. The problem is how to get yourself (“your message”) out to the world.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been collecting stories of unconventional success through social media. I’ve been having so much fun, I hardly realized I was working. I’ve heard from science fiction writers, artists of all kinds, animal rescue activists, and entrepreneurs.
Among many others, I heard from a guy who works at a Mexican restaurant in the northeast U.S. He was brought in to run the one-man marketing department. In his own words, “The boss was clueless about marketing, but so was I.” The first month, he bought billboards and TV ads. Results: a few people came in, a lot of money was spent. The second month, he decided to sign up for Twitter. Results: almost no money was spent, a lot of people came in.
The funny part of the story was when he first started using actively using Twitter to broadcast burrito specials, a couple of self-identified social media experts contacted him to nitpick. “You’re doing it wrong,” they said – and of course he was worried. Experts know better, right?
Since so many customers were coming in and the boss was happy, though, he decided to ignore the experts. A few weeks later, he went to a local Tweetup and put his user ID on a name tag. Someone saw it and told the whole room: “Hey everyone – this is the Mexican restaurant guy!”
He ended up being the most popular guy there, and business is still booming. Hint to experts: if your strategy works and people like you for it, you’re probably not doing it wrong.
Product Launch Update
Tomorrow morning I’ll release the Unconventional Guide to the Social Web, my first product in a long time. A co-conspirator and I have been working on it non-stop while I’ve been home the last month. It’s going to be fun.
You don’t need a product to be authentic, of course, but if you want to spread your net wider or reach more people, this will help. If you feel overwhelmed or afraid of putting yourself out there to the world, it will also help.
Check back tomorrow for more about that, beginning at 9am EST / 6am PST. More importantly, check with yourself to see if you like who you are. If so, that’s authenticity. You has it.
There’s no need to be like anyone else, or anything less than you already are.
Authentic Image by Spike55151
Great post, as per usual.
It is amazing how many really smart, interesting, unique people often feel that it’s necessary to change who they are in order to ‘be good,’ myself included from time to time. The real shame is, of course, that they have such a wonderful voice to add to the choir and they don’t even realize it.
I frequently find myself in the same situation you describe with Reese, where a client will come to me gushing about how they love my stuff and how they have this vision and then they’ll almost immediately show me the website or brand they want to have copied. Back in the day I would usually just let it be, pocket the cash and move on. These days, those, I try to dig a little deeper, encouraging them to put a little bit of themselves on the page before deciding to make the first impression many people will have of them a dishonest one.
When they take me up on it, they’re invariably much happier in the end!
If I have a unifying theme in my own life, it’s about shaving off the dross to reveal my authentic nature. Thanks for exploring this. Also, I guess this means that I can’t design my upcoming blog site to “look like yours”. Dang!
Well said. I’ve caught myself in the past wondering how to come off as ‘authentic’. Then I realized if I was having difficulty doing that it’s because I was trying to pretend I’m something I’m not. Better to stop and come back later with a clearer message, better content, or whatever the case may be.
Looking forward to your new guide!
I think you’re right Chris. In my own case, it took me a while to start up my blog because I became inundated with all the “expert” information out there. Paralysis by analysis quickly set in. It seemed that I was too concerned trying to be like all the best bloggers out there without taking my own authenticity into consideration. Eventually though I realized that I just needed to be myself and have fun with the process with the willingness to fail and correct things as I went along.
Your blog (and interesting lifestyle design) has also been a source inspiration. Keep it up!
‘If you have to ask, “How can I be authentic?” you’re on a slippery slope.’
Well said, Chris. I understand why it’s asked a lot though. People are so busy following the status quo that when they get tired of it, they don’t know what else to do. They never really knew themselves. In that case I don’t think asking that is a slippery slope yet. Asking that may be a sign that the person is beginning to think for themselves. Then there are two choices. 1) Realize the point you’re making here (that you already have authenticity and you have to unveil it) or 2) Continue the status quo, finding people they admire and copying them. Swim or sink.
I started my blog in April and through writing close to 50 posts so far, I’ve learned to be more authentic. I’ve realized that in the early stages I’ve been writing at people and not to people. I also plan on doing video blogging in the near future.
I’ll be checking out the next product soon. Bon Voyage!
This is a difficult lesson to learn, but an important one. It’s amazing how many avenues open up once you cut the crap and be yourself. Thanks for the article.
But what about the bits you don’t like?
I’ve given up on trying to hide them (it is exhausting!), but I still cringe a little bit every time I put up a post that shows my warts.
Great post – straight to the heart. I’m different from your typical follower/ reader, and that’s absolutely fine. As life goes on, I feel more confident being authentically me, and less need to act another role.
Heck, my blog looks and sounds like me, too. 🙂
Thanks Chris, I needed to read this today. Have been feeling anxiety lately about “overthinking” too many things (which I do a lot) and then realized it does serve me well, writing, because people really seem to enjoy the way I drill down on topics and articulate important issues.
I enjoyed reading this post. I also started blogging in May, and my original plan was to write an English post and a Japanese post every week(these posts are not translations of one another, they have different contents). Since my primary target is Japanese people living in the U.S. or those who are considering coming over here, it makes sense to keep them updated about my businesses. But I find myself not wanting to write Japanese posts, while I have no problem coming up with things to write in English. As a result, I now have 15 posts in English while I only had 4 in Japanese. I know why that is – even though my native language is Japanese and language-wise it’s much easier for me to write in Japanese, I have bigger fear about their (Japanese audience) judgments. I sometimes feel like I have split personalities, as I don’t really have the same fear or concerns regarding writing in English.
When I heard Haruki Murakami talk about making a speech in English, he explained some of the issues about it – for us (Murakami and myself), English is a foreign language and our vocabulary is limited to that level. It’s easier for us to choose the words within that limitation, as we have fewer options. In our native language the option seems to be limitless, and it takes more time to select which words to use to ensure that the message is conveyed as accurately as possible. But I also believe that my challenge in writing in Japanese has a lot to do with the authenticity you talked about in this post. In a very conservative culture, it could be challenging to be authentic, especially in a culture where it has the mentality of “the nail that sticks out will be hammered down”. Sometimes people feel like they are not allowed to be authentic even though I don’t like this expression – nobody should need a “permission” to be oneself, and I don’t mean to blame the society for that. In any case, I feel more free to be myself and expressing myself in English compared to in Japanese. I am working on closing the gap.
What I love about your post is they sometimes comes at the right time. When I’m worry or confuse or not believe in myself, here it is… an annual post from Chris.
I don’t believe in coincidence and I haven’t started something important yet by reading all these article. But I think soon I will start something authentic or at least I thought it is.
Thx alot Chris
Two things that I believe very strongly about are authenticity and excellence. If you spend your days on those two things alone, you will need to build moats and castle walls to keep your fans out.
Sadly, too many people are looking for shortcuts. As much as I would like “a site just like Chris,” there are no shortcuts in life. Greatness is the journey not the destination.
We spend so much of our energy trying to impress others that it sometimes takes a lifetime to discover who we really are.
Most people want to be interesting to someone to a certain degree but we all have different perceptions of what’s interesting to us. Too often you want to be like someone else and forgetting that you’re already unique and that YOU MATTER to people. Just because you didn’t hear it doesn’t mean you don’t have a fan base.
If people like you it won’t be because you’re “like someone else.” Coke Cola’s Facebook fan page wasn’t even started by their people while Nutella has fans all over social networks like YouTube and Twitter but not yet recognized by the brand (probably fear and traditional thinking).
It’s only wrong if you have to try to be someone else all the time, otherwise people will always find meaning in what you do in some ways, you just have to know why you’re doing them.
This post really resonated with me in so many ways. When I was mercifully thrown off the human treadmill of corporate life, I wrestled with the authenticity question particularly with publishing bio material. Would I burn my boats and sink without a trace if I dared to strip completely naked in a literary sense? Or would it be better to carry on acting a role outside myself as I had done for most of my working life? In the end, I decided to “go naked” and I have absolutely no regrets. For me, being authentic has resulted in an increasing interest in my evolving businesses as opposed to turning people off.
I wonder why Chris closed comments to his previous post about the pie guy. I’ve been inspired on this site many times, and again above, but at what point do we interrupt the warm buzz and self-satisfaction we’re getting from following our bliss and being truly authentic, and take a good hard look at what we need to make a living and get ahead in the world? The pie guy sounds cool (and I love those PDX food trailers!) but he started in May and is JUST NOW breaking even? What about making a profit? Does he have to sleep in the trailer? I’m sorry, but I’m feeling a bit emperor’s-new-clothesy about all this in recent days. Thanks for listening; and now fellow posters, please tell me why I’m wrong.
You guys are fabulous; thanks so much for your great input!
I didn’t close comments on the Sunday post – I just don’t have them for the weekend updates. You are free to share your input on any regular (Monday and Thursday) article.
As to the pie guy breaking even, in the restaurant business it is fantastic to break even in just three months of being open. Most restaurants are on a 3-5 year plan of profitability, and lose money for at least the first year. In the full video (14 minutes), he talks a lot more about that process.
Looking up to someone and using their voice and energy as inspiration and guidance is a natural and healthy way to find yourself. However, when you take out the all important “find yourself” part of the equation, you end up imitating.
It’s an easy trap to fall into because when you’re just starting out, your confidence in yourself and what you’re capable of is probably pretty low and the easiest thing to do is to mimic those that have succeeded before you. This might work for the very short term, but before long, you’ve got to become aware of what you can offer that others can’t or your success will be very limited.
The world values and rewards originality. The people you look up to should certainly influence your decisions, but only as foundational building blocks. Like you said, everyone’s got authenticity, you just have to learn how to release it.
I think you or someone else tweeted something similar to “If you have to ask, “How can I be authentic?” you’re on a slippery slope,” a few weeks back, and it really stuck with me. Thanks for the reminder that if “networking” or whatever is exhausting, you’re probably missing out on genuine connection with people, and the answer is just to be more you.
Excellent post. I love how you explain that trying to be someone, or something you are not is tiring. Be who you are, that is being authentic.
I also love the story of the Mexican restaurant guy. Thanks for sharing it.
I love the example of the Mexican restaurant guy. Expert doesn’t mean anything anymore, if your results are good, you’re the expert.
I love the statement on the picture! That’s the kind of posters I’d like to see in public spaces…
To Chris and all commenters,
I guess the first key to becoming authentic is to allow yourself to be.
We live at a time where society really doesn’t want authentic. They want conformance to expectations and mindsets that are predictable. Much like an assembly line. Demographics are nice and neat. Where do you fit in? At some point in life we decide that we don’t want to be on the outside looking in. We want to fit in, even at the expense of compromising the real self.
How much incredible potential is lost when we never live up to our authenticity?
How cool would it be if we actually celebrated individuality and encouraged authentic behaviors?
I feel I have an obligation to those around me to help them celebrate their own uniqueness…their own authenticity.
Thanks, Chris… for making leading the cause!
Found you because of your ebook on selling art online. Good stuff. The next time you decide to have a meetup in PDX, I’ll be sure to be there!
Oh, and on the subject of authenticity – you’re doing it better than most. Have fun in Asia.
But Chris – I’ve just changed my surname to be as … mysterious as yours. Drats!
You and others might enjoy this podcast from Merlin Mann and John Gruber from SXSW which tackles the very same issue
I love this topic- Authenticity is something that everyone tries to pursue, whether they are conscious of it or not, and something that is so simple in it’s elusiveness.
I look forward to the release of the next Unconventional Guide… great topic you picked!!
Enjoyed the post! Being authentic is huge right now. We start out that way but get sidetracked with societal shoulds and how-to-be’s. The good news is that anyone with enough guts to strip off his or her conformist apparel can get it back.
Giulietta, Inspirational Rebel
As a person in the political arena, couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think we crave candidates of old, like Abe Lincoln…no spin doctors in sight. Best wishes for tomorrow’s launch.
Oh Chris – you have it so right. It takes huge amounts of energy to not be yourself. Right now I am shifting from earning my living from the corporate world to earning my living from a more authentic place. The first thing that happened is that I slept for several months (exaggeration, but not much). Now I am just reconstructing all aspects of my life – deciding what stuff to keep, what stuff to let go (oh boy, there’s a lot), what to do, how to do it, how I work, how I can live and love to live and love to work.
It’s all good.
Chris – Great article. Thank you. In my work as a therapist here in Seattle this is ultimatley what I help clients to acheive. For a lot of people, it is really difficult work.
I also want to let you know that I’ve put off launching our Dad Project (www.definingdad.com) until after tomorrow when your new guidebook comes out. I really appreciate your work and just wanted to let you know. Thanks.
You are so right. We have authenticity, and now we need to use it! Thanks for the reminder.
Great post. It was a really good one. It really is all about authenticity and understanding we have a unique purpose that we need to discover and share. I think once we truly understand and believe in that, things really start falling into place. It may take sometime to determine, but that really is what it is all about. Thanks for the post.
I’m constantly amazed at how rich consultants can become by helping other people find out how to be genuine. And most of those consultants would give different riffs on the same information.
It’s tempting to let other people have the answers, even if they’re answering questions that only you should have the answers to. It’s easier not to scrutinize yourself. Once you start turning over the rocks in your own personality, you’re going to find some nasty stuff. But you can’t get rid of it and be genuine until you can be honest with yourself.
When I look back at my journals from times when I know for a fact that I was behaving badly and sadly, of course I never wrote down anything self-incriminating. Just justifications.
Can’t say enough good things about this. Take care friend.
When I do things my way, ignore the experts, state my opinion, and act critical or skeptical of the way other people are doing things I tend to get called brash, arrogant, or contrary by detractors, and if I’m lucky, something like “brutally honest” by my friends.
Considering that I’m not in the business of ‘putting my message out there’, sometimes I wonder what’s the point. I’m not obligated to share my opinion online, and a lot of people seem annoyed that I’d suggest something different than everyone else is doing.
Authenticity’s not my issue — it’s the fact that a lot of people seem to get upset when you rock the boat.
most lovely, Mr G. We live in a culture of third person packaging. And people are craving live and connect in first person.
Thanks again for a post that hits you where you live. I turned fifty this year, and have become more aware than ever of the necessity of not trying to be what you’re not or do what doesn’t suit you. I’d like to say the awareness was an academic thing, but it isn’t. The awareness comes from my own process. If you’ve ever smiled until your jaw hurts or changed the way you dress, or talk, or even how you present yourself because of some (unspoken) demand from someone or something, then you know you need to stop living as if ‘the whole world is a stage, and we ourselves are merely players’ (to paraphrase the bard!).
I recently linked to an article in the New York Times about students being placed under the guidance of independent college admissions counselors. They instruct them in things like which classes to take, which foreign language to study, and which instrument to play. The ultimate goal is to mold the child into a prestigious college’s ideal applicant. On my blog, I talk about this loss of priorities, and how it reminds me of some advice I got a long time ago from a well-meaning male friend, on the topic of “what guys like.” Ultimately, I agree with Gary Vaynerchuk: “Not being yourself is exhausting.”
Fantastic post. I don’t find it particularly surprising (ironic, maybe, but not surprising) that the people I’ve seen who have tried hardest to be everything to everyone have ended up becoming nothing to anyone.
It’s really scary to put yourself out there. It’s scary to watch some people take a look at you and hasten the other way. But it’s even scarier, I think, to look back at the end of your life and realize that the only people you’ve ever kept in your life are people who made the same fundamental compromise you did: selling out in order to gain the tolerance (not respect, love, admiration, or even hatred, but tolerance) of other sellers-out. Can you imagine? Authenticity = not being That Guy.
Thanks for this, Chris. 🙂
Charlotte, I loved your comment. I’ve been realizing more and more recently that, yes, it’s impossible to be everything to everyone. No matter what you do, someone will hate you, someone will resent you, and someone will think you’re an idiot. And that applies no matter how fool-proof you think your arguments and justifications are.
I like your use of the word “tolerance” — tolerance really is the most you’re going to get if you try to please everyone. It’s tempting to try to live life under the radar because that’s the best way to avoid criticism, but if you’re like me (and probably everyone else here), living that way is also deeply unfulfilling.
Great points again Chris.
Not only is it completely tiring trying to be someone else all the time, it’s fairly boring.
I like the point about the experts, I don’t bother to listen to the experts anymore, most of the time they don’t make sense and I like getting things wrong or right on my own anway.
Discovered your blog 48 hours ago and it’s changed my life for the better already. Have recommended it to my boss who I know will enjoy it also. Thank you for writing the way you do. You really are helping and inspiring others.
I’ve just stumbled upon your blog today (Sep. 10, 2009) and I am so inspired by the few articles that I’ve read. I’ve always been the non-conformist at work, in my personal life, in my family, much to the chagrin of those around me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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