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That Which We Are, We Are
Unabashed authenticity should be the goal
“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” — William Shakespeare, 1601
We all inhabit some kind of personality when we’re online, and probably at work too.
It’s about fitting in, and making it clear who we are.
But if you’re not being the true you — your authentic self — it can be exhausting.
And you may find there are cracks in the surface that allow people to tell when you’re not being yourself.
Authenticity isn’t about being someone else. It’s about being the best version of yourself.
Did you ever take the time to step back and wonder about the various people you meet online? They could be long-lost friends, newsletter writers you admire, or people in your social media network of choice whom you may have never met before.
But what do you really know about them?
How many of these folks are truly themselves when they’re online? I mean, how many are perhaps bolder in their assertions or less cautious with the language they use because of the less personal nature of the medium?
Authenticity seems to be one of the corporate platitudes — how businesses, brands, and the people behind them need to be seen as real. Because if you’re not, inevitably the masses will sniff out a fraud.
I worked for an executive whose authentic and genuine nature was the hallmark of his leadership. It’s strange (and a little sad) that being genuine was considered unique and different, but it made him stand out.
When one of his lieutenants — who was anything but authentic — started to ape that behavior, it stood out to me, but for the wrong reasons. The mimicked authenticity was completely inauthentic.
How to Be Authentic
So just how do you go about being authentic?
I saw someone on LinkedIn pose the following question:
“What disciplines should marketers be training within to ensure authenticity?”
My first thought, was, “You’ve got to be kidding, right? You want to teach authenticity?”
It reminded me of the old George Burns quote:
“Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
That one-liner often sums up all the stereotypes of companies who just want to quell a public relations crisis — giving lip service without following through with actions. Can you blame the public for distrusting such companies?
Authenticity Is Not a Skill
Many of the other respondents to that LinkedIn question also noted that authenticity is more of a state of being rather than a skill — it’s something that has to be part of your personality rather than taught as a course.
Authenticity represents who we are, not what we do.
When we use jargon to address our audience, are we being truly authentic, or simply following a corporate protocol out of some outdated tradition?
It’s time to abandon traditional and awkward templates and speak to our customers as if we’re real people talking to other real people.
People will relate to us if we drop the stilted language and abandon the mask of corporate inhumanity.
“If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.” — Cicero
Ultimately, it’s worth asking how your customers or your community view you. I hope you’re prepared for the answer, because we live in an age where they’ll tell you and expect to be heard.
The Authenticity of an Ancient Hero
As a closing thought, let’s return to the title of the post. It’s from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses. Here’s the final stanza:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Typically people quote the last line (“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”) to demonstrate some kind of determination and resolve to power through, headwinds be damned.
But in reality, this poem is about Ulysses, the legendary king, trickster, and inventor of the Trojan Horse, who finds himself in his declining years. He is remembering his adventures throughout the years and still cleaving to the wanderlust that is simply his nature.
He is an authentic figure, unapologetic about his desire to abandon his home and family, even at the end of his days.
That’s what it means to be authentic — because to be anything else simply wouldn’t be true.
Speaking of being your authentic self, did you get a chance to listen to Laura Gassner Otting talk about her new book Wonderhell?
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the Internet.
Slow and smooth — that’s how we do it here. No shiny objects. Just thoughts on universal human experiences to help you become a better version of yourself.