The funny (and fruitful) nature of authenticity
Authenticity is a funny thing. Funny in that it shouldn't necessarily be tough to do, or hard to be. Being authentic, after all, means being genuine and being true to one's personality, passions and beliefs. So in that vein, being authentic is, or should be, second nature (maybe even 'first' nature). It should just come naturally.
But where it gets funny is that we find it, confirm it...and give ourselves 'permission' to practice it...in the wildest of ways.
I'm going to make a BIG note here before delving further: in this post I'm speaking about authenticity from the angle of people NOT from the viewpoint of "authentic brands" and "authenticity in branding." The reason I point out this difference is because authenticity in branding--while it still means and implies "genuine"--is a different topic. It's altogether different when were talking about upholding a brand's authenticity (a non-human entity) that is created and maintained by a company (by several people in that entity). Yes, a lot of the same principles absolutely apply...but this post focuses on people, not brands. Just wanted to be clear as I write on both (being I'm both a person + a marketer of brands ;-).
Recently my pal David Reich posted on "10 Steps to Happiness," a piece that was inspired by a great post from Lewis Green that tagged several people to voice-in with their advice (Lewis, you tagged me on this same exercise and I apologize that it's taken me a while, but this truly qualifies as my answer on your great question).
In his post, David included a list of many steps and then asked us our take. I responded that I had but one step for happiness as I see that all else stems from there: just be true to yourself. OK, so it's not a very groundbreaking answer but its effects sure do make a mountain of difference.
See, being "true" is being "genuine" and, ergo, being "authentic". I find that when people are unhappy, the leading reason is simply because they're not being true to what they want and what they need...be that out of a job, a relationship, or even an issue that they need to come to peace with due to it becoming an obstacle to what they really want to get out of life.
Pretty simple way to be happy, eh? Yup. The rub is maintaining it.
What do I mean? Well, for me to be true I need to work for myself. Why? Because in this format I'm assured of new challenges, lots of independence, always learning new competencies and forever being open to a host of new opportunities. Lots and lots of new is what I seek...and what I find.
But, in making this choice, I'm also assured that I'll have crazy (!) business quarters where I have too much work and other times when I'm wondering if I'll have enough work. Still, even with the roller coaster ride of working for oneself, being true to what I want and need absolutely wins out, and thusly works for me.
Another example is this very blog and the programs I create. While the tool is a blog, it's really a platform for my voice and ideas--and of course a tremendous vehicle for learning from the viewpoints of others. But in making the choice to put my true/authentic self out there, "Hello world, love or hate me, this is who I am!", I also run some risks.
You see, I have to make the decision on whether I'm willing to be silly enough to promote initiatives and principles I so very much believe in...and if I'm brave enough to speak out about initiatives and precedents that I so very much disagree with. Because I genuinely am a tremendously silly person, but I'm also very serious when it comes to best practices. Yep, I run the risky mix of silly CK (I've donned 'marketeer' ears, hitchhiked through Times Square and sailed the high seas) and serious CK (I've been very mouthy on spamming bloggers, botched blogger relations programs and efforts that violate privacy and work to manufacture WOM).
And while I find the two approaches are altogether natural, since they exemplify my passions of advancing the profession, the community and customer-centric practices, I run the risk of confusing or (eek!) even irritating my readers. Alas, I'm just not that girl that goes gently into that goodnight. So when I find an opportunity to create or improve--and while I might not always be right--I act upon it. Anything else would be untrue.
Which brings me to some feedback I received via email this week that really impressed upon me. Here's the feedback: "I love that you keep your personality and are so upbeat, it makes me feel like I can be who I am and make a mark in the business world."
Why did it impress upon me so much? Two reasons. First, it was a very kind note and it felt good to be the recipient (the first half of that statement). But, second, and more to my authentic point, because of the courage and confidence it gave to the person writing it (the second half of that statement).
I've posted on Mike Rowe before, the creator of the great TV series "Dirty Jobs," a show that goes to the depths of the dirtiest jobs on earth (sewers, food processing plants, alligator-infested swamps, etc.). He's profiled in this month's FastCompany and it really speaks to how, in finding his dream job, as dirty as it is, he found his authenticity.
Rowe used to look at acting gigs as "jobs between vacations" and now, even though he works harder than ever, he doesn't really feel it's a job (nor is it "acting" being he's keeping it very real). Moreover, it speaks to how--now that he's found his authenticity--he protects his brand, and is careful not to let it be tainted by overexposure or vis-a-vis the 'wrong' exposure.
So, in being true to his passion, Rowe found his inspiration and success. And the person that emailed me, in being authentic, found that they can make their mark. Lastly, as I explained above, in being true to myself through my work format, my voice and my actions, I've found my fulfillment.
Thusly, authenticity is a deep well of reward. It's so very much worth exploring and really worth sharing, even amid the risks. What's the kicker? While we're barraged with so many ways, practices, paradigms, methods, models, matrices and methodologies telling us how to be successful in business...the very basic principle of authenticity is what will likely get us the furthest in our careers (and happiest in our lives).
Told ya authenticity is a funny (and fruitful) thing.