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Preview of Book Review Week - May 18-22

Being Authentic in Inauthentic Times


At Lolly Daskal's weblog, Elizabeth King introduces a four part series on authenticity with these words.

We find ourselves in an age of personal branding and marketing, of relentless social media and networking, of the end of privacy and the promulgation of a self-crafted identity. An accepted social construct has emerged that allows for endless calls to forget your fears, to embrace your dreams, to listen to your inner voice. And yet in the midst of this media circus we often punctuate the conversation with desperate cries demanding, both for ourselves and of our audience, authenticity.

As the information age eclipsed and replaced the industrial age, it didn't mean that we stopped manufacturing things. Instead we started manufacturing our identities, or as Elizabeth so aptly describes, "a self-crafted identity." The real crisis is in knowing who we truly are, knowing our authentic self, and living an authentic life as a result.

Here are my three suggestions for being authentic in inauthentic times.

1. Stop being so self-conscious. Authentic people do not go around projecting their self-important personality on everyone they encounter. 

The healthiest clients that I've ever had are totally unaware of why they are healthy. Their organization is growing in all the ways that that their industry is not. After spending a lot of time with them, I concluded that they lack a contrived self-importance masked as a corporate brand. You cannot imagine how refreshing it is to work with people who feel no need to tell you how important their organization is. They just love it.

Self-conscious self-importance accounts for most of the trauma that leaders face. Every decision has to be calculated to factor in the "personalization" factor. By this, I mean, someone is interpreting every decision you make and action you take as a personal attack. It is all a part of this culture of self-promotion that is fed by social media and the media in general.

If you want to be an authentic person, stop telling us that you are. Either you are or not, and telling us only confirms that fact that you aren't. Authentic people don't have to tell you they are.

2. Virtual identities are not real identities, and virtual relationships are mimics of real relationships. 

I've had a number of discussions about social media with people who want to convinced me that their online relationships are better and more real than what they encounter with people where they live.  The virtual and local are not different versions of the same thing. They are totally different social contexts. In the virtual world, lived through social media, the measure of a person is in how they use words. The better you are at expressing yourself, the more likely the virtual world is a place of comfort and affirmation.

The real world of local communities measures people by what they do, by their actions. If my neighbor's dog barks all night, and he doesn't do anything about it, then I have a problem with my neighbor. If I don't complete a job on time, it reflects poorly on my ability to do what I commit to doing. The real world is a place of action.

When we bring the world of action into the virtual, as when we use social media to accomplish tasks more easily, then the real and virtual co-mingle in a highly beneficial way. I'm heavily involved in social media, so I don't see the platform as the issue. It is a tool that facilitates human intention. If my intention is to live a narcissistic life of self-promotion, then social media is the right place to do it.

This notion goes to the heart of Elizabeth's introduction.

The problem is, though, if you’ve been living in the United States in the past sixty years ... you’ve been living in a largely inauthentic reality. We live on inauthentic mortgages and credit lines based on inauthentic incomes. We eat mass produced foods that are mere shadows of their original, artisinal selves ...

Our families are more broken than ever and those families live in homes that hope to replicate the great Georgian plantations and the Cape Cod lifestyles of 150 years ago ... We “stage” our homes. We lock our doors.

We botox, dye, and tuck every square inch of ourselves. We binge and purge. We mull over our personal brands. If we stray from the “brand message”, we perceive that we compromise our income-building opportunities. We filter.

And yet we grandstand about authenticity. So? So the problem with authenticity is that it asks that we actually be exactly what we claim to be.

Relationships are hard because we are not personal brands. We are complex beings whose emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical selves are in a constant dynamic of change. We are social beings who find health, not in self-projection, but in self-giving, in actions of creating and sacrifice.

If you want to be seen as authentic, then be a giver, not a taker. And when you do, you'll find that the virtual becomes more important because it enhances what you can do in the local world where you live and work.

3. Don't tell me, show me your authenticity.

Look at your ad copy. If you are having to use superlative words to enhance what you say you do, then you aren't being authentic. When we have to modify common, simple speech with lots of adjectives and adverbs to communicate who we are, then we are not clear about what it means to be authentic.

If you want to be perceived as an authentic person, then act as one. Don't tell me that you are an authentic leader. I'll know it by the impact of your actions. I'll know it by what people who in no way benefit from saying so, tell me that you are an authentic person. I'll know it because you'll stand out in the virtual world as a voice of reason and wisdom.

If you live this kind of authentic life, then there are three things that are quite possible.

1. Your life will be hard because we live in inauthentic times.

2. You'll find peace because you'll find yourself through the struggle to be the person who is authentic in every sense.

3. You'll find relationships forming with other people who seek to be authentic in all they do. They exist. From those relationships, authentic community is born.

Authenticity is a choice, a calling and the path that awaits each of us.

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