Some headlines write themselves. No, I’m not really interested in faking authenticity – the headline is just bait – but I am deeply interested in why authenticity has been such a hot topic for the better part of a decade, and I wonder if we are doing ourselves any favours in repeating the ‘be authentic’ mantra or if we just end up looking like shallow doofuses.
In one of my recurring nightmares I am at SXSW Digital (I’m so tempted to end this sentence right here), sitting in the middle of a large audience, listening to a speaker who is admonishing us to ‘be authentic’. At some point I’m aware that he’s looking at me, crafting and directing his entire message for me alone. He may even be addressing me by name. “Be authentic, Blair.’ I realize everyone else in the audience is looking at me, too, nodding their zombie faces in agreement. As I leave the talk I pass people in the halls, most of whom stare and telepathically project to me, ‘Be authentic, Blair. You’re not being authentic.’ The dream ends with me waking up in a sweaty, Zoolander-esque moment wondering “Whom am I?”
This authenticity thing must be really deep, because everyone is talking about it. I keep waiting for it to blow over, but like the Internet fad, it just won’t go away.
A few years back I found myself overseas doing a workshop on the characteristics of successful agency business development personnel. At the heart of my material was the motivational makeup of different profiles of success that I had accumulated through years of testing and observation. I was sharing data and insight that nobody else in the world had. It was a good talk and I felt I was delivering excellent value. The very last question of the day however drained all my energy and left me dejected. Someone from one of the world’s largest ad agency networks asked, “How come you didn’t tell us to be ourselves?”
I mumbled some polite lie and shut it down for the day because I couldn’t bear to say what I really thought. What I was thinking, and wanted more than anything to say, was, “Really? I fly this far and charge you this much money to give you valuable information that nobody else in the world has and you ask me why I don’t tell you something your mother taught you when you were five?” If I was being completely authentic I would have added, “That’s the stupidest question I have ever heard and you should be ashamed of yourself for asking it.”
What I really think is that in The Game of Life you should deduct five points every time you tell someone else to be authentic.
Of course, I didn’t actually say any of this. I made up some inauthentic bullshit.
I’m going to say this once in my life and never say it again because while it’s true, it’s just not profound enough to need repeating – ever: be your authentic self. There, I said it. Now let’s admit that by recognizing the value of authenticity we haven’t split the atom or cured cancer or solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. And no, it’s not common sense that somewhere along the way became uncommon. I authentically believe that we were more authentic back in the day when people other than our parents lacked the hubris to tell us to be authentic.
If I could re-enter my dream I would stand up and shout, “Authentic, my ass!! Really – that’s all you’ve got!? ‘Be f*#king authentic?!?' Your mother must be very proud. What’s next – say please and thank you and put on clean underwear in the morning!?! You want authenticity? You can’t handle my authenticity!! You would spontaneously combust if you got even a glimmer of the authentic me! All the dumb-ass-ness in your every molecule would be irradiated from your worthless body and you would collapse into a heap of ash!”
You’re out of order, etc. and so on…
Now, with every piece of advice there’s a caveat, and the authenticity gem is no exception. Here it is: sometimes, as I’ve just demonstrated, your authentic self is an arrogant bitch. In such moments, it might be a good idea to fake it and be somebody else. If you’re always a bitch then you should think about leading a wholly inauthentic life. When someone admonishes you to be authentic, muster up all the fake authenticity you can, smile, and say, “That’s good advice. Thank you.”
Topic covered and five points deducted – check! Now can we please move on to some real insight and agree that we never have to talk about this subject again? Thank you.