You know authenticity is how you connect with people, but it’s hard to know how to gain authenticity. Just wanting it does not increase it. Also, our perception of what is authentic changes. For example, five years ago, when social media was new, authenticity was transparency. Today, with most things feeling transparent, authenticity is something more nuanced.
1. Authenticity is traditional.
It’s what we expect and not overly inventive. Think the farm-to-table movement. People want real food which means real farms with real farmers. Which is a very traditional lifestyle. Farm to table is traditional food: no Asian fusion. Trends in religion are the same. Gen Y gravitates to religions that are not so much “cool” as grounded in tradition. And in response, the new pope is making huge headway by going back to the roots of Christianity, publicly embracing the shockingly deformed, for example, instead of focusing on elitist and top-down leadership.
2. Authenticity is about grit, not success.
Facebook makes people depressed because people paint such rosy images of themselves. And increasingly people find the constant self-promotion boorish. The well-loved blog posts are those that talk about personal struggle. We find our true selves when we go through a difficult time, which means we are best able to show our true selves while we are going through it.
3. Authenticity does not have its own domain name.
Authenticity is about connecting, not promoting. You do not need your own web site. Because the world does not see you as a destination spot.
I know you are thinking that this is odd coming from me on a website with my name as the .com. But here’s the difference. I spend my life creating a community on my site. You do not want to spend your life creating that kind of community. You have other things you want to do, like have friends and hold a marriage together. So you don’t need your own domain name. It’s so 2010. And if you don’t believe me, think of it this way: no one in Generation Z will have their own domain because the domains that matter are all gone. So in ten years having your own domain will be the mark of an old person.
But more importantly, you connect by creating content on other domains. That’s contributing. Check out this video by Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Kane. It’s a really cool ad for his sponsor. And check out his teammate’s response here. It’s hilarious. And, note, it’s not on his own domain. Because it’s for fun and connecting, not for promotion. Which is what authenticity is about.
The best connections I make online are when people have something interesting to say. I can read that anywhere, and respond anywhere. It’s not about ownership of a spot online, it’s about participating in the ideas we spread.
4. Authenticity is about caring what other people think of you.
You know that authenticity is a key factor in career success. But like most key factors in career success, people want a shortcut. The problem is that self-knowledge only comes from hard work. It’s a commitment to understanding how people see you and then adjusting what you want to project.
The Harvard Business review divides the ability to be authentic into two skills. One is self-awareness: knowing who you are—your values, emotions, and competence. And the other skill is knowing how you’re perceived by others. Most people have one but not the other.
The first thing to do in your quest for authenticity is to know which half you are stronger in so you can work on the other one. I’m probably stronger in the self-knowledge department, but what makes me a good blogger is that I understand how you perceive me on the blog. People tell me that I’m the same in person as I am on my blog, but I never feel authentic in person because I have a hard time reading how other people perceive me in person.
5. Authenticity is short.
There’s a rule for writing authentically that if something really bad is happening, write shorter. One of the biggest breaks I got in my writing career was that I was one of the only working journalists who was both covered in debris after 9/11 and able to write about it that day. So I got published in Time magazine. I reread that piece all the time, and one sentence really bugs me: “My slip-ons slipped off.” Except for that sentence, it’s an urgent, harrowing account—focused and direct, short. And then in that one sentence I write like I’m a writer in Time magazine, making the mistake of adding something to show people I’m a great writer.
Another important thing about writing short is not allowing yourself to just dump your notes online. We all have a pile of things we want to say, but if you dump them online, like a list of links, it’s actually putting a wall up between you and the reader. Authenticity is the unfettered back and forth between us that reveals something new. You can’t do that in a pile of random links or notes.
The urge to be more, do more, show more than other people can be so strong that it overpowers our desire to connect. I used to think authenticity was about showing everything all the time and making a big deal about it. I remember going on 20/20 to talk about transparent salaries: “Authentic CEOs make all salaries transparent!”
Authenticity really is quiet, intimate listening. I love the photo up top because it’s me in an empty church, waiting for my son to play his cello. I am doing nothing but listening and responding and caring. When we are doing our best—at anything—this is what we are doing. Authenticity is stark and simple and unfettered, and it probably doesn’t need a lot of self-promotion. Because authenticity is magnetic. It makes everyone lean in closer.