The Problem of Authenticity

Confession Time: I started this blog post a bit ago and then felt myself getting jumbled with thoughts and maybe even a few insecurities. But I was reminded during #ahasmember Caitlin of Little Farm Media's Twitter chat (you can read the chat by searching #creativebizchat in Twitter). She said "There is no shame in creating something to make money even if it doesn't represent 100% of you," and I totally remembered this little half-done post. 

It's a scary post to write, so I'd love to hear your feedback! Please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

We live in a time where it seems like people, more than ever, are obsessed with authenticity. And if you think about it, it's kind of a weird thing to obsess over. After being heavily marketed to for decades in ways that are often meant to obscure what's actually happening, our senses are now heightened to feeling "had" and there is a backlash against anything that seems too perfect or remotely like a copy of something else.

Like I mentioned, I think this aversion to "inauthenticity" (in quotes because the label is often used problematically) is out of a fear of being conned into buying a product or loving a brand that actually is not what they've said they are (this article on Madewell gives a very interesting take on this type of feeling). And no one feels good about being duped, so this in-your-face authenticity is almost like the pendulum swinging the other way. But when YOU are also your business (essentially), it means that authenticity can get really complicated. 

Here are four things to think about the next time you want to get down on others (or yourself) for being fake or inauthentic.

Authenticity is Extremely Relative

What counts as authentic in one situation might not count in another. Not to mention how one person sees authenticity can vary to the next. The point is that it's all a bit arbitrary and so it only really matters if you know you're being true to yourself or not. 

That also means you don't really know that other person and their radar for inauthenticity. Their actions might completely be in their scope of being genuine and true to themselves. 

Being "Fake" Can be Authentic

My most recent insight into authenticity came while listening to Kari Chapin's podcast where she mentioned that when people do things that seem fake or showy, they are still being authentic. *whoa! mind blown!* These people are authentically feeling like they can't reveal things about themselves, for whatever reason, and so they fake it.

There is a lot of pressure to have it together. Some people especially have an extra dose of "imposter syndrome." And I have to say, I have known LOTS of very successful people who still feel like they are total frauds when it comes to knowing how to run a great business. So sometimes our own weird relationship to authenticity is a manifestation of the pressure felt to live up to expectations (whether those are real or imagined).

In Kari's discussion about this, she says that compassion is ultimately the best way to deal with someone we feel like is being inauthentic-- but I think this compassion should also apply to ourselves. The more we give ourselves a break when it comes to the standards we (think) others set for us and the often impossible ones we set for ourselves, the more we can extend that same compassion to our fellow business owners.

You Can Be Authentic and Copy Others

Alright, let me explain. I think often in business we look to other businesses as our training wheels-- we see what they are up to and try to apply it similarly to ours. This makes sense in lots of ways because as a new business you aren't sure what a business "acts like." I say this a lot with Instagram-- until you find a look that you can call your own, try imitating how already successful accounts are setting up their photos so you can understand the techniques.

Obviously doing this without using your brain and considering how your business is different can result in the kind of direct copying that is ultimately stealing. You always need to consider how to make your account stand out and how to serve YOUR customer. A direct copy is not ever going to help you build a sustainable business. But looking to see what others are doing that works and doesn't work and applying that to your business is something that smart businesses have being doing forever and it isn't inauthentic. It's called learning from others' mistakes and successes.

You Do You Boo

I think a lot of the downward spiral of authenticity and inauthenticity really starts up when people are looking outward instead of inward. No one can tell you how to make every move for your life or your business. There is good advice, industry standards and best practices.

By all means, learn these, but know them so you can know when to choose to break them-- to figure out when they don't make sense and won't work for you. Running a business is as much, if not more, art than science. Don't let what others think or say run you or your business.

Also, if you really feel fake vibes from someone move along... without commenting or having to make a big statement about it (in your head or out loud). While it might feel aggravating to you, it's likely they have insecurities pent up inside them like we mentioned above and are not trying to con people. So, just leave space for them to exist and you don't need to interact with them (unless you want to).

If for some reason you do have to interact with them, write the "get-everything-off-your-chest" email and then send it to your mom or someone completely unrelated to the situation who will let it roll of their back and understand the need to vent. It will likely (hopefully?) put things in perspective for you and help you realize just how judge-y you can be. 

When have you dealt with authenticity problems? How have you handled them?