04 Aug

The Fallacy of Authenticity

Let’s clear something up: authenticity is not something you choose to be.
Or not be. Authenticity is a state. Whatever you are, you are. Whether angel or asshole, you are authentically that.

So that’s not the problem.

No, when people want you to “be authentic,” they want you (or your business — it applies to both) to, as the definition of “authentic” suggests, accurately represent who you are.

They want you to be honest. To have integrity to whatever code it is you choose to follow.

But that’s where the judgment comes in. Because too often, when the exhortation to “be authentic” gets thrown about, it’s because people disagree, at heart, with your code. They don’t like your rules. They want to know more about you. Or less. They want you to think differently. Act differently.

In other words, they’re asking you to be different than you are — which is, paradoxically, the very opposite of authenticity.

The path to authenticity isn’t action. It’s acceptance. Of who you are, what you stand for, of what your beliefs and values are. It’s understanding that not everyone will like you — and being okay with that. It’s about standing firm.

It’s about being true — to yourself.

So know that. Be that. That’s authentic.

  • http://www.jaybaer.com Jay Baer

    Bingo. This is so good, and so necessary. Bravo.

    • Tamsen

      Thank you, Jay. It seems I get fired on this topic every six months or so — but it seems like message that bears repeating.

  • Rachel Happe

    Nice post. One thing that I’ve noticed about both people and organizations is that part of the issue around authenticity is that you have to first understand who you really are – and that is a lot more difficult than it sounds, especially as an organization. There are also a lot of grey areas because we are all figuring out whether new experiences we have are something that aligns with us or not.

    • Tamsen

      Just so, Rachel. It’s a difficult process in and of itself — half the time because people don’t really know, and the other, well, they don’t want to know. ;)

  • http://www.bigbluemoose.net Robert Rose

    Came from my friend Jay’s feed – and was introduced to your blog. Thankful for that. Wonderful wonderful post. There’s certainly a ton of buzz around the word lately.

    To me – there’s a power in that first definition (and the latin origin) of “with authorship” or “coming from the author”… In the end “authentic” is the authority to be fully responsible for what you represent. And, boy that “acceptance” as you put it – is such a key piece of being comfortable with what you’re puttin’ out there.

    Thanks for a great way to end the week…

    • Tamsen

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, Robert! I love the perspective you’ve brought here — the tie between “authentic” and “authorship.” And I agree wholeheartedly that too often there’s simply an unwillingness to be responsible not only for what you represent, but what you are at all. I’ve always found that it’s a heck of a lot easier to just be — and to be okay with that.

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com DJ Waldow

    A bit deep for my little brain, but I love it. You won me over with … “It’s about being true — to yourself.”

    • Tamsen

      DJ, your brain is not little, my friend. But you’ve found the crux of the post: the “authenticity” people are asking for is really just honesty, and that starts from within (“To thine own self be true…).

  • http://www.blog.jessicamalnik.com Jessica Malnik

    Words to think about (and hopefully live by), This line, “It’s about being true — to yourself.” sums it up beautifully.

    • Tamsen

      Thanks so much, Jessica!

  • http://blog.coherentia.com Neicole Crepeau

    Wow! This is great and very helpful to me right now. I love that you say it’s about acceptance. We have to accept different ideas and beliefs, and hopefully be able to talk about them openly, rationally, and respectfully. Thank you!

    • Tamsen

      You’re welcome, Neicole! So often we think the answer lies in action, in doing. But as a very good friend taught me, it’s amazing how often we can find answers just from being still, and appreciating what we have in the moment.

  • http://www.thetrendjunkie.com Greg Cangialosi

    Love it. I am a big believer in marching to the beat of your own drummer…..authentic. Nice.

    • Tamsen

      Thanks, Greg! I think so many of don’t realize that we all march, at heart, to our own drummers. It’s when we start trying to follow others’ beats that we run into trouble.

  • http://Www.theurldr.com Kim Butler

    Right on! I recently told someone , “I am what I am and I’m too old to change.” Stand true to who and what you are and don’t change for anyone. Those that don’t like the real you aren’t worth wasting your time with. And that goes for business and personal contacts.

    • Tamsen

      I love Seth Godin’s metaphor on this: the street performer. Street performers play for those that stop to listen, not those that walk on by. And yet so many of us — people and businesses alike — spend an extraordinary amount of (wasted) effort chasing after those who don’t matter, and so underserve those that do.

  • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com Jason Konopinski

    Thoughtful and provocative as always, T. I enjoy your insights. They’re always wonderfully pithy. I took up this topic in my most recent blog post, so give it a look. :)

    • Tamsen

      I did! Thanks so much for adding the etymology of the word into the discussion — and for being another voice in the “authenticity is a state of being” camp! :)

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  • http://mandyvavrinak.com Mandy Vavrinak

    And the flip side of this is… stop judging business and brands on whether they’re “being authentic” since, as you point out… they ARE what they are. Start judging them based on whether their goals, actions and codes line up with yours, push yours, challenge yours, defy yours… whatever. But if you’re you and they’re them and everyone is authentically that, then let’s judge by how we rub against each other and what happens next rather than how we articulate what we think might happen. Love the post… thanks for pushing my code a little. :)

    • Tamsen

      You’re so welcome, Mandy! And thanks for getting it — one of the first steps towards congruence (to borrow a phrase from Todd Pillars), towards finding and fulfilling an alignment between who we are and who we represent ourselves to be, is being honest about what, exactly, we’re judging when we call on people to be, or be more, authentic. More often than not, we’ve judged their code to be different than ours, and for whatever reason, find it lacking. While we all have a right to our own codes, and our own opinions, once we’ve expressed it, it’s important, I think, to realize that what the other person does with that information from there is completely up to them. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t be expressing the congruence that we were seeking in the first place.

  • http://www.twobananasmarketing.com Marty Thompson

    Hi Tamsen,
    I always like to tell folks that it is all about taking a stand, respectfully. The ad giants use the concept of authenticity as if a faded pair of jeans, a motorcycle, or a bottle of Bourbon are the physical manifestation of this. But the point is not in the thing, but rather the core being of the guy who wears his faded, tattered jeans to the French Laundry, devil may care. So, take a stand on things, have opinions, do stuff, share thoughts. Now that’s authentic.

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  • http://woolyyarn.blogspot.com/ Jay Schwartz

    In art, authentication is often a matter of trying to hard to please others. Last I checked, blogging (writing) was still an art … not a product. Even if I tried to authenticate myself, I’d probably end up only yielding a reasonable facsimile thereof! So I think Dr. Seuss nailed it when he suggested, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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