What Does Being Authentic Really Mean?
Authenticity - it seems to be an elusive quality that, when combined with the website you’ve built, is rumoured to bring all the visitors to your yard. There’s a lot of chat online about being authentic, and how important it is that you stick to authenticity or risk losing your fan base once they discover you’re nothing like the person you’ve been pretending to be. But there seems to be less chat online about how you start being authentic in the first place.
As I’ve been figuring out my business and how I want to present myself, the question of authenticity and what that actually means smacked me over the head like a tree falling, alone, in the middle of a forest.
If no one online knows the real you, are you really being inauthentic?
Perhaps more importantly; does it even matter?
Let’s start at the beginning
What does being authentic really mean? Well, the actual, literal definition of authentic is something genuine, something made or done in a traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original. It can also mean reliable, dependable, honest and trustworthy. For entrepreneurs, who're unlikely to ever physically meet most of our customers, it’s easy to see why authenticity is such a huge deal when it comes to being able to sell.
Spoiler alert: even if you don’t have products or services you’re still selling. It may just be an ideal, a lifestyle, your perspective or experience, a fashionable look (or an unfashionable one), but make no mistake - you’re selling.
How well you sell those ideas, products or services does, I’m afraid, come down to how authentic you seem to the person you’re selling to. Can they relate to you? Do they have an emotional connection to you and, through you, to the things you’re selling?
Without that connection there's no trust.
So perhaps the question should be, can you create that connection while being inauthentic? And how do you know if you’re being authentic or not?
An example in authenticity
Let’s take me as an example. It’s taken me a long time to become clear on who I am and where my lines in the sand are. Hitting my thirties helped with that a lot, leaving them even more so. So let me explain my way of being authentic as an example to help explain how I view authenticity, plus you’ll get some (hopefully) interesting asides about the person behind this business. Win win, right?
Well it may surprise you to learn I’m actually really really shy. Like, awkwardly, painfully so. I absolutely hate being the centre of attention, I stick to the edges of rooms in a crowd, and I’m more likely to be found geeking out over the latest Marvel film (or my favourite novels) than living it up as the life and soul of the party. In fact, I’m more likely to be at home reading than at the party at all. Deciding to pursue this particular topic of business took around 6 months of soul searching before I decided to go for it because, not only am I shy, but I hated being on camera too.
Am I being inauthentic by creating this business because of that?
Or have I simply worked hard to gain confidence, based on my previous years of experience in television production, because my passion for helping creative entrepreneurs build a tribe based on real connections and - yes - authenticity is greater than my fear of looking like a numpty?
(It’s the latter one there, hopefully you’ll agree too)
I’m being authentic to myself, my goals, and my passion. The fear never really goes away, but I’m walking my talk.
That’s where my authenticity starts.
Where does authenticity end?
There’s a huge difference between showing up and being yourself, and over-sharing. I recommend the first, strongly advise against the last. No one is 100% themselves in every situation, you’re always going to reflect back at the person you’re interacting with how you perceive them. So anyone you see as an authority figure will get your respect, anyone you dislike will get your disdain. You keep your mouth shut in some situations where you wouldn’t in others. Does that make your reaction any less authentic?
Being authentic is about being true to yourself, in that moment and in that place, and with that audience.
That doesn’t mean you have to be everything, all the time. In fact, with the way we currently live our lives, online for everyone to see, keeping some parts of ourselves private can be the calm in a loud, over-sharing storm. When you find yourself pretending or lying about who you are, that’s when you’re heading into inauthentic territory, and is usually a good indication that you need to take a step back and evaluate.
Figuring out what’s authentic to you
Start with what's important.
For me, it’s about refusing to conform to an image of something I’m not. I’m not a polished, traditionally feminine woman who loves make-up and hair products, and I won’t lie about that by cloning myself into the fashionable and expected. I didn’t want to be the type of video producer that I personally found un-relatable, that’s my line in the sand. And it’s important to me that other women learn to become comfortable enough in how they look, and confident in the importance of their message, that they too can go on camera without a day at the hairdresser's and a tonne of make-up on should that be more authentic to who they are. Obviously, if you're the kind of person to wear a full face of make-up every single day, you should do that instead.
The way I see it, to be authentic you need to figure out what’s important to you about how you communicate and present yourself to the world. Then stick to it. It’ll be uncomfortable for a while, because you’re making a stand on something that makes you feel vulnerable. I promise, it’s worth it. Choose to embrace the things that make you different, that help you stand out from the crowd, and that you enjoy. I love to talk with my hands, but that’s generally not encouraged when you’re in front of the camera. I like the way it makes me feel when I get excited and a little flaily so I do it anyway.
Save your sanity, set some boundaries
Once you know what it’s important to you to share, then take the time to figure out what’s so important to you that you want to keep it private. Maybe it’s your kids. Maybe it’s your love life. Choose an area of your life, large or small, and put up a fence so it’s just for you. Make a conscious decision to keep that yours, only accessible to a close friend or family member. Having an area of your life that’s totally offline and private can help ground you, and provide a safe place for you to retreat to whenever you need it.
Find the heart of your story
Why do you do what you do? If you know the answer to that then you know the heart of your story. Staying true to that heart will help keep you authentic. The great thing about video is that it forges emotional connections between the viewer and the producer, so get emotional about what you do and share that in a way that’s true to yourself and your brand.
That Oscar Wilde, he knew what he was talking about. And trying to be someone else is just exhausting. Learn to become comfortable with your own idiosyncrasies, embrace them even. I tend to hum to myself when I’m nervous. I dance like my Dad when I’m feeling silly, and I have a ridiculously outdated vocabulary (sorry).
Trying to create an online business is difficult enough without also trying to present a different face to your community. It can be easy to write blog posts in a voice that's not your own, video is much much harder. If you're planning to use video to help build super engaged communities, then finding your voice should be top of your list.
When a tree falls in a forest, even if no one’s around to hear it, you know it fell because it leaves a bloody great mess on the floor. Being inauthentic online, even when no one really knows you, makes a bloody great mess out of you.
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To sum up: being authentic - to me - is about using my voice to help others. My voice. Not a facsimile of anyone else’s. It’s about all the bad hair days, because I don’t have the patience to sit there and faff about with the volume of hair that I have. It’s about being shy and doing it anyway, introversion be damned. If you meet me in person, if you watch one of my videos, or if you read one of my blog posts, it should be clear that I’m the same person, frizzy hair and all.
I've put together a pdf download of the questions I tend to ask myself when I approach a subject I want to talk about. Seven questions that should help you get an idea of why you want to talk about the topic you've chosen, and how best to go about it. If you'd like a copy, put your details into the opt-in box above.
What does authenticity mean to you? Where are your lines in the sand?
Let me know in the comments what’s important to you, what personality traits you love about yourself, and how you show up and be authentic in your online space. I'd love to hear your perspective!