The War on Inauthenticity

 

two face

Two-Face

Remember me?  I’m Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight.  Once the clean-cut district attorney of Gotham City, a mob boss threw acid on my face a while back, leaving me with the dark mess you see on the right.  Comic book writers and lovers now know me as Two-Face.  In proper supervillan style, I choose to do good or evil based on a coin flip, my two personas doing battle with every choice that comes in front of me.

I’d like to propose that we all have a little Two-Face inside of us.  For our purposes, we can call this supervillan Inauthenticity, and we’re currently at war.  Here’s two stories from the battlefield.

War story #1: Faking it

At work a few days ago, my boss asked me for a bio to put up on the wall. I’m the new guy, and instead of shocking people with my optimistic presence, she thought we could soften the blow by giving them a written “heads up”. I sent her over the bio I’ve used for the past year without a second thought.

Then I read it. All three, grueling, pompous paragraphs. How has this been out in the world for a year? It felt fake, wrong, and dirty.  I was Two-Face.

Yes, the things we’ve done in the past are important – especially in a professional scenario. Our laundry list of accolades is a form of social currency. Like race horses at an auction, we size up strangers by their pedigree. Get a few brand names on there, and you’re credible – we’ll talk to you. Didn’t work with Google or study in the castle of Yale? Even with my nose this high in the air, I can smell your incompetence. Next!

And so, we write fake goofy bios, creating an online persona on facebook and twitter that are figments of our imagination. Hidden behind a computer screen, we feel like we need to project a perfect, pampered up version of our self. Like the Stars from Jersey Shore, we put on the right brand of shirt and enough make-up to kill a small animal to fit into the group. Spray tans anyone? BAKING our BODIES in a warm coffin only became a good idea when the social world demanded it.  I argue that our online personas are the same phenomenon, just for people who are slightly more ambitious.

Can we stop, Please?

We’re all human, and we all have flaws. Let’s all make a pact to say “NO” to the desire to create a fake version of ourselves and stop judging each other by a laundry list of accolades.  Our main motivator for doing this is completely cultural.  We CHOOSE whether or not to follow that suggestion, no matter how normal they seem.

Call me crazy, but authentic is real, and real is better. At least better than whatever the hell else we’re doing that’s fake.

In the war against Inauthenticity, this doesn’t seem to be enough.  Flank them on the left side!

 

War Story #2: What do you do?

This question is a well intentioned virus, a double agent from the other side. Beware.

Personally, I don’t care what you’ve done when I first meet you. Quirky, yes. But that’s me.

I want to know your story as a person, if you have any kids, and if you share my love for goofy jokes. Yes, it’s cool to know that you have ambition to do big things or have worked on something admirable. We’ll connect on that point. But what we’ve done is not what defines us, and it doesn’t stop there.

The root of our desire to marry work to self runs even deeper beneath the soil. The problem is ingrained in our cultural consciousness and language.  The spies of Inauthenticity have planted sleeper cells in the very way in which we speak.

Linguistics

A common greeting here in the US is, “Hey, I’m Jackie. I’m a sales rep at X company / a pre-med student / a cashier at Costco, etc.”

How often does this come up in the first 2 minutes of conversation? It feels like at least 9 times out of 10.  Sneaky sneaky Mr. Inauthenticity.

‘I am’ is the 1st person singular conjugation of “to be”, used in the English language to define things. So, when we say “I am” and a job title leaves our lips, we’re linguistically defining ourselves by our job. It sounds subtle, but our cultural lens here in the US is honed in on work like homing missile.  Work is who we are, it’s an easy way to measure social worth.

But we are not a title. What we believe is what defines us, and a job simply acts as an avenue for us to share that with the world. Beware.

Two college students walk into a bar.

Jim‘s parents wanted him to go to university because that’s what all successful people from his middle class neighborhood do. Jim doesn’t really know what he cares about yet, so he happily obliges, binge drinking his nights away. We all know Jim.

Sara studies until the wee hours of the morn’, so curious about finding out humans developed the ability to fly around in big metal tubes that she’s developed a healthy addition to coffee. Sara has a deep rooted love for learning – she’s the first girl to go to college from her family.  All Sara wants is to make everyone back home proud. We all know Sara.

When we meet Jim and Sara, they’ll both say,

Hi! I’m a mechanical engineer.

Uh oh.

Marrying who we are and our self worth to a title is a myth. It’s subtle, but this type of thinking leads down a path to solo whisky drinking at 40. Yet, the question is so deeply ingrained into our cultural conscience that it’s hard to escape. It’s part of how we speak, and it’s just not true.  It doesn’t do us justice.

Next time someone asks what we do, or we have a bio to write we could say:

Hi, I’m Sarah. I really love helping people, so I’m a Nurse.

Hi, I’m Enrique. Storytelling is so powerful, I do advertising to help get worthy messages out to the world.

Hi, I’m Tom. I work at x shit job, but I love surfing and raising my kids. They’re everything to me.

or

Hi, I’m Kevin. Entrepreneurship is my thing. I just love creating things that can make people’s lives better.

We are not what we do. We are what we believe.

What we do is a reflection of those beliefs.

Fight Inauthenticity like the plague it is.

That’s my rant of the day, influenced by my own cultural lens, unique experiences, and beliefs. What I’m really curious is,

What do YOU think?

 

Written with love (by my thumbs on a cellular device, waiting for my plane to takeoff in San Francisco),
Kevin

 

PS. Launch a few mortars at Inauthenticity.  Join our tribe on the left for a weekly dose of awesome in your inbox!

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2 thoughts on “The War on Inauthenticity

  1. So true and very hard to escape. However, in developing countries the “What do you do?” never comes up because almost everyone does the same thing. Therefore, your work situation (or lack thereof) becomes irrelevant and people can focus on family and personality rather than job title.

    In Mexico people always ask “Why are you here?,” which leaves it open. I need to start working on telling something else, because I frequently default into explaining my job.

    • SO INTERESTING! Our cultural lens is like American brainwashing – for good and bad. I’m going to look out for this in Mexico next week.

      You’re inspiring me to document the token greeting question while traveling to see what this means for different cultures.

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