“Fake it ’till you make it?” Not anymore.

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This isn’t a business post.  This is about who you are and who you want to be.  This is about getting closer to the ‘you’ that, over time, becomes shellacked with years of “professionalism” and “real world” experience.  This is about the distance between who you’ve become and who you know you are deep down inside.  This is about authenticity.

Forgive the poor image–taken from Joe Pine’s truly outstanding book: Authenticity.  It’s called the “Real-Fake” matrix and is Pine’s method of categorizing four distinct types/traits of a person’s authenticity (the same matrix can be applied to a business or service as well).  And it matters–especially because we live in a world in which authenticity is a manipulated medium.

Anything can be manipulated to appear authentic or real.  Dos Equis beer commercials (“Stay thirsty my friends”) include “authentic” film footage of The Most Interesting Man doing everything from playing chess to rapping with Buddhist monks.  Grainy, hand-held, Super 8 stuff that renders the feel of a by-gone era and looks authentic.  Nike manipulates an image of a small boy leaping off the high dive for the first time, or a basketball player’s lonely evening on the court, or a runner’s zen-like journey across the Brooklyn Bridge–and we’re pulled in to their stories.  Sizzler manipulates it’s image and wedges itself in to the food truck community.  Pauly D (yes THAT Pauly D) manipulates his image and becomes a DJ superstar.  We’ve never had more or better resources for manipulating the ways that the world perceives who we are, what we do, how we live, what we dream, and what we sell.  We live vicariously through these manipulations, fabricating a post-modern construct in which the manipulated reality becomes preferred because it is manipulated to align itself with the one thing the viewer craves: An authentic experience.  

These manipulations work because they make us both envious and aware of people living lives we’d like to be living as well as the shameful fact that we’re not.

Defining “Authenticity” is harder than it sounds, hence the inclusion of Pine’s diagram.  The literal definition has something to do with credibility and “unquestionable evidence.”  On an emotional level our gut tells us when something’s authentic–there’s a deep trust and confidence in the authentic person.  Holden Caulfield defined it in reverse, simply noting that the world is full of “phonies.”  Pine takes a more appropriately clinical and developmental approach:

Upper Left Corner: Real-Fake.  This is the person who talks a good game and delivers on his promises–and is probably very good at whatever he does. But, when the dust settles, the promises aren’t kept.  Commitments aren’t met.  Integrity suffers.  It’s false fire. It’s empty because the authenticity core is missing.  There’s no soul.

Lower Left Corner: Fake-Fake.  The worst of the worst.  Total deception.  This is the person who lies to you and also lies to himself or herself.  There’s no commitment.  There’s no passion.  There’s nothing but a series of fake shells overlaying each other with a ghosty core at the center.

Lower Right Corner: Fake-Real.  I find this to be the most challenging sector of the grid.  We’ve all done things that we may have felt weren’t exactly “in line” with our authentic aspirations.  We’ve all worked jobs just to pay the bills when our heart has told us, and we knew on a gut level, that we were born to follow a different passion and path.  Many of us do this right now.  And that alone is not a bad thing.  I’m not coming down on anyone that punches the clock, feeds a family, and takes care of their future despite the fact that they’d rather be a surfer or painter.  But the question is “Can you get closer to being true to yourself?”  Fake-Real simply means that what the world sees is not who you really are.  It’s a false front that rooted in a very true core.  Reconciliation leads to the final and best alignment.

Upper Right Corner: Real-Real.  You are who you are.  The Real McCoy.  You’re comfortable in your own skin.  There’s no division between what the world sees and what’s inside your heart.  Artifice and manipulation are out the window and have been replaced with true authenticity.  Suddenly you’re the hero in your own story and the world knows it.  And trusts it.

People throw the word “authentic” around these days to the point that the word itself is in danger of become an artifice.  And time goes by very quickly.  Being true to yourself and what you do is trickier than it sounds given the normal demands that life puts on all of us.  Yet not asking hard questions about the authenticity of who we are, what we do, and how we live leaves us vulnerable to the suggestion that a manipulated reality, manufactured dreams, and artificial lives are somehow more attractive than the gifts we’ve been given.  

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