Authenticity -- a word that is becoming more and more important to business people. And a word that is constantly being thrown around by anyone with a blog, podcast or voice to share. Including me.
The premise of entrepreneurial authenticity is being yourself, telling your story and allowing yourself to truly be you while serving an audience that is drawn to what makes you uniquely you. When you put it like that, it sounds easy. Being yourself is the easiest thing you can do, right? And surely it's ok to show that in business. Sadly that's not always true.
We're all conditioned, from an early age, to be "professional." We're taught that personal lives and business lives have to be separate, and that we have to maintain an air of professionalism in everything that we do.
But there's a difference between genuine professionalism and actually being professional, just like there's a difference between being authentic and what we perceive that other people believe is our authenticity.
Professionalism, as we're taught, causes us to remain subdued. It causes us to force ourselves into a box that keeps us within set parameters and holds us back from exploration. It holds us back from really voicing our opinions to the people who matter to us in business.
The professionalism that we're taught by society, by schools and by establishments is actually no more than a set of old rules that are designed to keep hierarchy stable and add a layer of control to a workforce.
The issue today, though, is that generations are becoming less and less accepting of this and as such, people like you and I are finding this traditional version of professionalism to be constraining. That thought process can lead us to wonder what's wrong with us.
There's nothing wrong with us. Nothing at all because actually, professionalism is simple -- be fair, be honest, be open and be value-led. Oh, and be respectful.
What about authenticity?
I often wonder, is authenticity simply becoming another buzz word that runs the risk of falling into the professionalism trap? Or is it losing its actual meaning and being replaced with something that we're taught to do in a way that everyone else either does or expects us to do?
Guys like Brad Burton, Chris Ducker, Gary Vee and Brian Fanzo do a great job of educating their audiences on exactly what authenticity looks like and how to allow it to manifest itself in business and in life. The challenge is that I see so many people actually try to behave like these guys as opposed to taking their teachings and applying it to their own circumstance. Just because you swear, say "hustle" or "grind" and wear jeans does not mean that you're being authentic.
Rather, it's up to you to define your story and craft that into a narrative that embodies your personality, your values and then gets wrapped around your business to become your brand and the cornerstone of your entire marketing strategy. It's about merging your "why" with your journey, your aspirations, your goals and objectives and taking honest, open and transparent steps towards providing things that actually matter to your audience by using the unique mix of life experience that only you have. Being like someone else is simply not going to cut it.
Being authentic isn't about applying behaviors that you see elsewhere to what you do. It's about realizing what behaviors and tone of voice come most naturally to you and fusing that with the delivery of quality to your audience.
The problem? It's not that easy.
Being authentic is like being professional. Unless we're doing what is expected of us, then it can be hard to find the confidence to be truly unique. Coming out as yourself can be scary. What if people don't like it? What if people stop following me? Who cares!
The real truth is that you don't get along with everyone, you won't align with everyone and yes, some people simply won't like you. But some people don't like The Godfather either. Hard to believe, but it's true. To me, it's one the greatest films ever made, and I watch it over and over.
The point is that by actually being authentic, you will build your own tribe and those that don't like you simply won't matter -- and they sure as hell won't change the opinion of those who love you. The tribe that you build will be in it for the long haul, as long as you stay authentic.
Sanity check, please.
You're you. You are, and that is a wonderful thing. Don't post a curated version of yourself on social media. Don't try to be authentic and end up doing so in someone else's personality just because you think that is what your business or your brand needs.
Just like being professional is simply exercising common sense, being authentic is simply harnessing your personality and learning how to communicate in a way that comes naturally to you. Check in with yourself every now and then to make sure that you're actually being authentic and that you're not simply being what you perceive people want you to be, or simply copying traits of those you follow.
The biggest sign that you're being genuinely authentic? It feels easy. Do you have to work at it? Of course, you do, but being authentic should be your default, and the only thing that you should have to work on is remaining confident that truly being you will reap long-term, higher quality results than being any other version of yourself.