Suppose someone took everything you have ever said online and published it onto a full page ad in the New York Times. Every page of your website. And every Tweet you ever Tweeted. Every post you ever posted. And every comment you ever commented.
Would you spend the next 24 hours scouring the neighborhood buying up as many copies as you could find so you could someday show your children and your children’s children what an extraordinary human being you were? Or would you burn every copy you could find in a panic?
If you’re anything like most of us roaming the Internet, my guess is that you already have the match ready.
It’s not that you’ve done anything horribly wrong. Or that you are trying to swindle people. You just got a little carried away. What started out as an attempt to impress a few friends from high school has become your new digital existence.
It’s your real life. Only 10% better
The problem begins once the lines between what we want people to think and what we know to be true start to blur.
Introducing My Old Bald Friend
A few years ago I went to a conference in New York City where literally thousands of nerds and nerdesses from all over the world gathered.
Although it was a great opportunity to learn a whole bunch of interesting stuff from some of the brightest minds on the Internet, the highlight of the conference for me was actually getting to meet some of my digital friends in person. Friends that up until that point only existed online.
On the second day, I was enthusiastically approached by a middle aged gentleman calling out my name. One big hug and an “it’s so nice to finally meet in person” later and I still had no clue who he was.
Eventually I had to break down and ask his name. He was shocked. Literally. I mean, the guy looked at me like I had completely lost my mind.
Once he told me his name, I knew exactly who it was. A good friend of mine that I had known from Twitter for the better part of a year.
No wonder why he was shocked when I asked his name. We had probably shared a hundred discussions back and forth. And yet I had no idea who he was. How embarrassing.
It’s not that I didn’t care enough to remember him. Or that our conversations meant nothing. The problem was that the picture he used in his profile was a completely different person than the guy I was standing in front of. Either he aged twenty years, gained thirty pounds, lost most of his hair and dyed what was left on the flight to the conference or he was using a really old picture. My guess is the latter of the two.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It was Twitter. Not Match.com. I wasn’t looking to date the guy so I really didn’t care what he looked like. However, I can’t help but wonder where else he is being less than honest.
And That’s the Problem
You see, once someone gets a whiff that you may not be who you say you are online, it adds an asterisk next to everything you say and do moving forward. And that asterisk is damn hard to remove.
Case in point. Although we’re still friends, whenever he posts something or we have a chance to chat it up online, a little piece of me wonders who I am talking to. My balding, slightly overweight middle aged friend? Or that fetus he is currently using as his profile picture?
The dictionary defines the word authentic as real or genuine. Resident smartypants’ Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis define it as the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise.
I think of it this way. If I were to cut you open, your authentic self is what you would bleed.
(Note: Do not try this)
If you are dishonest, you would bleed liar. If you are quick to help others, you would bleed do-gooder. And if you are running around sleeping with a lot of different women, you would bleed womanizer. As well as a bunch of sexually transmitted diseases and other gross stuff.
Now, I’m not saying that any of these things necessarily make you a bad person. And I’m certainly not judging you. That’s just what’s running through your veins. It’s who you are at your core.
And how you do one thing is how you do everything.
If you are dishonest in one area of life, chances are it shows up in other areas of your life. That’s just how it is.
And although your intentions may very well be good, the truth is that you are not being authentic and in the end that is what is hurting you most online. Because once we realize that you aren’t quite the same person we thought you were, we can never look at you the same again.
Authenticity Versus Insecurity
The truth is that most of the stuff you are inauthentic about online is quite frankly stuff that the rest of us really don’t care about. I would never think less of a friend of mine because he was balding. Or because he had gray hair. Or because he was a few pounds overweight.
So, what if you just stopped trying to fool us?
What if you owned your shortcomings? Embraced them? Announced to the world that you weren’t perfect? That you were merely human? And that as a human being there is a whole bunch of stuff that you really sucked at?
I suck at calling people back. In fact, I suck at using the phone altogether. If I had 3 wishes, I would spend one of them on bringing beepers back. And while we’re on the subject, if you are too young to know what a beeper is, I also embrace the fact I am old.
When someone is being authentic, they are able to embrace being wrong. They are able to comfortably seek help with something they are not good at. They are able to wipe off the makeup and show off who they really are without the help of Photoshop. And guess what the rest of us are thinking?
How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything
If you are willing to bear your soul and show us who you really are with the stuff that stings a little bit, that must mean you are also showing us who you really are with that other stuff as well. The stuff you wrote. Or the thing you are selling.
And suddenly we believe you. We love you. We connect with you.
Not because you are perfect. Or imperfect. Not because you are good at this. Or good at that. Not because you know what to say. Or what not to say.
But because we know who you are. Your true authentic self. We can cut you open and we know what we’ll find.
And that is something the digital world can use a lot more of.