We are firmly planted in an era where authenticity reigns supreme, where everyone tells you to “be yourself” in everything from how you live to how you work to how you communicate, by showing what is inside to the outside world, many believe you can live your authentic self. But authenticity actually sucks.
Most people aspire to live authentic lives, marry authentic partners, work for an authentic boss, even buy authentic brands. And every mentor or inspirational speaker always gives you the bullshit to be true to yourself or be yourself. But for most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.
Nobody wants to see your true self. We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken. We don't want authenticity. We want inspiration. We want education and most of all we want affirmation.
Take our online universe where we increasingly spend an inordinate amount of time defining who we are, likes and shares is the dominant communication mode. Search still matters somewhat, and is not going away anytime soon, but discovery is the new engine and that reference from a friend, a colleague, even the slightest of digital connections, can send us down roads we might have never discovered otherwise and broadens who we are and what we care about. Generating shares and likes is like finding the keys to the engine.
People are no longer influenced by just celebrities, experts or influencers but by individuals that are more sincere and personally relatable.
If not our authentic selves, what should we be striving to reach? Decades ago, the literary critic Lionel Trilling gave us an answer that sounds very old-fashioned to our authentic ears: sincerity. Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.
Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in.
The shift from authenticity to sincerity might be especially important for millennials. Most generational differences are vastly exaggerated — they’re driven primarily by age and maturity, not birth cohort. But one robust finding is that younger generations tend to be less concerned about social approval. Authentic self-expression works beautifully, until employers start to look at social media profiles.
Next time people say, “just be yourself,” stop them in their tracks. No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.