Suppose someone took everything you have ever said online and published it onto a full-page ad in the New York Times. Every Tweet you ever Tweeted. Every post you ever posted. And every comment you ever commented.
All of it.
Would you spend the next twenty-four hours buying up every copy you could find so you could show your children and your children’s children what you were made of? Or would you burn down every newspaper stand within a two thousand mile radius?
If you’re anything like the rest of us, my guess is that your head is already buried in the junk drawer looking for the matches.
It’s not that any of us have done anything horribly wrong. We just got a little carried away. What started out as an attempt to impress a few friends from high school has unknowingly turned into this new digital existence that we’re constantly trying to maintain.
It’s like real life. Only 18% better
The problem begins once the lines between what we want people to think and what we know to be true start to blur.
Have You Met Bob? Me Neither.
I recently went to a conference where literally thousands of nerds and nerdesses from all over the world gathered to talk shop.
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 of the conference, 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 you in person” later and I still had no clue who he was.
After an awkward glance towards his belly where his name tag rested, I realized who it was I was talking to. It was a good friend of mine that I had known online for at least a year or two.
(By the way, his name isn’t Bob.)
It’s not that I didn’t care enough to remember him. Or that our conversations meant nothing to me. 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 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’s being inauthentic when he’s positioning himself in a way that is not terribly accurate.
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 pretty tough 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?
How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything
The dictionary defines the word authentic as being 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.
(You would probably also bleed several sexually transmitted diseases. Speaking of which, you should probably get that checked out.)
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 you are dishonest in other areas of your life. That’s just how this whole thing works. You don’t see too many people volunteering at the local homeless shelter while robbing banks on the weekends.
And while your intentions may be good, there is a problem when the gap between who you are in real life and who you are online gets too wide.
You don’t necessarily have to close the gap and share every piece of dirty laundry you have, but what can you do to shorten the gap?
Here’s One Way to Shorten the Gap
Being that most of us are inherently good people, the fact is that the stuff we’re inauthentic about is stuff the rest of the world either doesn’t care about or is actually struggling with as well.
So, what if we just stopped trying to fool everyone and put ourselves out there for the world to see?
Be more human. Own your shortcomings. Embrace being imperfect. What’s the worst that could happen?
A few weeks ago, I presented in front of my mastermind group. Minutes before going on, a friend of mine in the group came up to me and said “What happened to you? It looks like you gained ten pounds since the last meeting!”
(Insert jab here)
As I turned around pretty devastated by the comment, I literally bumped into another one of my friends in the group who said “You OK? You don’t look like your peppy self today!”
(Insert left hook here)
Minutes later I did my presentation and was unable to shake the fact that I was showing up to the room ten pounds overweight and looking off. Both of which were true by the way.
The next morning I had breakfast with another member of the group who is a well-known author who sold nearly five million books. Before he could finish sitting down, he opened with “I just want you to know how disappointed I was in your presentation yesterday.” And then continued to rattle off one reason after another while I cried into my eggs.
(Insert one final uppercut and I’m down for the count.)
It’s a closed-door meeting. What happens in that room stays in that room. I could have left it all there and focused my attention on redeeming myself next quarter.
But I decided to authentically share the experience on Facebook instead.
This real and painful view of my life resulted in a flood of likes, comments, and private messages. Friends and colleagues I have not spoken to in years reached out to show their love and support. People I do not know outside of social media offered their help. And a few friends with similar stories committed to doing something about it alongside me.
Here’s the Point of This Whole Thing
People are attracted to those willing to wipe off the makeup and show us who they really are. Do you know why?
Because 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 hurts, that must mean you are also showing us who you really are with the stuff that is worth celebrating.
And suddenly we believe you. We connect with you. We love 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. There are no ugly surprises. 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.