What It Means to Be Authentic

Authenticity.

If it sounds like a Silicon Valley buzzword that has been killed due to overuse, you’re correct. But if you’re Brene Brown and you’ve made a career out of authenticity (and vulnerability), you’d be upset if your calling card had become a national punchline.

Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton, who wrote a piece for the New York Times called “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.” Catchy. Viral. He divides the world into “high self-monitors” and “low self-monitors.” High self monitors are more careful about what they say – and possibly more inauthentic – but they may not get as far in life. Low self monitors say whatever they think – and often pay the price for it (Donald Trump is one glaring exception to this). Grant’s conclusion: being yourself is overrated because really, no one wants to hear everything going on in your head.

Grant is correct – except he misinterpreted Brene Brown’s definition of authenticity. I’m glad she took the time to issue a corrective.

The definition of authenticity that I use in my work (The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly) is long and nuanced. Grant pulled nine words out of context. Why? Because using the central part of my definition of authenticity would have bankrupted his entire argument that authenticity is the mindless spewing of whatever you’re thinking regardless of how your words affect other people. 

In my research I found that the core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries.”

Amen.

As a dating coach who specializes in helping women gain confidence, self-expression and the ability to make healthier choices with men, I agree with her wholeheartedly.

We all know that there’s a big difference between being authentic and being Donald Trump and saying everything that’s on your mind. Says Brown:

“Male authenticity is associated with being hurtful, arrogant, manipulative, overbearing, and, in plain speak, an asshole. I know and work with many courageous, vulnerable, and authentic male leaders and I’d use the word inspiring to describe them. 

Additionally, Grant has sketched out a highly gendered caricature of authentic women with selective links to articles about female leaders crying and not owning their power. I also know and work with many courageous, vulnerable, authentic female leaders and I’d use the same word to describe them – inspiring.”

That’s the feeling I’m going for on this blog – and I encourage you to find in your relationships. Real. Vulnerable. Flawed. Human. Courageous in putting yourself out there. Strong enough to handle dissent. Humble enough to see another’s point of view and concede its validity, even if you don’t agree. I do hope that comes through, even when I’m being a little too “authentic” for some people’s taste. 🙂

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    ScottH

    “….authenticity is the mindless spewing of whatever you’re thinking regardless of how your words affect other people”     I’ve never seen the movie but this sounds like Liar Liar to me. It also reminds me of something that you said in your email on Monday about your crazy exes succumbing to their lowest impulses when they did those nasty things to you.  I believe that an authentic person has a personality that is integrated in a healthy way, or has a really good ego strength (where the ego manages the impulses and drive of the id and balances it with regulation from the superego to fulfill the needs of the individual- I believe Peck calls it delayed gratification, or something like that).

    “…the core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries.”   I’m uncomfortable disagreeing with Brown but I think authenticity is more refusing to apologize for being imperfect while at the same time trying to be more excellent.  Having courage sounds to me like defending imperfection and being comfortable with it.  I don’t think that’s right.  I certainly agree with setting healthy boundaries and exposing yourself to your partner.  What’s intimacy without exposure?

    But not to suck up to you, Evan, I think your last paragraph really sums it all up quite well and succinctly.  People- don’t be so defensive and anxious.  Know your neuroses and forgive yourself for not being perfect.  Just don’t be a jerk.   (ok, gotta get up and refill the wine.)

  2. 2
    MilkyMae

    I think a big indicator of authenticty is if someone is willing to admit they are single and looking.  I know many people(including myself) who are single and don’t want to be single but they don’t want the world to know.  This admission makes people feal vunlerable or left behind.  Some people think the admission will attract crappy suitors or result in a bad relationship.  It’s funny how when I was my younger, less confident self, I could admit I wanted a boyfriend.  Nowadays, I don’t want to be the woman who wants.  If you want too much,  you are not in control and therefore vulnerable.

  3. 3
    Caroline

    Brene Brown’s Ted talks are fabulous if anyone hasn’t indulged yet. Much recommended 😊

  4. 4
    M

    “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” 

  5. 5
    BTUQueen

    Wise words for all relationships, not just dating…

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