Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Way You Are

I blather about this topic enough: authenticity. I think that too many of us are frightened of expressing our actual interests and beliefs from fear of social ostracization, no matter how innocent those quirks may be. 

Adam Grant points out, however, that authenticity needs a better translation ("'Be Yourself' is Terrible Advice"). After all, we all harbor ugliness inside. 
If I can be authentic for a moment: 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.
A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic. He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s 5-year-old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring. You can imagine how his experiment worked out.
“Deceit makes our world go round,” he concluded. “Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse.”
Obviously, being "authentic" does not mean being "sadistically honest." It shouldn't ever be translated that way.  
Nor should it mean "I'm wonderful the way I am." We all require some self-improvement, areas that can use some renovation to become better people. We aren't on Earth to remain static. 
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.
If I allowed myself to remain stuck in terms of what foods I don't like, I would have been really missing out. (I still avoid peanut butter and coconut, though.) 
As an introvert, I started my career terrified of public speaking so my authentic self wouldn’t have been giving a TED talk in the first place. But being passionate about sharing knowledge, I spent the next decade learning to do what Dr. Little, the psychologist, calls acting out of character. I decided to be the person I claimed to be, one who is comfortable in the spotlight.
It worked. 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.

1 comment:

Mr. Cohen said...

Rabbi Avigdor Miller (OBM, ZYA) taught something very similar to this:

“Don’t be natural.
Put on an act and pretend to be better than your really are.
Fool people into believing that you are better than you really are.”

Rabbi Avigdor Miller was NOT advocating deception, G_d forbid!

Rather, he understood that if we always pretend to be better than we really are, then we eventually become better people, because the act eventually becomes our new habit and part of our new personality.