If you know me at all, you know I don’t do surface-level chit chat well. I prefer to go deep, to connect with other people based on stuff that really matters. I want to know you and be known by you in such a way that we value and appreciate one another for who we really are. I want authentic relationships.
I am grateful to have these types of relationships within my community and my family. While I’m currently self-employed, I can say I do have authenticity within my work circles as well. There is, however, one area of my life in which authenticity seems ever elusive… and that is online, particularly within much of social media.
Even though I’ve used social media for the better part of two decades, the past two years have changed how I think about my online relationships. Blame it on increased screen time due to COVID, lockdowns, career disruption, the world being on fire, or whatever, but I want more from my online connections—I want authenticity.
I’ve been wrestling with a book idea about SLATHY for a few years and want to make it happen. So, I joined a writer’s cohort and then started shopping around my book proposal. Ultimately I found most publishers aren’t interested unless you’re already famous enough to sell the book for them. You need an awful lot of followers on social media to get their attention, unless you know someone who has that level of platform who agrees to promote you.
I don’t fit that profile. And, in all honesty, I’m not sure I really want to. After all, isn’t having a ridiculous number of “followers” the antithesis to having relationships where we can go deep? And aren’t famous influencer accounts filled with bot-followers anyway?
But as much as I was turned off by the idea of “building a platform,” I still wanted to publish my book. Finally acquiescing, I decided to try building such a following. Instead of opening up my private account, though, where I already had several hundred connections, I created some new accounts and posted to them. My strategy, essentially, was to post faith-based content to a faith-interested audience and strengths-based content to a strengths-interested audience, while keeping my personal life private. Spoiler alert: that plan was no bueno.
I kept this up for several months, posting almost daily on the accounts. While I always enjoy content creation, I struggled with maintaining momentum and found the whole concept weighed on me heavily.
I wondered, “Why does this make me feel so… well, SLATHY?” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the chance to use my word in a sentence. Feel free to pop over to slathy.com for a brief definition.)
So I spent the past month learning, reflecting, and considering my options. What I realized caught me off guard.
Fear ≠ Authenticity
The A in SLATHY actually stands for “afraid,” which is the opposite of trust—something I believe is essential to our wellbeing. I’ve come to realize my whole strategy was built on a foundation of fear.
Authenticity is really about relationships built on trust, where I can be me and you can be you—whole and together. And fear has no business being in the middle of that.
The more I explored why my attempts to grow any sort of real community in those new segmented areas were not gaining any traction, the more I came to see the fault in my logic. Essentially, it came down to three key points.
You gotta be real
First, according to a variety of recent studies (such as this one), we love it when the people or businesses we follow provide insight into their personal lives alongside unbiased reviews, recommendations, and resources. Interesting… so we prefer to associate with people who show themselves for who they really are. Of course.
You gotta be seen
Second, social media posts containing the account owner’s face typically perform significantly better than those that do not. I had intentionally avoided images of me because it felt so self-serving… and a little weird, if I’m honest. But, it turns out we are much more likely to trust online accounts when we can see, hear from, and get to know the person for who they really are. Again, this makes a ton of sense in hindsight.
You gotta be whole
Third, there’s been a ton written over the past decade about authenticity. In Mike Robbins’ book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work, he argues that showing our true selves at work can actually result in us being more satisfied, effective, and free. But, he concedes, “we may fear that there will be repercussions from employers or coworkers if we don’t fall into line or appear infallible.”
While Robbins published his book in 2018, the topic of authenticity at work seems to be even more prevalent now. As the lines between work and home have blurred with the pandemic, so have our desires to be true to ourselves anywhere and everywhere, offline and on.
But just as we’re craving authenticity more, it feels like the stakes are even higher. When a conversation meanders into the realm of vaccines, masks, presidential candidates, immigration, race, or a slew of other hot button topics, we’re liable to offend or even anger a lot of folks. I know someone who even lost her job because her hot take—expressed outside of the workplace—differed from those of management. Maybe this is why so many people tend to be fearful when leadership starts talking about “bringing your whole self to work.”
And, this was a driving factor behind my decision to create new accounts instead of just posting about all of my passion projects on my personal profile. I wondered… What if a client sees this post? What if a certain friend doesn’t like that post? At a time when people can be “canceled” even for associating with a certain idea or person, did I really want to risk my livelihood being that vulnerable online? Nope.
I can see now that I let my fear drive my decisions, which negatively impacted my overall wellbeing.
As Mike Robbins says, “it takes courage to be authentic, and it’s essential for trust, growth, and connection.”
So, I’m committed to changing course. I’m consolidating my accounts, to post primarily under my own name. I am “bringing my whole self to my work,” in the hopes it increases trust and growth among those who choose to connect with me. Being authentic requires vulnerability, so I am surrendering my fears in favor of being true to who I was created to be.
Regardless of whether I “grow my platform”—which I no longer desire to do—I know I will feel much better about it all. And, that is how I can remain authentic to myself.