Authenticity is a hot topic in this day and age. It poses the question that lingers over our heads: Are we being true to ourselves? This proves more difficult to answer than it may seem.
How can one surely be authentic? It’s not like there’s a meter that can scan some intangible essence and return to us, an accurate authenticity score.
In this case, how can we even begin to define authenticity? It's about time we figure this out for ourselves.
The Challenge of Authenticity in the Digital Age
With the cyclical nature of digital media today, is there such a thing as authenticity anymore? I know many brands are struggling with this question, because studies show that people respond well to genuine and relatable content. However, it’s significantly harder to meet this demand, especially when there are a number of other businesses at any given moment, that share the same ideals and aesthetic as your own. Still, why is it so hard, on both levels, to find your own path?
I suppose I can speak to some extent from both ends. As an individual, I’ve found it’s important to reflect on your existence beyond the digital world. Who are you when you are away from your phone, social media, and other technologically-fueled distractions? What are your hobbies beyond the black mirrors in your life? This can help you get a glimpse of the person who lives on the other side of the screen. The person who exists apart from the social influences that fill your digital world.
You Can't Avoid Technology Forever
Avoiding technology is almost impossible if you want to make a living wage. Most careers today demand that we’re “always on,” a phenomenon I’ve criticized in the past. It’s not healthy, but that’s life in the information age. Instant gratification fuels our personal functions, so much so that this has come around to haunt our professional lives. In admitting that there’s no escape from the digital world, it’s also important to face the feelings that present themselves when you’re exposed to visual content on social media.
Are you inspired or envious? Do you relate or longingly regard?
There’s a difference between insecurity and appreciation, although the line has faded so finely that it can be hard to tell when your thoughts are no longer productive.
What's the difference between envy and desire?
To define the limits, appreciation is typically accompanied by a positive emotion. Whether a post makes you feel aspirational: “Wow! That could be me someday,” motivated: “How do I work my way up to achieving this goal?”, or filled with admiration: “That’s cool! Seems like an interesting experience to have,” there should not be toxic or unproductive undertones to your reaction.
On the other hand, insecurity is tied to disappointment, stemming from the gap between the life you have and the life you crave. Oftentimes the life you experience through the other, is a life you could see yourself living. As a result, those aspirational thoughts morph into a sort of jealous desire, leading you to think: “How cool, I wish I could do that,” without inspiring a drive to create the change you seek for yourself. Instead, you settle for a discontented: “I could never be like this person”. Those feelings of skewed admiration, often reflect a negative self-image as you think, “They looks so happy. I wish I could be them.” Why must you be them, when you have the power to create joy for yourself?
It’s easy to shift between these two frames of mind, but actively listening to your thoughts will help you identify these toxic patterns. So the next time you feel about envious of someone online, tune into your mind and be critical of the thoughts that run through it. Remember that online media is cultivated to project a certain message - this message is most often a good one. Just because you're seeing the highlights of a person's life, doesn't mean the whole reel is as flawless.
The Challenge Not to Copy, but to Create
What's the difference?
Another element to this challenge is that of copying versus creating. Think of plagiarism. Over the years, schools have taught students the same lessons from the same books, time and time again. However, there’s no end to the combinations of words students have come up with. So when a plagiarism tool indicates that someone’s paper is 85% similar to another published work, it doesn’t take much to determine their words were likely copied straight from the source. To be clear, that’s never okay - writing is so personal and so involved, that passing someone's words off as your own does both parties a disservice.
This is the same with blogging, and here I’ll touch a bit on the issue for brands. First to address the individual, let’s say you love a particular fashion blog and you fall in love with an outfit from a “date night” post. You want to recreate this look for your anniversary. The key is not to copy the exact outfit the person is wearing, but to find a version of the look that works for you. What do you have access to that will help you reproduce the look in a way that makes you feel confident?
As a business, the thought process should be exactly the same. You may have a mood board that channels inspiration from a few of your favorite brands. However, the point is not to copy the aesthetics on your mood board, inch by collaged inch. Again, it’s a major faux pas to plagiarize another person’s hard work, in this case, by duping the image they have created for their brand. On this note, when there are so many free resources, granting access to the same logo generators and stock pictures that all creators can use, it is harder to set yourself apart.
Here, the same issue appears for people too. If there’s an influencer with over 500K followers, informing you of the trends they've "been loving recently," there’s no way to guarantee that you, and their thousands of fans, will replicate these trends uniquely. As a result, you begin to blend into the influencer's visual identity, while struggling to find your own authentic look. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it, but this is how setting yourself apart becomes increasingly difficult in the digital age.
Personality is Key to Differentiation
Your personality is the easiest way to set yourself apart. It’s all about the face behind the screen. People want to know who you are, so following your heart will prove your authentic self (without much effort on your part).
What do I mean when I say, "follow your heart?" - I mean for you to get dressed without overthinking how you are seen, post the picture you like without contemplating whether your laugh lines are too deep, and whatever you do, do it to your heart's content. Don't worry about the audience or how it will be seen. Put yourself out there and you will find your people. Put your work out there, and it will find an authentic audience just the same.
This also goes for bloggers and business professionals - show, rather than tell, your readers or clients exactly what sets you apart from those around you. What makes you authentic? Find your truth and stick to it, even as it changes. Let your identity morph as it wills and hold this truth close to your heart, even as it shifts from one form to another.
The key is not to force yourself to fit one image that stays the same over time. No, the only way to be authentic is to allow your soul to speak for itself. Work on doing this, heeding your mindset and individual creations, and the rest should come naturally. At the very least, you will be less likely to question your own authenticity, knowing that you are staying true to yourself.