The Downside of Authenticity

by Deborah A. Bailey

Being real comes with a price. You have to be willing to strip away everything false in order to let everyone see you as you are.

Most people are not ready for that. Showing the world who you are can lead to rejection. To having clients leave. To having people criticize you for daring to state unpopular opinions.

That’s what we talk about when we talk about authenticity. Brene Brown’s studies in vulnerability have been part of this surge to strip away the artifice and get down to it.

But are you ready for it? Really ready?

    “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

We live in a culture where we’re programmed to fit in. To buy what we’re told we should buy. To follow trends and celebrities and not deviate from the accepted norm. So how do you make the leap into authenticity under those conditions?

When I started my business, the idea was to pretend to have a bigger company than you really had. You were to say “we” and not “I.”  After a while that flipped and it became the thing to be yourself without filters or pretense. Build a brand around yourself and your interests.

I’m all for that. but at the same time, has authenticity become just another burden? Are we marching to the beat of yet another rule to be followed?

    “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brené Brown

For entrepreneurs, reinvention is a constant state of being. Seems that every other newsletter I receive contains a missive from a business owner who’s about to switch to a whole new thing. Even business owners who’ve only recently changed their logos, tag lines, websites etc. are already revamping.

It’s sort of like how the movie franchise reboot cycle seems to be shorter and shorter. Every couple of years here comes the new, improved version of a character. Like someone hit the reset button and it stayed pressed.

the downside of authenticity

If you’ve been in business for 5 or more years, chances are you’re wondering if it’s time for a restart.

Have things become too staid? Should you change your website, your marketing, your products?

What’s the new thing? What are people expecting now? Should you chase the hot new thing?

I’ve had my Women Entrepreneurs Radio™ podcast for almost 7 years. When I started it was a novelty of sorts. Now (from what I’ve read) podcasting is the hot “new” thing.

Entrepreneurs can end up running in circles searching for a viable business idea. What used to work might seem stale now. So you start searching for the thing that will turn it all around.

Which brings me back to authenticity. On the plus side, being authentic is an advantage because when you’re being yourself, you have no competition. Standing out in your field becomes easier when  you’re no longer one of many.

    “Why try to be someone you’re not? Life is hard enough without adding impersonation to the skills required.” -Robert Brault

But if you’re leaping on the bandwagon  because it’s the hot, new, hip thing–and you’ve got to pretend to be what you think it means to be authentic–maybe you should think again.  If it’s real, people will pick up on it. They’ll just know. And if it’s not, they’ll pick up on that too.

At the end of the day, you can’t fake realness.It’s not like buying a faux designer purse and passing it off as the real thing. You can’t fake your way to being authentic.

Recently I was listening to the audio version of Maya Angelou’s book,  Heart of a Woman. She narrated this book and it described a part of her life when she raised her son, married and moved to another continent. She was real, honest and raw at times. Unflinching about presenting the truth of her life, she didn’t stop at sharing the good and the bad.

Obviously she wasn’t trying to write a feel-good book filled with sanitized experiences. And in her honesty, I could connect with the woman behind the words. (Which is why her passing affected so many so deeply and why people felt like they knew her when they didn’t.)

Realness. Authenticity. I’m going to tell my story even if it hurts. Even if it’s messy. Even if what I say is hard to hear.

    “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

For business owners,  if we don’t find a way to stand out, how can we ever line up with our ideal clients? It takes courage to be out there as we are, without the protective covering and the slick packaging. To be raw and honest.

That’s what authenticity really is. Not a buzzword or yet another false face to hide behind. It takes courage. But there are rewards. You’ll connect with people who are hungry for what you have to deliver. They’ll relate to you because they’ll pick up on your honesty. They’ll know that you’re giving them something real.

Deborah A. Bailey is a writer, coach, blogger and author of four non-fiction books, three novels and a short story collection. She's the creator and host of Women Entrepreneurs Radio™ , a weekly internet talk show. For more information visit her blog: or her site:   

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