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I’ve noticed a trend amongst the people I’ve talked to in the last year. Authenticity comes up over and over again as one of the most important traits. It can sound a little odd – if you’re not yourself, then who are you? But who you are inside isn’t always how you reflect yourself on social media, in business meetings, and everywhere else. Sometimes it’s intentional, because you’re trying to present a specific image of how you want people to see you. Other times it’s subconscious, and you’re subtly changing yourself to try to fit in. That’s not always a bad thing, but if it takes away from who you truly are, it can cause problems down the line.
What exactly is authenticity and why is it still on trend? Why is everyone looking for everyone’s “true authentic self?” I think it’s because we’re tired of being manipulated by marketing, media, and sales gimmicks. We don’t want the façade. We want to relate to others on a human level and we can’t do that if someone else is living a “perfect” life all the time. It seems we’re yearning for people to be real and vulnerable and talk about the challenges everyone faces so we don’t feel like we’re the only one who feels a certain way or is dealing with certain issues. Despite all the great things technology brings us, I think that the constant connection is actually making us feel more disconnected than ever. We’re not actually talking and communicating. We’re aggressively typing words with our thumbs and conveying emotions through yellow faces and other emojis, in as few characters as possible. The letter K has actually become a complete sentence, and a complete question. K? K.
I don’t want to present a false image of who I am
But people have been trying to show the best version, not the real version, of themselves for a long time. That’s nothing new. I always think back to a conversation I had with a friend in my 20s. She didn’t understand why I wouldn’t get dressed up and put on a bunch of makeup to go on a date. But that’s not who I am. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, and I don’t mind getting dressed up, but only if the occasion calls for it. I don’t want to present some guy with a false image so he thinks I look a certain way all the time and then months later it’s like surprise! I’m actually just a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who doesn’t spend much time getting ready. I always figured he should see me for who I am from the very beginning, so I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time, including my own. I think that’s why so many relationships start falling apart, because people can only put on an act for so long before their true selves start to show. So why not show it from the beginning and see what happens when you’re starting off from an honest place?
People do it in job interviews all the time, too. They try to look the part and think of the perfect way to talk about themselves to impress the person interviewing them. It makes sense why they do that. There’s only one chance to make that first impression and stand out amongst all of the candidates. But once you get into that job, you have to deliver on what you promised, and sometimes that’s when people fall short. Now that I think about it, I’ve never actually done the forced interview thing. I’ve been working for 24 years but I’ve always been myself in the process. I got one job through a referral at an informal meal. Another one I went in for an interview in my normal clothes and ultimately got the job because the owner thought I was quirky, and he liked that. And my last job I was recruited by the owner of a company. I didn’t think I wanted to take the job, so I ignored the calls for months. I finally agreed to meet with him so he’d stop calling, and I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt and got the job. And since I’ve been working for myself, I’ve never made any forced effort with a client, even if it’s my first time meeting them. I mean, these days people are mostly only getting dressed for the top half that can be seen on a Zoom screen, so maybe we’ve all relaxed our expectations about appearance a little bit. People seem to be quite proud of themselves when they manage to put on pants.
Be the best version of yourself, don’t just act like it
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make an effort in our lives. But we should always be striving to be the best version of ourselves we can be, not just act like it. And part of that comes down to knowing who you are. Self-awareness has been coming up a lot in conversation lately, too, and it’s all tied together. You can’t be who you are if you don’t know what’s important to you. And if you’re trying to be who you think other people want to be, instead of who you actually are, you’re probably going to end up frustrated and exhausted. It just takes too much energy to pretend all the time, doesn’t it?
According to the good old Webster’s dictionary (do people still use dictionaries?), authentic means “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” Does that describe you? If not, how can you change your actions in a way that aligns more genuinely with who you are?
When I first started Aardvark Girl, I had this idea in my mind that I had to showcase my professional side all the time. I’m helping people with their businesses, so I need to be business-y. So I’d post my tips and try to be motivational and offer my best advice. My quotes were authentic and reflected what I truly believe, but there wasn’t much character there. The more I figured out what I wanted my business to be, the more I figured out that that wasn’t the best portrayal of me. When I really figured out my target audience, self-employed creatives, it started to click more, and I’ve slowly added more of my personality into my work. I still keep a lot of my personal life to myself, but I do share more than I used to.
I also remember when I finally decided to get some marketing photos taken, my photographer seemed very confused that I was wearing jeans & a t-shirt for some of them. He asked, “Are you sure you want to wear that?” Yes. Because I’m working with creatives, they’re not going to respond to some lady in a pantsuit. Nor would I ever wear a pantsuit. It just makes me laugh thinking about it. But I couldn’t be a in a stuffy business suit for some fancy photos when I never wear fancy business suits. I also had to make sure my makeup artist, my lovely Pot Pie Natalie, knew she had to make me look like me. It was really important to me that she didn’t put a bunch of stuff on my face that made me look like a different person. The only time I’d previously had professional photos done, it was awful. The makeup artist piled on this dark eyeshadow and blush and some weird lip color and it just wasn’t me at all.
I only know how to be me
I’ve only ever really known how to be me. I’ve always told people I think that’s why I don’t enjoy wearing costumes. Halloween is not my jam. Every time I’ve tried, I feel incredibly awkward, and I really think it’s because I’m not comfortable being anyone other than who I am. Some people love to pretend for a night, but it’s just not for me. That’s why now if someone convinces me to go to anything themed or requiring a costume, I’ll wear something I’d normally wear. A couple years ago I went as High School Amanda. I have this old pair of bell bottoms that everyone signed one year, so I dug those up and wore those, one of my old Nirvana t-shirts from back then, got a new pair of Dr Martens and parted my hair down the middle, and put on some eyeliner. That was it. There was a 70s themed party before that where I wore a different, but new, pair of bell bottoms, the same Dr Martens and a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. I’m not kidding. I really only know how to be me.
Being authentic is not just about appearance, though. It’s about personality and actions, too. There are times I feel it works against me because people want me to be someone I’m not. They want me to loosen up, or be more fun, or whatever it is that normal people do. But it’s not that I’m uptight, I just know what I like and what I don’t, and I’m okay honoring myself. I don’t drink and go to a bunch of parties and do the Vegas club thing. I have fun in my own ways, and that’s okay with me. I’m a little goofy and sarcastic and I usually don’t show enough emotion, but that’s just the way I am. I think we all have to do what’s right for ourselves and let others do the same. You do you, right?
That attitude has really helped me all these years. When I meet a new person, whether it’s a client, a vendor, a stranger at the grocery store, I act in a way that’s true to me. I’m nice, I laugh a lot, I make odd comments every now and then. That’s how I got the name Aardvark Girl. I do what I can to help those around me. And that’s why people want to be around me. Not because I’m pretending, but because I am. I don’t need to wear certain clothes or fake a certain personality to accomplish my goals. So I’m not going to waste my energy trying. I just don’t see the point.
I’ve been participating in these weekly Clubhouse chats in various groups. We often go live on Instagram after the discussion to keep the conversations going in a less formal setting, and it ends up being a lot of fun. We are definitely silly, and we make each other laugh, while also talking about things that matter. I had a realization a few weeks ago that part of why I’ve been enjoying it so much is it gives me a break from talking business all the time. It’s more of a social hangout with friends. They also have their own businesses, but by that point we just talk about whatever comes up. And we all seem to be our authentic, silly, fun selves. It’s great.
Being a single person business can be isolating at times in normal circumstances. Add in working entirely from home for a year without being able to see people in person, and it’s easy to understand why it’s taken such a toll on so many people. It’s been a great reminder of how important it is to socialize with friends and to have fun. Sometimes you put so much focus on your work that it’s easy to forget to honor the “you” part of you. I think it’s important to embrace those parts of you – the quirky side, the silly side, the hobbies that others might find weird, the crazy ideas that no one understands but you know are going to work. Be who you are, unapologetically. The world needs you just as you are.