“Be authentic” advice is mostly “BS” advice. I know, I know, we’re all “special,” BUT… when it comes to business, people don’t need for us to be special as much as they need to feel special.
Most definitions of authentic focus on the philosophical perspective of being faithful to yourself. There’s nothing wrong with “marching to your own drum,” but this is where the myth of the starving artist comes from: selfishness.
“What do you mean you don’t want to pay to read my poetry? I followed my passion…”
Here’s a more useful definition of authentic: the act of confirming the truth of an attribute. It may help to think also of “authentication.”
While you’re busy being yourself, that doesn’t necessarily mean other people are just going to follow you, or buy from you, or do business with you. You need to confirm some truth of some attribute of some thing that you are offering or selling. You still need to be part of society. You still need to survive.
In order to make them feel special, you have to give them a gift. You can still charge for it, but they’re not going to want to pay for it UNLESS it’s really special. You have to exercise selflessness.
Jeff Goins, in his book Real Artists Don’t Starve, clears up the myth of the starving artist by explaining the thriving artist.* The thriving artist knows, as historian Will Dorant says, that “nothing is new except arrangement.” The thriving artist understands (not in that book) that authenticity comes from what Seth Godin describes as, “constant emotional labor.”
We can be authentic by rearranging the things that will help others to feel special, and then positioning it to them. We can be authentic by seeking to confirm those little truths over and over and over again, in their eyes – not just our own. We can be authentic by caring enough to show up and do the work, every single day.
Why does really great poetry work (and sell)? Because we receive it as a gift, and not as spam. Because it confirms some truth of an attribute that we personally recognize when we read it. The poet had to show up and write, and write, and write some more to hone their craft. There’s a long path to “thrive” that we don’t have to take when we receive the gift, but we somehow understand it.
You’ll have to be a little different (and probably a little weird), but if you can be true to yourself AND do the work AND make someone else feel special, then you can thrive. Then you can actually be authentic.
It’s going to take a lot of work. That’s not BS authenticity advice.