Who are we when no one else is looking? The concept of life or of the world as a stage where each of us is set to perform is a familiar theme in literature. It hints at the idea of grasping opportunities for success and playing out our many-faceted roles well. Today, we would perhaps tweak it a bit more as branding or re-invention. We have the ability, especially with the advent of today’s social media, to build a successful brand. Whether in our personal or professional lives, we are blessed with the opportunity through photos and words to advertise our “brand” for the world to see. The idea of “the world stage” suggests that somehow we have the ability to put in the good or bad performances which will more or less determine our continued life’s success or by the same token, prophesy our failure.
While there may be absolutely nothing wrong with public “performances” or with sharing our successes, who we really are when the “audience” has left the figurative building, is even more critical. And who exactly is our audience? It is often friends, acquaintances, work-colleagues and to a lesser extent family. Since the latter tends to also see us at our worst, less effort is often expended on impressing them. Nonetheless, living authentically before those closest to us, usually guarantees their utmost respect.
The concept of emerging an authentic brand which is true to life, speaks of the value of being a person of excellence whether it’s an audience of one or of one thousand. In fact, the Biblical notion of not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing speaks of the values of humility and genuineness and makes perfect sense. When we do good out of our purest motivations; because it should be done and not because our audience is watching, then we are a step closer to emerging an authentic self.
At the same time, moving away from a spirit of competitiveness is also an essential part of clarifying our personal motivations. When we compete, we attempt to make ourselves look good at the expense of making someone else look bad in the spirit of “may the best man win”. When we use ourselves instead as the bench-mark for our own self-improvement, then this forces us to be introspective. It encourages us to desire personal change because we believe that the scope for a better self is contingent on our own sense of personal responsibility. Whether in our personal relationships or in our performance at work, we can honestly ask ourselves “how could I have done this better?” or “how can I be a better spouse/parent/colleague/friend?”
The success of the early Coca-Cola advertising campaign “it’s the real thing” was predicated on the fact that people generally desire authenticity in life. Whether it’s a relationship or a beverage, we tend to be wary of dilution or pretense. We want the real thing! Similarly, becoming a person of influence necessitates that we humbly expose who we really are to those we hope to influence. This may mean having to say sorry, even when in a position of leadership or admitting that we don’t know everything nor do we always get it right. Acknowledging our own flawed humanity, even in our striving towards excellence, is a powerful step towards living an authentic life.