“This above all: to thine own self be true.” – Shakespeare
If there’s one business slogan/fad/concept that’s in danger of becoming meaningless through overuse, it’s “brand you.” These days I can spot a “brand” (as opposed to an authentic person) from the first word out of his or her mouth. “Brands” tend to be a little too perfect — packaged, programmed, and plastic. They’re pushing what they think we want to buy, not their real selves. I see this unfold every day in social media – for better or for worse. It’s like the difference between processed food and the amazing stuff you can get at farmers markets.
I want authenticity when I hire, and even when I’m not. Catching my drift? I do not want some amalgam of what the applicant thinks the employer is looking for. I want to know you for the real you. I want to celebrate your personality – every nook and cranny. Real success has always been about knowing ourselves and staying true to that core. People who know themselves enrich an organization’s culture, and add to the workplace community with their spontaneity and honesty.
Branding isn’t without value, but it can’t be the ultimate measure. That has to go deeper.
So build the “real you”. As the brilliant, nimble consultant and author Dorie Clark says in her must-read book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Reimagine Your Future:“Your reputation lasts for a long time, and needs to be treated with respect. You won’t get very far if you try to be something you’re not. Rather, your personal brand is about figuring out who you really are and what you do best, and then living that brand out. It’s the essence of authenticity.”
Here are five ways to find your authentic self:
1) Take Shakespeare’s advice and be true to yourself. Know your values and never compromise them, even if doing so might lead to short-term gain. Integrity and authenticity go hand in hand.
2) Be good to yourself. We all have to take care of ourselves. And this means doing things that enrich us, body, mind and soul. Go fly fishing, tutor ex-cons, learn a new language, discover a cool new rock band, start a new business venture, bake cupcakes, read Trollope, hike the Andes. Find things that nurture you and make you feel good about yourself. This will deepen yourself of sense of self, and your self-confidence.
3) Have fun. Life is short and often hard. Fun and a sense of humor help us all get through. They also happen to be amazing productivity and community-building tools. I can’t tell you how many tough meetings I’ve been in where the mood is turned around by some genuine humor. Exercise your funny bone.
4) Don’t hide your so-called flaws. No one is perfect and no one is expected to be perfect. You may be cranky at times, pessimistic, even antisocial or a little weird. Well, guess what? Steve Jobs was a freak. Understand yourself — talents and “flaws” — and bring it all to the table.
5) Know what you want. Career trajectories are impossible to predict. But if you know who you are and what you want, you’ll save a lot of time and energy. To the greatest extent possible, only go after opportunities that ignite your passion and stir your soul.
Authentic people are exciting, original and refreshing, the essential element of an exciting, vibrant workplace culture that leads to knockout performance. Exciting companies are hungry for authenticity. Find your true self and run with it. Please let me know how it goes.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes.