What If You Weren't A Phony?

I was sitting at the dining room table working on a profile photo.
I liked it, but I didn't like it: Hair and makeup good, but you could see the wrinkles around my eyes and I sensed I was getting old.
My daughter walked in and sat down next to me.
"I'm a little bit in the middle of something right now," I said. 
She peered over at my phone. "You've got to be kidding me."
And then she said, "Mom, what if you weren't a phony? I mean you're so obsessed with your image."
Har de har har, I laughed. True. Aren't we all.
"Remember that time when I went with you to the city and I met your friends? I liked you better when you were with them."
Funny...me too. I liked being able to be clumsy, goofy, and laugh without pretense.
And I suddenly realized that my entire life was about navigating the tension between being myself and fulfilling a role.
This is the conflict inherent in personal branding: We are called upon to act in a certain way in order to "succeed" as part of the social order, but left to ourselves it is not clear whether or how we would fit in anywhere.
And we cannot live with either extreme:
  • When we are completely "in the role" we are alienated from ourselves and others sense the falsity and back away. 
  • When we are completely "authentic" we are every shade of odd, strange, bizarre and weird...sometimes even scary.
In fact, neither extreme is profitable or helpful. You are more likely to succeed when you are employed by or situated within a group where others appreciate your natural self.
For example I am a natural teacher. The minute you pull out a whiteboard I am there with a marker, drawing. I like to do research. I write, obviously. And I'm innately a coach, counselor, trainer, a giver of advice.
I am not a natural tracker of details, except where the subject matter is of critical importance to me. I am not diplomatic, political or polite. And I hate, hate, hate all forms of pointless combat.
The biggest mistake I've made in life was listen to well-intentioned people who told me that being a phony was the "right way" to go - as though it were a moral choice. Was failing to trust my instincts.
The children teach the parents and my daughter's simple honest words have taught me something. Authenticity isn't just a nice-to-have but critical for your success as a human being. 
Not the kind of success where you earn a lot of money necessarily, although logically you'll probably will do better professionally playing to your natural strengths.
No - I am talking about looking back on your life and really liking how you lived, who you loved, and how you spent the time you were in control of.
That is authenticity and that is success. There is not a single phony thing about it.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by Scott via Flickr.