Reflections on authenticity stemming from Seth Godin’s The Practice

I’m participating in a book club at work for Seth Godin’s The Practice.

Some of the essays this week were about authenticity.

So this puts me back on what seems to be one of my forever questions: what is authenticity?

Suppose someone gets into an argument with someone else. During this argument, they end up yelling at the other person. Later, they reflect on this and see themselves as having acted inauthentically because they value civil debate–not uncontrolled ones.

Is authenticity about living in alignment with one’s ideal values?

Suppose someone finds out that their team will have to do a particular project as part of the broader strategy. While they want to stay united with the rest of the organization and provide a clear direction for their team, they also personally disagree with the decision that was made about the strategy. They know that the decision has already been made and that voicing their disagreement will not affect change. Still, they feel like they’re not being authentic if they don’t share their opinion.

Is authenticity about giving voice to the entirety of one’s (complex) experience?

Suppose someone has been experiencing burnout at work. They wake up one morning and realize they have a meeting that has just started. They’re still tired and don’t want to go to work today. Still, they decide to get out of bed and jump on the call. Later, they reflect and wonder if they were being authentic.

Is authenticity about following our moment-to-moment desires and experiences?

Godin says this about authenticity:

If you’re using any sort of self-control (there’s that “self” word again), then you’re not being authentic. Only a tantrum is authentic. Everything else we do with intention.

This makes me think that Godin believes the last of these three examples is the closest to what authenticity is.

Godin seems to go a bit further than that:

There is nothing authentic about the next thing you’re going to say or do or write. It’s simply a calculated effort to engage with someone else, to contribute, or to cause a result.

This suggests that it’s difficult, perhaps even undesirable, to act authentically.

This seems a bit counterintuitive. There’s been such a big push for authenticity in recent years. And it looks like there are significant, negative impacts on people who cannot act authentically for long periods. (Some examples that jump to mind are closeted folk, trans individuals, and people who pretend everything is okay when something’s bothering them.)

But Godin does leave this tidbit:

Your audience doesn’t want your authentic voice. They want your consistent voice.

I find this pretty helpful.

I always struggle with authenticity because I don’t have a good sense of what it means.

Consistent is easier to grasp, though.

Consistency also makes me think of integrity.

So here are two questions that I’m continuing to think about now:

  • What is the difference between consistency and integrity?
  • What is the relationship between integrity and authenticity? (e.g. is one a subset of the other?)

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