As a teenager I was absolutely floored by a quote that I heard by John Lennon, which said:
“The more real you get, the more unreal the world gets.”
In other words: The more real you get, the more EPIC your reality becomes.
If you take a look around at the true greats in life, you’ll see pretty quickly that it’s true. (And damn does it seem like a worthy life goal, if there ever is one.)
And yet… this advice runs completely COUNTER to what our society teaches us:
One of the biggest problems I see in our society today is we are taught to show up for our first impression meetings as this “perfect model citizen” version of ourselves.
All smiles. Agreeing with everything being said. Faked passion for the job and company (“Of COURSE my 5-year goals include being here within this company!”)
And of course I get why we do it.
It is a “socially acceptable” way of behaving that we were taught since a young age – whether we’re on a first date, job interview or when being introduced to a new group of friends for the first time.
We want others to like us, to accept us, to CHOOSE us. And we think this behavior is going to get us there.
But (and it’s a big but) if you look beneath the surface, this strategy ends up being detrimental to you. Here’s why:
- Everybody wants to be “professional.” But what happens when “professional” becomes stand in for REPRESSED? (And worse, kicks you out of alignment with your *true* values?)
- What kind of jobs and bosses and relationships are you ATTRACTING when your first impression is a false one? …Where you leave your true values and thoughts and personality behind in the parking lot?
- On the flip side, what kind of AMAZING potential relationships, who would love you for your true self, are you MISSING OUT on because they never got to see it?
The #1 Problem With “Gaming” Life: Even If You Win, You Lose
When first entering the workforce so many of us are taught to put our true self on the shelf. We’re taught that if we’re “lucky enough” to get hired, we are to put our head down, be as agreeable as possible, and do what we’re told.
Even if – especially if – it runs completely against how you truly feel.
This is exactly how I approached the workplace for most of my early working career.
In my first job at Tim Hortons at age 16, I clearly remember showing up as a “good little employee” each day. Pretending that I enjoyed the job and trying not to fuck up or get fired.
It didn’t work though.
Not only did I pay the price by feeling tense, awkward and insecure every shift, I STILL got fired after only a month.
Even so, I took this “good employee” strategy forward with me into the workplace for my next few jobs throughout my twenties.
I worked crap temp office jobs where I did meaningless work yet pretended that I wanted to be there. I distinctly remember showing up to work each day after a hellish rush hour commute, and I felt like I was carving out my best parts and leaving them behind in the parking lot each morning before trudging off to work.
(Perhaps you can relate?)
A few years later I completed business school, and with renewed confidence I transformed my “I’m a good little employee” mask into a bolder “I’m the best possible person you could hire” mask.
But it was still a false front.
I showed up to job interviews inauthentic – I told them what I knew they WANTED to hear, rather than what rang true for me.
I faked passion for a position because I wanted to land the job. So I gamed job interviews by being smooth and polished, and I distinctly remember watching my mouth say “yes” while my heart firmly said “no.”
And it worked. But that was the problem.
Even though I “won” by landing the so-called great job, I still LOST because I was now stuck in a job that I didn’t like.
… even worse, I couldn’t be my true self throughout the day.
Setting a Precedent With Your “Model Employee Mask”
By starting your relationship off in this “good little employee” mode, you set the PRECEDENT for who you are in that role. Your first week rolls into your first month, which rolls into your first 6 months.
You may be thinking that your boss KNOWS that this is just part of the game, and is welcoming the day that you gradually step into the real you. But unfortunately, for most people, that day never comes.
There’s a momentum that builds as you keep up appearances and others start having expectations for you. This is who you are. And you start to get locked into a false role.
Then one day you realize that you’re sitting in a bullshit role for 8+ hours per day where you can’t express who you REALLY are.
(Nod silently if you’ve also been there)
Although it is considered NORMAL to present this false “perfect employee” facade, we often end up paying a MASSIVE price when we abandon our truth.
And besides, just because it’s “normal” doesn’t mean it’s not a stupid idea. As Jiddu Krishnamurti put it, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
My “faking passion” chapter ended where I reached that tipping point where I simply could no longer take being inauthentic in the workplace any longer. After only days into a new job I’d been hired for, I simply got up and quit.
Today I’ve come full circle where thankfully I’m able to show up as who I truly am in my work, however I know how PAINFUL it was to play “good little employee” for those years. Feeling anxious and on edge all the time – like I was walking on eggshells each day – and trying not to get “found out.”
The worst part? Feeling totally unexpressed.
The irony is that even though you “win” by successfully landing the job, you still lose because you can’t spend your days being the real you.
Problem #2: Who Are You Attracting When You Are Being Inauthentic?
The second major problem with this compromising, “people pleasing” behaviour is that we’re setting the stage to attract the wrong people (and situations) from day one.
In other words, when you kick off your first impression as this “good little employee” version of yourself, you’re going to attract people who are interested in that “polished persona,” versus the real you.
Now as before, you may be thinking, “No no no. My hiring manager can see the real me through this presentation.” Unfortunately in most cases that simply isn’t true – they will believe that this IS you.
(Or they’re so lost in the game themselves, that they think that’s who THEY are too.)
You’ll attract the hiring manager and company who WANTS people who dial themselves down and put their dreams on the shelf. You’ll attract those who WANT that “safe for work” facade which so many people put on each morning for the office.
… But worse than that, you won’t hit the radar of people who are actively looking for the REAL YOU. Amazing potential friends and bosses who WANT your true personality and worldview, and who would completely APPRECIATE what you’d bring to the table if you told the truth and expressed how you really felt.
And so the strategy of “gaming” your way to being liked and wanted and chosen is a losing battle from day one. You’re setting the stage to end up in a role where you simply can’t be yourself.
And yet this is exactly how the vast majority of people are taught to show up and live. In their jobs, in their relationships… showing up as a false version of themselves, whereas their REAL self unfortunately never sees the light of day…
A BETTER WAY: The More Real You Get, The More Epic It’s Gonna Get
In the movie “Ali,” there is this one scene where Ali (Will Smith) is dancing with Sonji (his soon to be wife), all alone in a quiet bar lounge. He had just recently won some big fights. Music is playing quietly in the background and they’re dancing. She’s looking at him with admiration in her eyes.
He’d just met the Beatles, and she was wondering what they were like. Ali describes how John Lennon stood out as being the smart one.
Sonji: “Oh, he is my favorite.”
Ali describes how the folks were screaming and fainting around them, and he asked Lennon, “Man, is this how they act when you get big?”
Sonji: (filled with curiosity) “What did he say?”
[Ali speaking] He said, “Champ… the more real you get, the more unreal it’s gonna get.”
As said at the beginning of this piece, that line hit me like a hammer when I first heard it, and has stuck with me ever since.
Up until that point I’d believed that the real me – what I TRULY thought, and what I TRULY felt – was somehow worse off than a “successful personality” or act, when dealing with the world.
Yet here in a single blow I was hit with this empowering reframe – from John Lennon no less – that no… actually the more REAL you become, the more mindblowingly epic and successful your life will be come.
For so many of us we’re made to believe that our “perfect member of society” act will give us more success than simply being ourselves… where in fact the very opposite is true.
We inherit this belief in our culture that if we show up as our true selves with zero apologies, that it will somehow be DETRIMENTAL to us. That we’ll be rejected or be denied the success that we’d more likely achieve with some “polished act.”
But the real world overwhelmingly shows us that the complete opposite is true. Look around at so many world-class artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and highly satisfied employees. It’s not just that their true self was better than any bullshit act, but rather their true self was REQUIRED in order for their success to arrive.
Adele didn’t achieve worldwide success by trying to write a “commercially viable” song or by fitting into some cookie cutter “image” that wasn’t her.
Nay. She wrote about the very real and raw pain that she lived through with her boyfriend leaving her. And then she stepped out vulnerably into the spotlight and shared it.
Steven King didn’t become massively successful by hiding his twisted excitement for horror stories in shame, and opting to write about safe “publically acceptable” material instead. No, his success came by stepping directly INTO that dark, creepy world that lived within him and by bringing it to life for the whole world to see. (“The Shining” anyone?)
It’s that rawness that you reveal vulnerably to the world what we viscerally connect with, gladly pay for, and ultimately fall in love with.
It’s only by shedding our masks and standing vulnerable and naked to the world as our true selves that others can connect with us powerfully.
The more real you get, the more INCREDIBLE your world gets.
BONUS WRAP UP: 3 “Big Ideas” To Start Living As Your Truest Self, Starting Today
1) The Amazingness of Living Straight With The World – Reward In And Of Itself
Know that beyond money or recognition or all the fancy things in the world, the most rewarding act a human can enjoy is the richness of simply being your true self. It is reward enough (and actually, is what everyone is really looking for at the end of the day).
2) Train The World To Interact With The Real You
Rather than bending to the world, make the world bend to you. Train the world that if they want to spend time with you, they’re going to have to interact with the real you.
3) Hold Out For Those Who Truly Appreciate The Real You
Whatever quirkiness or weirdness or personality you have, know that there are people out there who CRAVE and APPRECIATE it. Rather than hiding your realest parts from people who don’t even appreciate your realest parts… instead (a) fully showcase your truest self to the world with zero apologies, (b) encourage those who don’t like it to fuck off, and (c) WELCOME those who APPRECIATE your truest parts:)
So go ahead and start showing up as your truest possible self in your very next encounter!
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