People Want the Real You

Be Superman, Not Clark Kent

If you are a solo business and you use the term “we,” stop it. If you are an employee at some major company and are trying to be the navy polo and blue chinos version of who you really are, enough. It’s time to give up on being Clark Kent or… do you know what? The most mainstream female superhero is Wonder Woman, but if I type in “Diana Prince,” almost no one will get it. But now you do. Okay, back on track, team. People want the real you!

Corporate Speak Is Never Effective or Helpful or Business-Growing

You know this because you’ve experienced the other side of it many times. “We’re sorry, but that’s the policy.” “We’re pretty happy with how our product turned out. I can’t really say much about the competitor.” “We’re creating valuable content to maximize our social business marketing efforts.”

Any time you have to refer to a policy, you have failed. The policy exists as a “serving suggestion” for what might be the best idea. Blaming the policy is giving away your own power.

When you are the employee at any level of a rival company and you choose not to acknowledge the other company or product by name, and/or never say a positive thing about their product or service, no good comes of it. People never think, “Well, isn’t that interesting. I think Surendra hasn’t even heard of the iPad.” They think, “Aw, poor Surendra. I’d hate to be stuck with the WidgetPad 2000 right now.”

Jargon is just silly and whenever I hear someone use a big word when a little one will do, I make a quick guess as to whether the person actually has an endless supply of expensive words, or whether he or she is scared of being considered stupid. It’s usually B. Oh, the other reason we use jargon is to exclude people who “don’t get it.”

None of these ideas above are good, are they? This runs counter to your goals, I would reckon. True? And there’s so much more that I didn’t cover.

Why Aren’t We Our Actual Self?

There are many ways in which we somehow tumble into being someone other than our true self:

  • We are worried about how the culture around us will react.
  • We lack enough self confidence to not care what others think.
  • We perceive that our livelihood depends on the way we dress and speak and act. (And it certainly does to some extent.)
  • We’ve tried being ourselves once ever in one specific situation, and someone said something unkind about it and now you’ve decided that this singular experience is now the “avatar” of any time you might ever decide to be yourself in the future, so why bother anyway? (phew)

Sometimes, we really can’t be ourselves. If you are a nudist and a fry cook at McDonalds, you’ll probably find it hard to express that particular passion (besides – ouch!). Other times, we probably could be ourselves, but maybe we’ve forgotten to do so for some reason. Most times, though, it’s because we’re chicken for some reason or another.

Men, for instance, hate showing their weakness. Women sometimes have to struggle with the “when men do it, they’re considered ‘tough’ and when women do it, they’re a bitch” problem. Most people hate to show their ignorance. These are all valid and true feelings. But I have to ask anyway: what’s stopping you from being who you really are?

Is There Success To Be Had In Being The Authentic You?

Were you to read the biographies of several novelists, you’ll find that many people go through a growth curve from writing the way they perceive their heroes to have written, but from there, they develop their own writing voice and their own style. It’s a natural progression. In all cases, it’s only after the author finds her voice that she reaches a great level of success. There are several stories of authors who received dozens of rejection slips before hitting it unbelievably big. What do you think finally got them to that peak?

Who is the first Korean pop (K-Pop) star to break through in the US? A pudgy guy who does a crazy horse dance. With hundreds of other acts trying desperately to stumble into whatever the US market deems to be catchy, we went with the totally unique voice, that which we hadn’t seen.

Jenny Joseph wrote a magical poem called Warning. The start of it, you might know:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

It would take you less than two minutes to read it here. Especially because the ending is so worth it with regards to what you and I are talking about here:

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Start Today

What’s one part of who you are that you hide away? Is it a part that you wish you could wear on the outside? Have you ever tried being the real you with horrendous results? Or was there a moment of bravery where you decloaked and became who you are?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Mitch Joel – Twist Image

    There’s a bigger reason, Chris. It’s “acceptance.” I believe we act like this to be accepted or to feel like we should be accepted. We act like this because of anxiety. People aren’t nervous to speak. They’re nervous of what others will think of them. Same here. People act this way not because they don’t want to be themselves, but because they’re worried about how others will perceive them.

    • J-P De Clerck

      “La condition humaine” Mitch. And there’s still a bigger reason: we worry about how people will think about us because we project how we (used to) think about others in similar conditions.

  • Henri Junttila

    Agree with Mitch.

    And the funny thing is that most people are busy worrying about what you will think of them, so they don’t have time to think much of you.

    I’ve found that the more I just put myself out there, even if it’s one small thing at a time, the more confident I grow, and the better I become at just putting what I have out there and dealing with whatever happens.

    More often than not, if someone reacts negatively to the “authentic” you, then it’s not really a reflection of you, but a reflection of what goes on inside of them.

    • Jared Latigo

      Very true indeed. And maybe the people that don’t “get” us aren’t in our tribes anyway.

  • John Paul

    With the Internet and now Social Media, people are much smarter consumers then they were in the past. So trying to BS your way around topics or issues is never a smart thing to do.

    Ex: just watched the movie “what to expect when your expecting” one of the woman was invited to speak at a convention,,, and instead of BS her way thru her business and products, she just let it go lol

    Str8 honesty about how being pregnant sucks and she was a mess. It was a train wreck… but it made her Youtube famous.

    She was “real” and people like it, good bad or ugly, it’s real.

  • Hannah

    Sometimes I worry I show too much! (Not really, but you know.) Really the only way I form connections in the online world is when people are willing to do just what you talk about. To find that voice and let me in.

    And I love the schooling I am getting from you about superheroes, because I have two boys who care a whole lot.

    • stephanie

      I worry about that too! I feel like I am really good at showing my true and authentic self in person and on my blog, but that I need to work on still being myself AND having a good self-filter!

    • Chris Brogan

      I think that’s a reasonable worry. What you COULD do is prepare, by being ready to say, “Is this too much? I never know.” : )

  • Dickie Armour

    Love it! And I guess us Brits are the most guilty.
    The phrase “The Royal we” was coined here.
    Queen Victoria was quoted as once saying “We are not amused”!

    So in keeping with Royalty and being British….

    We very much approve of your brilliant post, Christopher! ;-)

    • Chris Brogan

      Thanks, Dickie. I’ll tell all of us who wrote it that you all said so. : )

  • randy clark

    Where do i start? You hit the nail on the head as to several reasons people hide their true self – worry, fear, and lack of confidence. Biz talk jargon hides the truth. Policies, used without training, expectations, and follow up are shallow, but those which are trained can be effective. Your fry cook nudist analogy was apt, but let’s take it further. When I hear “Be yourself:” I wonder how real should one be? Do we divulge our strongest beliefs and opinions? Don’t those beliefs truly define us? Yes, but sharing them can and will hurt your business. There’s a reason not to talk controversy in business (unless you’re big enough that losing a few hundred followers doesn’t hurt), regardless of the side you take in anything controversial be it religion, politics, or current public policy, you’re going to push someone away. In business can you afford to do this? Probably not. For many of us these subjects define a large part of who we are. Should we be open about our beliefs and let people know where we stand? Not if we don’t want to lose clients.

    • Chris Brogan

      “How real” is what I call the Perez Hilton hot mess line. Don’t tell everyone every little bit of your crap, but be the you that people can relate to. Meaning, not every rash deserves a tweet.

  • Jack Lynady

    Nice read Chris. I’m a huge fan of knowing who u are and simply offering it. That being said I don’t believe what I have to offer is for everyone at anytime. I’ve learned to discern when to offer and when to hold back my glory.

  • Elizabeth H. Cottrell

    Chris, your superheroes theme is proving to be remarkably powerful (just watched your talk at WDS), and this post is no exception. I suffer from “oldest child syndrome” – need for approval and tendency towards being a control freak. Working on it, though, and thoughtful pieces like this really help. Thank you.

    • Chris Brogan

      Interesting. Had never heard of the syndrome. As the oldest child, perhaps I’ve got a touch of that. : )

  • Mary Mavis

    The opposite of Mitch’s point on acceptance is avoidance of “rejection.” I’ve been an executive coach for almost 30 years–off and on in my own practice–always making-it-up. Even with the confidence behind the years of experience, I hesitate when putting out my “stuff” for fear of rejection. I say “I’m not the perfect coach for everyone” and I’m clear about my approach with prospects. But, when I am not selected from a short-list of great coaches, I still feel the sting. On the otherhand, when I’m in my work with someone 100% me, and they knew what they were buying, I am so happy, creative, and committed.

    • Chris Brogan

      Quite interesting, Mary. My question back: what happens once they reject you?

  • Hugh Briss

    Then again, some of us who are solo businesses are just admitting we “didn’t build that” and when we say “we” are simply giving credit. ;)

    • Chris Brogan

      Well, there might be that.

  • Jared Latigo

    Great post. I have always said that social media will oust the fakes faster than any other time in history. Integrity is key.

  • Maria

    Ever heard this? In your 20s you worry about what others think. In your 40s you quit worrying so much. In your 60s you realize they weren’t thinking about you anyway. This statement is pretty on target, and wouldn’t it be nice if people could adopt the 60′s attitude before they’re out of school?

    In business, though I’m authentic, it’s a filtered version of my authenticism. No one needs to here me whine when I’m having a bad day (or week). No one needs to here me criticize someone else when I’m feeling critical. No one needs me to snap at a client when my patience is stretched to the limit. When we say “be yourself” we really mean “be your nice, happy self.” Show your good side and hide the rest.

    And truly, unless you’re Howard Stern you probably won’t keep many jobs or succeed in business if your true sell is a jerk. Then again, if that’s who you are maybe it’s time to find something to do and rewards jerkiness. Hmmm.

    • Chris Brogan

      I haven’t heard that but I love it.

  • Traci Wheeler

    Loved your post, Chris. I struggle with this every day. I know who I am but work for a company (and write blog posts on a company blog) where “my self” wouldn’t necessarily be appreciated. We are supposed to be “professional”. I definitely push the envelope occasionally to gauge reaction from others and see if I can make a difference. Thanks for the great reminder of why being yourself is always the best way!!

    • Chris Brogan

      Keep pushing the envelope. It turns out people don’t usually notice for a while. : )

  • Raul Colon

    Reading your blogs and having the opportunity to get your thoughts on many things has helped me in the past few years understand why it is important to be yourself. Thanks for that!

  • Phil Vlach

    It’s a struggle to be authentic everyday. I find it helps to keep track of the small successes I have throughout the day as mini personal pep rallies to build upon. Helps keep me motivated.

    The worst is no reaction at all. I speak to teams several times a day, and I get most worried when all I see is blank stares. Those are times when I haven’t connected emotionally with the listeners, meaning they probably won’t remember much of the chat. I’ve learned to spot that early, and course correct.

    Does that ever happen to you…blank stares…? What do you do to course correct?

    • Chris Brogan

      No reaction is indeed terrifying.

      So, when I get blank stares, I get a bit drastic. I almost always go WAY off the deep end. I’m not saying you should do this, but MY method is to go even weirder still.

      “What? Did I just eat a lizard without noticing it?” Or whatever. Something very unrelated to the last thing.

      THAT helps.

  • Patricia C Vener

    I can’t imagine being anything but me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think before speaking because “being me” does not equal being mean or rude just because I might feel that way at some given moment. It seems to me a lot of people are confusing “acting without thinking” to being true to oneself. It’s not at all. I believe that to be “authentic” is to take responsibility for one’s actions, beliefs, desires, as well as one’s impact in life. It means not hiding behind a policy or in the herd.

  • Jeremy Alan Barker

    The thing is when people are not “really” themselves, it will eventually show and then they just look like a failure and any credibility that they gain is gone. It never pays to act like something your not.

    Great Post today!

    • Chris Brogan


  • Jessica Kihara

    Many people behave in the same boring way in public. Polite. Appropriate. I feel as if most of us behave like this for fear of being ostracized. I catch myself doing it much of the time, probably because I’m an anxious person and I hate drawing attention to myself. I lack self confidence for sure. I’m sure there are billions more like me, all of us worrying about drawing unwanted attention or looking stupid.

    I envy those who just go around making jokes, not knowing if other people are going to laugh. I wish I could just not give a shit, like that Gangnam Style guy. lol.

    It’s hard to be “the real you” when there are so many quiet, polite and appropriate people around. That’s why I like clubbing and concerts. I find that being myself is so much easier in an environment where I feel less judged.

    • Chris Brogan

      That’s quite interesting, Jessica. So, what’s the storyline look like in your head when you think of them judging you? Is it, “Oh, look at her dancing like she’s riding a horse. Isn’t she stupid?” And if so, what if you agreed?

      I do that often. : ) Agree with my critics. At least out loud.

      • Jessica Kihara

        Hmmm… what goes through my head… It’s stuff like “is that person looking at me?” or “what if I offend someone?”

        It’s dumb stuff that doesn’t really matter, but for some reason it matters to me in the moment.

    • Cijaye DePradine

      Gotta say Jessica you and I definitely share the same thoughts. (And the joy of clubbing and concerts)(yes, for me even at 37 I want to be that club kid – probably for the same reasons you said). The funny things is I don’t think we are alone. There are probably billions of us out there. How ironic is that? Perhaps we should imagine the other people on the other end of any communications we put out there – as JUST LIKE US. And if they aren’t – then hmmm…not our audience. If they are – great, they get us and we get them and we can all be a little more casual and relaxed next time we meet. So, Jessica, it’s nice to meet you – my friend. :D

      • Jessica Kihara

        Yay! It’s great to meet someone in the same boat. Yes, common sense tells me that if they’re not the type to get along with the real me, then it’s not the end of the world. Perhaps I should remind myself of that more often.

  • Computer Repair Portland

    Jargon is just silly and whenever I hear someone use a big word when a little one will do, I make a quick guess as to whether the person actually has an endless supply of expensive words, or whether he or she is scared of being considered stupid. It’s usually B. Oh, the other reason we use jargon is to exclude people who “don’t get it.” Just love this advice… I worked for UC program… where all they used was Jargon and Big words, no wonder a lot of the program failed. They spoke over most of their demographics’ heads! Awesome point, going to share it…

    • Chris Brogan

      Glad to hear it. : )

  • Jose Palomino

    People want the real you, and if you’re not being real, they can sense
    it a mile away. We all know this because we’ve been on the other side.
    It’s frustrating, it’s belittling, and it turns you off to that
    company. Be honest. Down-to-earth. Empathetic. Be a human being —
    not a corporate profile.

    Some companies are tuning into this
    really well. I recently stumbled on a company’s webpage (can’t remember
    which one) where all the employee profiles had pictures of them as
    kids, instead of their business headshots. That says something about
    the company, the people running it, and the people that work there.
    Another company called “Carol’s Daughter” has all the employees answer
    the phone as, “Hi, this is ____, the daughter of _____.” It humanizes
    the company. It reminds the employees that they are individuals with a

    • Chris Brogan

      I think that’s pretty fun. What a neat way to do it.

  • JoshROINut

    Excellent points here, Chris!
    A couple years ago, I left corporate after a great 15+ year run selling enterprise software to join my wife full time at our (and what was then her, Agency). It felt foreign to meet with clients and prospects, many of them Fortune 500, and introduce our CEO as my partner in business, as well as in life (we have been married for 15 years this Nov). When asked about our team to say “us” and really mean just “us” (Pam and I :)).
    I realized after just a few metings that what had made me so successful in corporate is what would also drive success as a quickly growing start-up. Transparency, simplicity, and being who I am. Not really giving a care what level or position the person holds that I am meeting with. Treating everyone with the same respect, and love. You heard me, love. Servant leadership. Doing whatever it took to make them happy.
    A couple years later and “we” shout from the rooftops that we are partners in business as well as in life. Our corporate clients really like it, and if you sit back and think about it, how many business partners have been together successfully for nearly 20 years? Not many.
    I hope your write up inspires others to recognize that “people buy from people”. Simple as that. Fancy talk and soliloquies are for poetry night at the beatnik coffee shop.
    “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss.
    Peace and Blessings – Josh

    • Chris Brogan

      So who are you? What makes you that person they connected with? : )

    • Cijaye DePradine

      Awesome response Josh – very helpful – thank you.

  • Martin Pigg

    As I work on the third revision of my first book, a memoir, I am witnessing, first hand, the emergence of my own voice. It’s an amazing experience. I appreciate so much the courage it takes for people to step out into the world and say “This is who I am!” And I applaud anyone who has the cajones to take that step.

    p.s. I loved the poem. Thanks for sharing it with us Chris.

  • Cijaye DePradine

    It’s amazing to me to read this Chris. Not just because you are always a thought provoking writer but also because I have been processing this information for a few weeks in my own head already.

    I know I have a LOT to offer to my audience – and while I am very busy doing just that (with my clients) when it comes to putting more of myself out there to let people get to know the real me – I freeze with fear of rejection. Odd considering I am a totally courageous fighter that tends to believe she doesn’t care what others think at the end of the day – but in business – I have a totally different mindset.

    I guess, since my audience is made up of business persons across the globe, I feel I have to be all business, all the time. And while I typically am – I am not what I would consider your everyday white collar business woman. I can be, and have been and I do it well, but mostly I am a renegade. So while I see validity of what you are saying —how does one bridge a gap like this one without risking some level of identity crisis?

  • Aprille Byam

    Great post, Chris, and of course great pic. This summer has been tough because I was told that my real self wasn’t welcome at my job and I tried to twist myself into a secret identity that fit “expectations” – but that also smothered my superpowers entirely. This all came to a head and I was cut, and I’ve finally realized I can’t make those compromises. I am a Chaos Muppet – I have to embrace that. In a situation where that is valued, I’ll also be able to use my power of flight. I can do awesome things, once unfettered.

  • Jelena Milosevic

    When you present yourself as you really are and not by what you think another want to see, or what you will like to be, another will not get dissapointed. By that, you will have people around, whom want to be with you for you and not for imagination you made.
    People want to be liked and that another look at them as something special and important, whatever, and that is reason they act another way. But, I ask myself, do they like it? Are they satisfied with themselves then?
    It’s something else, when you change by growing and learning, but most of the time people use same, sure recipe, how to reach the succes. Even it is a lie…and at one moment they start to believe in it…

  • David Foster

    I actually practice this in business. I am VERY transparent even with our finances and it has never served me wrong. I feel that if people want to connect with me, then I should be who I am with them, because I would not want people to connect with me, then see them at a live event or the like and have them realize that they did not realize who or what I was, and that would be a hard pill to swallow…

    I get many people telling me that I am possibly too open, but these are not our clients but members of the team who think old school. I ALWAYS want people to know that there are real people behind my brand and not a bunch of robots and logos and graphics. People who have lives…families…pets…and yes even struggles. This is how I have and will always run my business and if I am not as successful for that decision, so be it, but I can sleep at night knowing that I never had to change who I was to satisfy the masses. Thanks for the post @chrisbrogan:disqus .

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