by Louisa Wong: LinkedIn INFLUENCER and Executive Chairman at Global Sage
Achievement, no matter how great, does not stop insecurity, and today social media can make us feel even more uncertain about ourselves. During a recent visit to Death Valley in California, I was in awe of the vast emptiness of the Mesquite Sand Dunes and in the midst of the breathtaking sunset at Funeral Mountains, I found myself deep in self realization…
Many people today are obsessed with crafting their reputation rather than being authentic.
That is, rather than be true to themselves, people now seem more and more concerned with how they are perceived. Girlfriends would post happy photos with the boyfriend for the world to see (perception), when in fact there may be a lot of misery in the relationship (reality). When one tells a lie often enough it begins to take the appearance of truth. Just tell people what they want to hear (cognitive bias) and not what they need to, and they will buy it.
(Photo: Death Valley Mesquite Sand Dunes | RJ La Mendola)
The truth is, I’m rarely ever on social media, but in the rare times that I am, I also wonder whether my life sucks when compared to my friends’. Really? Yes, really.
If you ask me, what do people worry most about these days? I reckon many worry about how their life will be remembered, given how everything is “documented” online. Their Facebook timeline becomes a proxy to “shared” memories.
On social media, what I see is a disconnect or even clash between two paths that are growing wider and wider apart: reputation vs. authenticity. Reputation looks outwards – how you are seen by others, how you compare with your friends, how you will ultimately be remembered. Authenticity looks inwards – your strongly held beliefs, your core values, what’s important to you. It used to be that reputation and authenticity are two sides of the same coin – if you are true to yourself, to your values, to what you believe in, then that naturally flows out to your reputation. Now, the two are becoming more and more disconnected. It’s much easier to just “manufacture” your reputation online.
Reputation vs. Authenticity used to be the same path. Now it’s split apart by disruptive social media. If you want to be “the best you can be”, which fork along the path do you take? My guess is: somewhere in the middle.
So what is this middle path? The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described a golden middle path that lies between two extremes (vices), one of excess and the other of deficiency – and it is on this middle path where one can find virtue in “moderation”. If authenticity can be counted as a virtue, then too little of it is to be fake, and too much is to be self-absorbed.
How do you find a healthy balance?
When the whole world is watching, how do you live your life as if nobody is looking?
How do you learn more about your true self? How do you become the “next” you can be?
Is it more realistic to focus on the best I can do rather than worry about how to be the best I can be?
I wish I had taken a self-awareness tool such as MBTI much earlier to “figure out who I am, and therefore what I should become.” Out of curiosity I took the test recently on www.personalityhacker.com and learned that I am an ENFJ, described as genuine, caring leaders who talk the talk and walk the walk, and nothing makes us happier than leading the charge, uniting and motivating the team with our infectious energy. To grow and develop, ENFJs are advised to spend more time on reflection, to look inwards, rather than to spread ourselves too thin trying to save everyone else. I tend to agree, but I wonder if my friends see me that way? Is ENFJ consistent with my reputation, or my authenticity?
If had known I was an ENFJ earlier in my career, would it have changed the paths I had chosen? Have I always been an ENFJ?
When I ask today’s young generation, what is your biggest fear? The answer is often “underachievement” and that they better figure it all out before they hit the age of 40. So how do you know what you can be, let alone the best you can be?
Your friends’ lives can shed light on what you can be, but probably not the best you can be. A “good life” can mean differently to different people, but it can also have universal meaning, e.g. “freedom of choice”, “recognition by others”, “feeling good about yourself”, and “making a positive impact.” If your life is good, does this mean you have achieved the best you can be?
That’s an interesting thing to say for someone who grew up with hardly any friends at all, much less any idea of what my full potential looked like. As the fifth child and the youngest of three daughters, I was regarded as the “insignificant” one in a traditional Chinese family. In my parents’ situation, making life good was neither a choice nor a goal.
A moment of clarity dawned upon me very early in life: how do you even begin to imagine what you can be – let alone the best you can be – when all you see in front of you is an insurmountable wall whose sole purpose is to keep you from seeing what’s on the other side?
Cute but nerdy, I had always been somewhat of a loner. Spending solitary moments playing “teacher” was my favorite hobby. Somehow, helping others had always been my mission in life, starting first and foremost with my family. You cannot help others unless you are strong, I often told myself.
With insecurity slowly eating into my soul, I never gave much thought to the question, “What is the best I can be?” Instead, I focused on “What is the best I can do?” To me, that was to study and to study hard – breaking walls every day.
The path of finding yourself is not a straight line and it is filled with twists and turns. Sometimes we even deliberately choose to swing the pendulum to experience excitement and test our limits until we find out what’s really important to us. For a few people, “to live dangerously” is even the authentic path to take.
What’s important is to patrol your path with constant monitoring and “reality checks”, and development tools and assessments can be used as “goal posts” to enable you to stay the course. Companies today use development tools for career mentoring, performance reviews and succession planning. Self awareness is important.
Social media is a good thing and like everything else too much of it is probably not healthy.
I have chosen the path to authenticity as it is consistent with, and has helped to simplify, my choices and my life. Reputation can change at any moment and can even be manufactured. Doing the best I can do everyday has shaped, and will continue to shape, the best I can be.
What about you?
Lots of Love,