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  • Gabriella van Rij

"Authentic" - A Trendy Word… Do We Over Use It?

How do you feel when you hear the word “authentic”?

I believe that most of us tune out when we hear any word too often, similar to when people are running campaigns or ads, in the beginning you pay attention and then when you see it too often, your eyes glaze over it. I personally tend to feel irritation when I hear this word used to sell or when it is misused.

Let’s be honest, 10 to 15 years ago, you barely heard this word because we all believed the person across from us was a “real” person, so we did not need to add that they were genuine, because they were!

So what happened? What made this word so trendy and how come we all use it wrong?

Well, here is my take on a word that now creates irritation and mistrust. I believe we have allowed something to happen in the workplace, which is summed up in that famous expression: “Fake it till you make it.”

But why do we think this way?

Most of us have started at the bottom of the ladder at work, whether it be in the corporate world or as a simple entrepreneur working behind their laptop in pajamas. As a freelancer, we get our first few clients, working almost for free, just to obtain the testimonials needed to create a solid reputation. In the workplace, it is the same. You stay late, you arrive early, and you try to make yourself indispensable and then slowly but surely you are noticed and thus get raises and bonuses and climb the corporate ladder.

So why can't we be honest with potential clients? Why is it so hard to be honest and say that, for example, you've just started offering this coaching thing because you have an immense passion and experience in this field and can definitely help others.

There is nothing wrong with being you! And this is where I believe the problem lies--in a word we don’t often discuss: conformity. I touch on it in my first book because when you cannot be part of a group, in this case, your work environment or network, you will try, without even meaning to, to conform. You become a people-pleaser.

The reason you do this is that you think that by changing your beliefs and your feelings that the group will accept you. And maybe that works for you, but over the years, you will come to wonder where it was that you lost the person that was "you."

We are so worried about not fitting in that we will continue this trend of conformity for years on end without even noticing. I had a man once in my talks who told me he had never thought of conformity until he heard it from me. It made him think hard and long about who he had become.

This following example is extreme, but this happens, too: A girl once told me that she had pretended to like fish on her first date, and now she was stuck, as the date turned into a solid relationship and she did not know how to return to her own tastes.

When you walk into those network groups, you don’t have to "fake it till you make it." My sincere advice is just be you! Tell people what you do and then if they have not run away yet, tell them what you need. Simple as that. Don’t tell people you are going to call them tomorrow when you know you won’t. Be upfront and honest.

That, by the way, is so astonishing that people will start calling you "authentic." But what you are truly doing is being open, honest, receptive, and in one word "genuine." In the long run, this is what will get you more business and you don’t have to wonder, after you turn 50, where the true "you" went.

"Authentic" has now become so popular that it is overused as to be ineffective. What do I mean?

Well, first of all, I don’t think you should call yourself "authentic," especially in a sales pitch. Phrases like “we will authentically and organically grow your social media” or "I have written an authentic book about X," wind up accomplishing the opposite from what you hope. Instead of attracting the client, your prospects are running away and trying to block your email or social media profile.

I had to look up the words “be authentic” out of curiosity, and the number of search results were incredible! The top choice was a wikiHow article on 12 steps to being authentic. However, I liked the definition you see in the image on the right side: “Authenticity is the degree to which an individual's actions are congruent with their beliefs and desires."

It explains how simple it is to be yourself. Be congruent, be honest, walk your talk, do as you say…

Respect, openness, and kindness towards everyone you meet is to me the first rule of interaction. Again, this will end up being easier for you and way more productive than forcing a fake sense of “authenticity” in your sales pitch.

Avoid irritation with an overused word, and try to use one of these synonyms instead: genuine, original, real, or true.

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