Authenticity means something different to everyone. Maybe it’s a singer who sounds even better live than on their albums. An artist who does everything by hand. A writer who lives by their own words.
Maybe authenticity is one of those things better defined by their opposite — the fake, the con artist, the fraud.
The singer who can’t carry a tune on stage. The scientist who faked all their results. The plagiarist.
Those beautifully curated lives on Instagram.
The politicians who run on platforms they don’t even believe in. All those rich, white senators in flyover states who have no problem with abortion when it comes to their own families.
You get the idea.
But it’s harder to be genuine than you’d think. Unless you’re some bum who makes no effort at all. Nobody expects anything from the troll, so there’s no one to let down. Nothing to live up to.
So I guess we can define authenticity like this: You only promise what you can deliver. You’re honest, and you hold yourself accountable — even when you screw up. But we can go even further, I think…
Authenticity takes time.
You don’t always know what you’re thinking or feeling. You have to go after yourself with a shovel and a pick axe. Even then, it’s not over. You have to figure out how to express all that to someone.
Gold looks like shit when it comes right out of the ground. Sometimes people want gold nuggets. Other times, they want a bracelet.
Either way, it’s still gold. The real deal.
Plenty of us try to say what we mean all the time, and still manage to screw it up. The wrong word. The wrong tone. The wrong time. So we refine ourselves, our work, our message.
It’s hard. It takes guts and energy. And also a shit ton of patience. A thoughtful person is an artist in their own way.
Authenticity transcends taste.
Maybe you remember this random starlet from last decade. She named herself after a kind of alcohol. Made jokes at concerts about forgetting the lyrics to her own songs. Now she’s turned away from the L.A. lifestyle, and wants you to gofundme her first gospel album.
Here’s the thing. If you want to sing gospel, go for it. Just make sure you can remember your own lyrics.
See, when you constantly screw up the words to songs you allegedly wrote…that tells people maybe you’re not that into making music. Maybe your work doesn’t mean anything, even to you. Maybe you’re more into yourself. Or money. Or fame.
Authenticity calls for respect to your craft.
And then there’s Vanilla Ice. The guy who made his biggest hit by singing the same three words over a song by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. The guy who had so little respect for the musical canon, he thought nobody would notice he was ripping off an iconic rock song.
Imagine if Vanilla Ice had just humbled himself enough to ask for permission to sample the bass line.
Or maybe he could’ve taken the bass as inspiration and made it his own somehow, instead of thinking of the entire music industry as a mule to ride to his own edification and glory.
A huge difference lives between influence and theft. Some artists have no respect for their craft. If they did, they wouldn’t steal or appropriate other people’s work.
Authenticity calls for humble confidence.
Rock gods talk about a weird kind of confidence required of them. You have to believe you belong on a stage in front of a million people. But you can’t think you’re better than any of them.
Because without them, you’re nothing. An authentic person never forgets how they depend on their audience.
Authenticity transcends money.
Artists deserve to make cash off their work. And yet, we often net criticism for focusing too much on money. We doubt our own intentions. How do we test our creative drive for authenticity?
Simple, let’s remember that we could make money doing lots of different things. We’re doing this thing because we want to.
We feel compelled to.
Some of us have been doing this thing for a long time, even before it made us any money. And if we weren’t making money, we’d still be doing the thing. We just don’t want to broadcast that last point.
Authenticity makes you financially vulnerable.
Artists have a sad history of being exploited, exactly because we’d keep working for free if we had to.
There you have it, authenticity. Getting paid means I can do more of the thing I love, and I can take my time. Produce my best work, without having to worry about next month’s rent.
A little financial pressure can motivate an artist. But poverty tends to crush your creativity. The suffering, starving artist is a myth. We might’ve started poor, but we can’t stay poor and continue creating good work. The few of us who do still have to make painful sacrifices elsewhere — and eventually end up just like the con artists. Charred.
Authenticity transcends safety.
To grow, you have to take risks. Try new genres. Experiment with new styles. Learn to live and learn from failure.
An authentic person follows their creative gut. Sure, they listen to feedback. But they also make informed choices about what advice to follow. They know they’re not going to please everyone.
But they know they have to please someone. Or maybe they don’t want to please so much as impact you.
Authenticity means admitting your screw ups.
Sometimes we don’t live up to our genuine selves. We try, and fail, and sometimes people expect too much from us. We disappoint. We let others down. But we keep trying, and that’s what matters.
We all curate ourselves to the world. A careful person thinks about every thing they say. Most of us only post the best out of a hundred selfies. We omit details from our lives for different reasons. All of this aside, intention matters. A genuine person always puts in the work, for its own sake. Everything else comes after the fact.