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How To Be Authentic—and Why You Should Bother

Andy Roberts/Getty Images
Andy Roberts/Getty Images,

by Kara Baskin

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You want to communicate authentically. You want to thrive in a way that feels meaningful and real. How to do so is the heart of productivity guru Todd Henry’s work. He shares insights and advice from his book, Louder than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, with Life Reimagined.

Authenticity Many people confuse authenticity with vulnerability, Henry says. Instead, think of authenticity this way: you’re being true to yourself instead of simply going through comfortable motions and routines. “At a certain point in life and career, you get to a place where you feel stuck. You’ve been disconnected from the things that drive you. As a result, you’re no longer infusing those things into your work on a daily basis”—a surefire way of falling into a rut, Henry says. To realign yourself, “Think of times when people have responded in deep ways to work you’ve done. Consider potential patterns that exist in those places. Why is it that this message was resonant? Why did I come alive? Why did I bring the best of who I am?” By “looking backward to look forward,” you’ll reset your internal GPS.

Think of authenticity this way: you’re being true to yourself instead of simply going through comfortable routines

Todd Henry

Uniqueness Sure, we all think we’re unique. But it’s easy to lose that core sense of self when you’re in what Henry calls “protect mode,” failing to take risks, often because you fear losing what you’ve worked so hard to build. Sound familiar? “The key to uniqueness is to make bold decisions. We get cautious; we don’t want to offend. We rely on incremental progress because we’ve accomplished so much and have something to lose,” he warns. Instead, be willing to take strategic risks that feel targeted to your goals. “You might alienate people, but you will become precise.”

Timing When you’re working hard, head down, it’s easy to become myopic. There’s a big world out there, though, and success depends on being in rhythm with it. “Sit down and absorb and commune with great minds, pay attention to the culture, look for patterns—don’t just read the news, but consider how it applies to the work you’re doing so that you can get ahead. This isn’t trend-chasing. Pay attention to what matters to you, contextually,” Henry says. Take, for instance, a gleeful audience member who was summoned onstage by Billy Joel not long ago. “The young fan had been practicing these songs in his dorm, waiting for the opportunity. When it came, he seized it. Many of us think, ‘I’ll recognize when it comes along and jump on it.’ But they haven’t been doing the prep work. Timing is about doing the little things to prepare yourself, every single day,” Hone your skills with a broader goal in mind, so you can leap when ready.

See also: When You Want a New Life

Empathy Whether you’re addressing your audience, your customers, your marketplace or your team, think about the vast crowd as one person. “Imagine you’re sitting across the desk from someone. Think about what that person cares about, their day, how they feel, whether they have kids. Make that one person your hero, the center of your story,” Henry says. “People love to think about themselves!” It’s easy to lump groups of people as generalizations or faceless avatars instead of real, living humans. By pretending that you’re addressing them one-to-one, it’s that much easier to be genuine and to spark an authentic connection.