Last week, I attended a three-day writing workshop at the foot of the Catskill mountains with Cheryl Strayed, author of Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild. During the first evening session, she put this on the screen:
We’re not interested in who you are.
We’re interested in who you are really.
On its surface, I know it reads like a Monday Mantra fridge magnet. But it stuck with me, so hear me out.
As I thought about the writing greats—Virginia Woolf, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, Mary Oliver—it struck me that this may be their biggest differentiator. Beyond their unique writing styles and themes explored, they are and were people with a distinct and unapologetic point of view, more interested in telling the truth as they saw it than anything else. They knew who they were, really, and showed us that person through their craft (for them: writing). As readers, we respond to their stories, but even more so to the truth we sense on the page.
As I thought about the business world, I found that line of differentiation to be the same. There are business leaders at every turn showing us who they are through their personal brand work: Here’s my expertise, here are my values, here are the causes I can get behind, here’s my TED talk.
But how many are showing us who they are, really? And aren’t those the business leaders we trust and often gravitate towards the most?
It’s easy to go down the authenticity and vulnerability line of thinking here, believing we need to write revealing op-eds about our traumas or failures to show people the core of who we are. But what I think about when I think about these writers and business leaders is not their most vulnerable stories but their solidness. There’s nothing wishy-washy about what they believe or how they see the world. Everything they say and create holds the truth of those beliefs. Period.
My takeaway from those two sentences was: Not everyone is going to like you. But do they believe you are who you say you are? Do you?
That seems to be the ultimate differentiator.
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