I wrote dating profiles for others. Here’s what I learned about authenticity.

Quote from Katherine Houston

“Can you make me sound fun?” That was one of the most common questions I’d get when I wrote online dating profiles (before becoming a professional online coach).

I’d also hear things like, “If I say I have kids, will it turn some people off?” and “Do people want to date a widow?”  

The temptation not to be oneself was common.

Yet, to me, each of these clients had unique experiences and characteristics. Why deny others of that contribution?

What makes us unique make us amazing.

 “My brother terrorized me with ketchup” said a man who thought he didn’t have anything engaging to share. “A hypnotist fell asleep on me”, said another. “I loved movies so much that my parents painted the Hollywood sign on my wall”, said another.

What makes us unique makes us amazing

I had clients who did charitable work in war-torn countries; who were pickpocketed by chimps; who collected antique cookbooks; who changed their entire lives after the death of a spouse.

I even wrote the profile of a man whose favorite expression was, “badabing”. He was a riot.

I spent those years giggling over their quirkiest anecdotes, as well as been touched and inspired by their stories of vulnerability, courage and compassion.

While they struggled with self-doubt, I marveled at how charming they were and what a pleasure it was to get to know them. The real them, that is, with all their unique characteristics.

How lucky for the people they were going to meet online.

Lingo on LinkedIn masked self-doubt.

Writing LinkedIn profiles revealed the same kind of self-doubt.

Clients would often asked if I could make them sound more experienced than they were or could I add words like “proven” to make them sound more successful than they thought they were.

I also dealt with clients who hid behind catchy sounding lingo because they worried the plain truth wouldn’t be appealing enough to attract clients and head hunters.

To make matters worse for some of these clients was that I always started a LinkedIn profile with a short, personal anecdote, which I’d ask them to provide.

Doing so brought up many of the same concerns as the dating profiles.

You can stand out

Even getting a little personal was too revealing

I had good reason to begin a business profile on a somewhat personal note.

It was a unique approach that would create a personal bond with the reader, ultimately making my client more likeable and approachable.

It was a well-founded marketing technique that works.

Ironically though, going forward in an authentic way – without exaggeration and with a small personal reveal – was uncomfortable for many of them.

Yet, whether online or off, presenting your true self (within the context of reasonable social norms) is hugely beneficial.

What’s authenticity anyway?

The value of authenticity blog 2

Authenticity is behaving in a way that aligns with your core values. These are deeply-help beliefs about what’s right and wrong, as well as what’s right and wrong for you. 

Authenticity guides behavior and decisions.

You make decisions based on what you feel is right or wrong rather than based on the beliefs of others. You trust your instincts and aren’t plagued by self-doubt.

You don’t compare yourself negatively to others. You set healthy boundaries and don’t empower toxic people.

You’re comfortable with your weaknesses and can be openly vulnerable. You have good judgment when it comes to who and what you let into your life.

You pursue your passions whether they’re popular or not. You’re at peace with your unique qualities just as you are with the qualities that help you fit in.

Actually, you’re at peace, period. Authenticity creates a state of inner peace.

Being authentic doesn’t mean being one-dimensional

I’ve read a lot of articles on self-development. One topic that comes up is the battle we have been our outside self and internal self.

I’m no psychologist, but I’d argue that we are one “self” that’s multifaceted. No need to have multiple personalities.

Different people and different situations bring out different parts of ourselves.

We have a combination of traits. We also have levels of a trait that may increase or decrease depending on context.

For instance, I’m a truly patient person when it comes to the elderly being slow to move.

But, I’ll yell “chop-chop” if I’m on a bike path and some entitled pedestrian with an off-leash dog decides to take up the entire path.

Bike path that is. It’s a bike path, sigh.

We all have different sides.

It’s possible to navigate the various aspects of our lives, and the people in them, while remaining true to ourselves, and doing so as a reasonable and acceptable member of society.

Benefits of authenticity

Why being authentic improves your life

When you put “yourself” out there, the people who gravitate toward you are the ones who like “you”.  You don’t need to pretend or hide with them because “you” resonate with them.

These positive alliances are great for your self-confidence. Additionally, because you’re in the company of people who get you, you tend to have less self-doubt and anxiety.

They create a supportive network that doesn’t judge you unfairly and is more forgiving when you make mistakes.

You might feel free to take more risks, which can help you learn more about your strengths, weaknesses and passions.

Furthermore, when you’re authentic, people tend to trust you and take you at your word. Again, inspiring positive alliances.

Being authentic increases self-respect too In turn, this informs people how to treat you, which reinforces your self-esteem. It’s a constructive reciprocal cycle.

Let’s break down some of the positive impacts of authenticty and see how they apply to a few aspects of every life (this is just a summary):

Positive alliances lead to self-development

Being surrounded by people who think of you in a positive way increases confidence.

At work, a positive network could mean that more people want to work with you, recommend you, promote you and provide references for you.

Outside of work, positive connections with others can mean being exposed to more friendships, more hobbies, and more things to do from entertainment to physical activity.

Fun friendship quote

The safety net of social support

Having more people in your life who like you translates into a stronger emotional safety net.

When things don’t go well for you in your professional or personal life, you’ll have more people who’ll stand by you, show compassion or are willing to lend a hand. When things are going well, you’ll have more people rooting for you and wanting to mark the moments with celebration.

Life is so much happier!

You become less judgmental

People who like you tend to be less critical of you. You’ll be judged less often and more fairly.

They cut you slack when you mess up and, as a result, you’re less afraid to take risks which leads to personal and professional growth.

Plus, when they do criticize, there’s a better chance that their critique is in your best interest. This, too, has a positive impact on self-development.

Did I mention how much happier life becomes?

The inner critic and cognitive dissonance dissipate

Have you ever found yourself wondering if you were too assertive, too emotional, too something? Do you ever say no to a project or an activity and then wonder if you should have been more flexible?

When you start behaving in an authentic way, you develop stronger networks and greater self-confidence. You also begin to develop enough objectivity to pause before you assume some flaw or mistake on your own part.

Cognitive dissonance is an underlying anxiety caused when your actions, feelings and thoughts conflict with your values.

For instance, I’ve been a vegetarian from the time I was seven years old – long before restaurants catered to people like me. I was often put in a position between eating something meat-based and being scoffed at by family, friends and servers.

If I had eaten meat, I would have suffered from internal dissonance. I know this because I bought a leather chair a few years ago and the dissonance started the moment I began to consider the purchase.

I love the chair and I no longer feel dissonance. But I do feel regret every time I look at it. I’m so disappointed in myself for choosing décor over a value I’ve maintained for decades. The compromise wasn’t worth it.

More people trust you

Authentic people inspire trust in others. At work and in life, you’ll have less drama,  fewer conflicts and misunderstandings. You’ll be free from the negativity that shrouds more unstable relationships.

What’s more, people will take you at your word.

If you say you’re too busy to take on a project at work, you’ll be believed.  If you say you weren’t the one who stole someone’s lunch from the fridge (I had to add that example because, seriously – haven’t we all known someone who steals from the shared fridge!) – you’ll be believed.

When people trust you, they tend to associate other positive traits to you like honesty, compassion and discretion.  So at work and outside of it, you can engage in more meaningful conversations.

You gain and maintain self-respect

Authentic people tend to have higher self-esteem, which in turn leads them to have self-respect. They know their worth as human beings and behave with healthy pride and dignity. They also expect to be treated accordingly.

Your self-respect dictates how people treat you. Examples of this include:

  1. Setting boundaries when you’re asked to add one more item to your already full to-do list

2. Choosing a partner who treats you well

3. Accepting that your best will have to be good enough for others too


Why is it so hard it to be yourself?

I was always surprised and a little disconcerted to see the difference between how I viewed my clients and how they viewed themselves.

Even otherwise confident clients would become more self-critical at the prospect of going online and presenting themselves in an environment of other people, particularly strangers.

Once in the company of others, we begin to concern ourselves with being judged and, specifically, being exposed to some degree of rejection.

At our core, we seek approval and that’s not all bad.

Why we care about what others think.

Numerous studies support the fact that we’re social animals because we need other people to survive.  

Evolutionary psychologists believe that, when we were hunters and gatherers, being ostracized from our tribe could mean death. It was impossible to survive alone then. Despite civilization, it’s impossible to survive alone now too.

Ostracism is common in a variety of social from animals from wolves to bees.

You can learn more in Wired to Connect, an interesting article I found on Scientific American.

We’ve been conditioned to fit in from birth. Parents, teachers, peers, colleagues and society in general have influenced what we believe to be important. We developed behaviors, thoughts and priorities based on what we were taught, not on what felt right for us.

We’ve also learned from parents, teachers and society in general that approval by others has emotional rewards, not to mention practical ones.

How many of us grew up with trade-offs from our parents, “Be good and you’ll get…” How many times did being a “good soldier” advance your career?

Now, with social media, we’re bombarded with messages about how to be and what to want. We’re overwhelmed by the influence of others.

Some of those messages are reasonable and appropriate, of course.

But some have separated us from self. Over time, that separation can cause you to feel isolated and alone even in the company of others.

Wired, conditioned, but are we SOL?

There’s a balance between a reasonable, healthy need for approval and one where you compromise your true self. Thankfully, we can be true to ourselves while still conforming to reasonable expectations of society.

For instance, is mentioning that you have children on your dating profile truly a reason for concern? I don’t think so. In the context of finding the right match, why deny such an important and meaningful part of your life.

By being someone you’re not, you’re acting upon the assumption that being who you are isn’t worthy of approval.

In coaching, as in therapy, you learn how to find a healthy balance between caring about how others feel about you and caring about how you feel about yourself.

In summary

When I wrote online profiles, I made sure to get to know my clients. I asked countless questions, some typical and many not so typical. My entire goal was to find and highlight all their most unique personality traits, behaviors and experiences.

Initially, many were uncomfortable with my desire to make them stand out. But in the end, when they saw profiles that truly reflected who they were, they were often surprised at how unique they were and how much more they liked themselves for it.

Being true to yourself is often easier said that done. As long as we live with others and have new experiences, being authentic will be a work in progress.

I encourage you to read these following two articles on authenticity:

Be you. Be happy. Be free.

Turn “me time” into a lifetime.

In each of the articles I reference the following article on values. It includes steps on how to identify your values.

I suggest that you work on the steps with a coach or a mentor. They provide the foundation to a happier life and are worth the time and investment.

“How to be happy in 2,053 words”

Be sure to share this article to help others reach the life they want while being true to themselves.

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