The Fear of Maintaining Authenticity

A college friend contacted me a couple of months ago. Nick was interested in starting a travel website and wanted some guidance. He had a full-time job, friends and a social life in Washington, D.C. This was just something he felt passionately about and he wanted some support.

Naturally, there are tons of travel websites and blogs on the Internet. Every day, it seems another person is backpacking around the world and telling a story about it. Nick had some good ideas about building readership, generating new blogs and keeping topics relevant to a subset of the 18-30 year population. But there was this nagging fear in both his mind and mine. How would his travel website be different from all the other content out there? What made his idea unique?

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I often worry about being unique or “maintaining authenticity” in my day to day activities. I want to write my own words, dance my own movement, and form a new career that only I could have achieved. It scares me to think that I’m being influenced by others–peers, parents, those who have come before, and those whose voices seem to be the loudest–to choose differently than my “authentic” self would do.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Think outside the box. Make a statement. Take a stand.

As a sophomore in college, I choreographed my first dance piece. I promised myself that I would create all the movement on my own without any outside influence. I didn’t want to copy others or steal another’s creative work. This would be all mine.

The piece sucked. It was disjointed and lacked continuity between movement and transitions. The dancers didn’t seem to fully understand the message I was trying to get across and I can’t blame them for their confusion. Instead of learning from the dance masters and borrowing from the greats, I tried to build a masterpiece from nothing. That was when I learned the value of imitation. The Martha Grahams and Alvin Aileys of the world knew what they were doing as did my college professionals I took class from every day. I needed to practice and mimic and study those who came before. You cannot break the rules until you know them. 

Currently at work, I’ve been struggling again. There are successful salesmen (all men for the time being) who have learned the company and have mastered their art of finding clients and closing deals. I was adamant about doing it my own way without bowing down or admitting to needing their help. Pride perhaps? Fear? Maybe a little of both. But these are the people who will give me options and present me with techniques. I must try on their methods in order to decide which one fits best before designing one of my own. 

In starting his own website, Nick must read other websites, understand the market, and learn what boosts online traffic. In the beginning, he should imitate the professionals and learn from their knowledge before forging out on his own. Nick’s travel website is going to be unique because it comes from Nick* and no one else.

* If you’ve ever taken a road trip, travel for work, or studied abroad (and considered writing about it), contact me! Nick is very excited and driven but it can’t happen without support from others who are willing to share their own view of the world. xoxo

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