I usually don’t break the rules, but when I do, it’s usually well justified.
I was standing in front of about 200 people at a semiformal dinner. A friend and I were promoting a documentary screening, a film about the impacts of the Northern gateway pipeline on indigenous communities told through the eyes of a stand up paddleboarder. The trailer for the film is beautiful, showcasing high definition shots of BC wildlife and coastline. It is also two and a half minutes long, and we only had one minute. Our preparation was slipshod; I was in costume with bare feet and a bathing suit. Three minutes before we had to be inside, my friend and I found a broken door to be our board, and a pool cue for the paddle.
At the college we were at, there aren’t too many rules. You could even have alcohol in your room. But there were two rules that came up a lot. One was don’t play with the pool cues, and another was wear shoes in the dining hall. Somehow, in front of the entire student body and administration, I was breaking both. As my friend rattled off the details of the event, I started doing a paddleboarding pantomime with some hula thrown in.
In that moment, dancing ridiculously in front of 200 of my peers, I wasn’t concerned about a lot of things that I usually am. Usually I follow the rules. Usually I’m pretty tuned in to what people are thinking of me. Usually I don’t wear a bathing suit to dinner.
But that stuff didn’t matter because I was caught up in something bigger.
When I really believe in what I am doing, I stop worrying about appearances. The core realisation is that I am at my best when I act with abandon. I do best when I give up pretense, control, and reputation. Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker talks about advising a student on how to create content on social media. To her own surprise, she found herself saying, “Don’t even think about your target market. Write what you believe in”. Get rid of all the strategies to be engaging, relevant or viral. instead, just be you.
Aaker offered two key ways to do this:
Stand for something. For me, it’s easy to waffle. As I strive to impress others, I rarely argue for my own point of view. Being authentic means abandoning my people pleasing tendencies.
Speak with sincerity. Aaker posits that people don’t remember what you say or do, but instead how you make them feel. I need to focus less on the mechanics of what I write and instead ask: Is this honest?
Abandon is important because when I am at my worst, I become a control freak, trying to manipulate every detail so that things go the way I want them to. I am at my best when all the details fade in importance because there is something bigger. That’s authenticity.
There is a fundamental irony here, which is that the primary reason I’m reflecting on Aaker’s thoughts is that I have to submit a blog post on her presentation. Writing this post meant managing the tension between what I wanted to write about and what needed to be turned in. For all the “abandon others’ expectations” rhetoric, there are deadlines and requirements. In this post, I attempted to satisfy both, to take a topic that I was forced to write about and make it my own. For me, that meant finding a way for my story mesh with the larger conversation on authenticity.
How did I do?
Or better, how do you do this? How do you manage the tension between being yourself and meeting expectations?