What does it mean to be real, anyway?


Perhaps it seems like it shouldn’t be that complicated. Being “real” means to be YOU. Simple, right? I mean, who else are you going to be? And yet, simple does not always mean easy—or everyone would do it by default!

It can be challenging to be “real,” not only because it often takes courage (you don’t want your truest self to be rejected!), but because it’s easy to confuse authenticity with a million other things. Some people think being real means having no filters or no boundaries. Some think it’s an excuse to never change.  Others think it means expressing every thought or feeling you have. Nope!

Being real means being honest with yourself, acting according to your values, and bringing your full self to every interaction.

And because of this, being real looks different for everyone. Sometimes wildly so! As crazy as it sounds, if you use others as an example, you might find yourself trying to “be real” in a way that doesn’t fit your personality or values at all!

I see this frequently, especially in presentation skills coaching. Clients often get so caught up in doing things “right” that they completely lose themselves in the process. That’s fine when you’re first starting out with a new speech or presentation—sometimes you work so hard on the content or the skills that you DO lose yourself in the process.

Eventually, though, I tell them, “I need more of you in this presentation.” And that’s when things get interesting. People have all sorts of preconceived notions about how “being yourself” looks in front of a group, and often those notions are at odds with their own personal style. (Hint: You in front of a group is the same as you by yourself, it’s just a bigger presence.) You don’t have to be something you’re not to do it “right.” Your presentation (or greeting or client communications or writing style) may be totally different from some other successful person’s, but if it’s 100% you, it’s 100% “right.”

To illustrate this point, let me invite you into my living room. (Virtually. Please don’t show up at the door.) Here, I have a shelf full of beautiful gifts and souvenirs from around the world. Two of my favorites are about as different from each other as can be: one is a glass Aalto vase my friend Sari brought me from Finland and the other is a hand-painted set of nesting dolls my mom bought in Prague.

The Aalto vase is very much like the friend who gave it to me: brilliant in its clarity and openness. The glass curves, beautifully, and creates ever-changing shapes and perspectives as you turn it. You can see right through its simple, clean lines. There is no hiding what’s going on inside! Like my friend, who is straightforward and direct, this transparent vase is an exquisite piece of artwork.

But that’s not me. I am more like the Czech doll. My nesting dolls are beautifully hand-painted with brilliant colors and detailed flowers. What you see on the outside, however, is just the beginning. When you open up the doll, inside is another! And inside that, another… and another… and another… These smaller dolls are not immediately apparent, yet they all belong. They match. And while they are not readily apparent when you first “meet” them, they are present and accessible. They make the doll what it is.

These two items are completely different and I absolutely love them both. As they are. The flowers on the dolls are beautiful, but if I tried to paint flowers on the Aalto vase, I would ruin it! Partly because I’m a terrible artist—but mostly because the vase would no longer be its clear, open, gorgeous self.

And what if I wanted to make the doll more like the vase? If I took out all the smaller dolls and hid them away in a box in order to have one open, empty doll…what a waste! It would lose its mystery and surprises. Not to mention, it wouldn’t even be a set of nesting dolls anymore! It would lose its identity.

It’s obvious when we’re talking about trinkets that copying something else doesn’t work. Somehow, we forget that when we’re talking about people. Don’t lose sight of your own qualities and try to copy someone else’s communication, style, or presence. Appreciate and celebrate the fact that no one else can be you.

By all means, grow and change. Get to know and develop your best, truest, richest self. Being authentic takes a lot more vulnerability and courage than claiming a less-than-awesome identity. It takes finding, celebrating, and living up to your potential. Being real is never a copout. It’s a mission.

So, what does it mean to be real? Being real means knowing yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. Being real means being honest about your marvelousness and sharing it, as well as being honest about your flaws and working hard to overcome them. Being real means owning and accepting who you are and who you can be.

Be real. Be you—the best version you can be.


Change your communication, change your life. 

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