“I’ve read your stuff online. You’re so… honest.”
I get that a lot, usually with a slight intake of breath and the hint of a wince.
Honesty makes others uncomfortable, of course. TMI and all that. On Twitter and in my blog posts, I’ve been honest about failure, depression, my finances, my sex life (or lack thereof), self esteem and other issues that most would prefer not to talk about. We live in a world in which we’re all our own publicists and spin doctors now, and to pretend to be anything other than successful is to cross a line that sets of murmurs of disapproval.
Not that it’s anything new. Over the years, many writers have chosen themselves as subjects and written in the realm of the confessional, but it took social media to turn the kind of unburdening that had once been a matter for the diary and, rarely, the column, and make it mainstream.
Even so, I have been told many times that my honesty is incompatible with my career. “You won’t get clients,” I am told. You should look more professional. Tell the world you’re successful. You’ll scare people off otherwise. Or give trolls like this one material:
They are quite right. I probably do scare some people off. So why choose to be honest about my failings, and make them so public?
Partly, I suppose, because I’ve always done it. Ever since I got into trouble with Mrs Hart in Grade 2 at Bryanston Primary for writing that a guest at a wedding where I was a flower girl called me a “little bugger” for throwing berries at my brother (he started it), I’ve been getting into trouble for being too honest about the way the world really is. I got into trouble when I wrote about buying a Matric dance dress in Style magazine at the age of 17, and I’ve been getting into trouble ever since.
Partly because we live in an era in which authenticity is valued, and where we are expected to be both real and human. Perhaps ironically, it would make it much harder for me to be good at one of the things I do – working with other influencers as a social media strategist – if I sounded like a series of press releases.
And partly, too, because it’s too much hard work to be anything else. If I am honest, maybe I can free others from the tyranny of pretence. Maintaining a mask is hard work. It can be a terrible strain, and I discovered that when I freed myself from it, I was free to tell the world about who I really am.
I’d rather be despised for who I am than admired for who I am not.
Yes, it’s strange to encounter strangers who know so much about me. Writing to am amorphous audience is much easier than talking to an individual, and I forget that there are consequences.
But the upside to being real is that there’s so much less to worry about. So much less to keep track of. If there’s dirt on me, I want to be the one to dish it first.
I’ll be honest: I’m by no means honest about everything. The version of me that you see in social media is edited and curated. It’s authentic for the most part, but it’s not every aspect of me, and I may still surprise you.
Watch this space.