The key to building an authentic business is building an authentic life.
A few weeks ago, I watched the movie Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner, for the umpteenth time. It’s a great movie, filled with many life lessons, and one I’d highly recommend if you haven’t seen it.
The story revolves around the fictional general manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver, deciding what to do after his team acquires the number one draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Weaver, played by Kevin Costner, is met with many opportunities—various trade offers that might (or might not) be in the best interest of the organization.
A yellow post-it-note is shown many times throughout the movie, which holds a message he wrote. The note was revealed after the Browns have made their pick. It said: Vontae Mack, no matter what.
Costner’s character knew what he wanted going into the draft, and his strategy was to put the Browns in the best possible situation—without sacrificing what he knew was best for the team. In short, he didn’t falter with his responsibility, nor with what he knew in his heart was right.
In a world where change and transition happen all too often, we get bombarded like Sonny was with opportunities—or temptations—to “forget” the masterplan, to get distracted, and to ultimately lose sight of our vision.
The storyline in Draft Day reminds me of my journey as a creative entrepreneur. The noise, the people screaming at us, and the pressure.
Our personal brands matter, and even though we feel, at times, that nobody is watching, we must remember that they are—usually more than we think.
The adage goes… You do you.
While there is nothing wrong with being influenced by someone, by a design, by a way of doing business, it’s critical we maintain our autonomy.
The Iceberg of Life
In 2014, I started a blog called Unfiltered, which was my first attempt at writing—creating a movement—about authenticity. It seems that over the past few years, a number of my peers—and others that I look up to—have also started to talk about the importance of mental health.
A good friend of mine, Cory Miller, has done a phenomenal job—far better than I ever have—addressing these issues. His message, The Iceberg of Life, has resonated with thousands of people—including me:
“So much of life (and being an entrepreneur) can be explained by the example of the simple iceberg. On top of the surface are the things that everyone sees…or more importantly, what you WANT everyone to see.”
But then he goes on to say:
“And then for some of us, it’s life week to week, day to day, or moment by moment. The Below the Surface stuff that’s buried down deep, in the dark. The things we hide. That we obfuscate. That we share with few people or no one at all. And the deeper you go, the darker it gets.”
Here’s something that he created, which gives a much more vivid look at what he’s trying to say:
If you have time—and I’d suggest trying to find some—I encourage you to watch the entire presentation he gave at WordCamp US. It’s something that can impact your life and the way you do things, as it has with mine.
The Unfiltered blog lasted just a few months. I could tell you that it was a result of being too busy, but the truth is: I was scared. Scared of putting myself out there, and scared that it wouldn’t be successful.
Because in full transparency, it mattered. Success mattered.
It always matters, doesn’t it? I mean, what we do matters, and we want that to matter to everyone—in the business world, and in our personal life.
Fast-forward a few years, and here we are: Part Deux, known as Authentik.
As much as I didn’t want to shut down Unfiltered, at the time I knew I needed to. But my desire to reach people—and to reach them with authenticity—never went away.
I want to share my story, and share the things I’ve learned along the way—in the hope that it will help others, like you, with their entrepreneurial journey. I want people to learn from the mistakes I have made.
In an interview on The Great Discontent, Nashville-based designer Ruthie Lindsey said something that I have never been able to shake—something that to this day, rocks my world:
“All of us are longing for connection and authenticity, and what we believe will repel people does the exact opposite.”
These words are at the very core of who I am, and at the very core of who I want to be. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t think about them or bring them up in conversation. They inspired me to take another crack at doing something personal like this—in a space that I feel needs it.
The Fear of Failing
Among the many tragedies of my generation was a guy who spoke some pretty hardcore words. You may have your thoughts about Kurt Cobain, but how can you argue with what he says:
“I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”
In today’s society, being honest isn’t always the “cool thing” to do. We’re trained at an early age to strive for the best, and anything short of that is a failure. We must define what striving for the best is.
Is it a measure of tangible progress or is it a measure of character?
If it’s the latter, then we’re in a much better spot than we think. I’m guessing for most of us, we want to achieve something real. We want more money, more awards, more followers.
But on any given most day, I think we’re afraid—afraid of being seen as a failure or being seen as someone who can’t get it right.
Ernest Hemingway once said:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
I want to bleed. I want you to see the real me, no matter what the cost or at what expense. No triage, nothing to hide, just me being real: Authenticity.
One thing I have come to realize is this: The key to building an authentic business is building an authentic life.
These beliefs will be at the core of everything I do. They will serve as the foundation for my writing, my design, and everything else I create.
Like Sonny, I too, have a yellow post-it-note. It sits on my desk, mere inches away from where I am typing this. A place where I will always see it.
It says: Honesty, no matter what.