A video came across my feed on LinkedIn the other day of Jae West the co-founder of Liberators International, an organization whose mission is, “To involve people in participatory acts of freedom that allow us to see that beyond our differences there is love and humanity“. In the video, West sits down in the middle of Time Square, and with scissors and razors in hand, displays a sign next to her that reads “Beauty isn’t dependent on your outward appearance, please cut or shave my hair.

This got me thinking about how in our selfie culture we go out of our way to portray a positive image of ourselves. We get clothes that favor the way we look, we pose for pictures in a way that would hide or diminish features we are embarrassed to show, and little by little we create this image for the world to see that is nothing but a well-managed product that is far from the real person within. We ascribe value to the product we have created and become enslaved to it to forever put it on display lest others find out it’s all a fraud.

If you spent your life concentrating on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were? What if the face you showed the world turned out to be a mask… with nothing beneath it?

― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

The company I work for puts a lot of effort in campus recruiting. Recently while at a local university conducting interviews, we sat down for lunch to sync up on the candidates we had interviewed so far. A couple coworkers mentioned how they both had candidates that were really good, but that it was obvious that they were very well coached. As the interviews progressed, it was clear they were providing the answers they thought we wanted to hear. This is a challenge in getting to the real person, as this is how we determine if they are a good cultural fit or not. One of our partners, who was also part of the interviewing team, said something that took me by surprise. He said “you should tell them, ‘look I want to get to know the real you'” and proceeded to describe how to ask the person to answer not based on what they thought we wanted to hear, but based on what they truly believed and thus revealing the real person in the process. What we experienced is indicative of how our culture has created an entire system where image management is a skill we teach young adults in order to make it into the schools in which they want to study or the company for which they want to work. We should not be surprised when people have a hard time being authentic.

Early in our marriage my wife and I were going through a rough spot and decided to go counseling. During one of the sessions, our counselor was describing the importance of being real as the only way to achieve emotional intimacy. He said that intimacy equals “into me you see“. This stuck with me through the years because at the core of our troubles was me being unwilling or unable to allow my wife to see “into me,” and that was creating conflict in our marriage. This was a turning point for me not only in how I related to my wife, but it also redefined all other relationships as well. It changed the way I have related to my wife, my children, friends and even those within the workplace. Now I’m free to be myself, revealing the good the bad and the ugly. More than once I have given people the warning saying “hey, I’m as messed up as they come. It is a matter of time before I disappoint you”. My intent is two-fold, to show that I will own my junk, but also hopefully encourage others to do the same. This is the only way to build intimacy, to let others see into you. Being real does not mean bearing our hearts to strangers. It does mean, however, that with discernment, we show our true self to others.

Intimacy = Into Me You See

My wife had a milestone birthday last month. When a few friends could not make it due to a number of reasons, either being out of state, scheduling conflicts, etc, I decided to have them record a quick video expressing what she means to them. Without exception the recurring theme was how real and authentic she is, how encouraging this is to them, and how she had challenged them to be the same. Needless to say, I’ve married up. My wife makes me a better man every day as she is a living example of authenticity.

John Legend has many awesome songs, but there is one that I love the most called All of me. The chorus says:

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
‘Cause I give you all, all of me
And you give me all, all of you

I try to live my life without filters, portraying the real me. All my perfect imperfections for everyone to see. I believe we can turn our culture away from the selfie picture-perfect focus, but that begins with me, and begins with you. It begins with letting others see into us so that our physical appearance becomes secondary and we no longer feel we need to do image management to gain acceptance from others. When the real us shines through so much that whatever external imperfections we have, are covered by our light coming from within.