Authenticity is the Straight(est) Path to Fulfillment: The Monkey and The Leopard

I’m giving a talk in Nashville this weekend at HT Live! The topic is authenticity and identity alignment, so that has been much on my mind these last days. A topic like authenticity forces the speaker to confront her own inconsistencies (okay, even hypocrisies). Am I my power point slides? How do I polish the presentation, without polishing away the grit of my imperfections?

The monkey and the leopard made their living at the fair. They each marketed their shows.

The leopard said: Ladies and gentlemen, my renown and glory are known in all the best circles. The king himself has asked to see me. And, if I die, he wants my skin for a hand muff, because it is so colorful, with its many spots, inlays, striations and speckles.

Diversity pleases the eye. Everyone took a look as they were passing. But this interest was quickly spent, and soon everyone left.

The monkey, for his part, said: Come one, come all. Come ladies and gentlemen. I will do a hundred rounds of the shell game. This diversity that you’re hearing so much about, my leopard neighbor has it only on himself. But I, well I have it in my spirit. At your service, let me introduce myself—Gille, the cousin and son-in-law of Bertrand, the pope’s monkey, when he was alive. I’ve just arrived in town, on three boats, for the express purpose of talking with you. Because yes, he talks, we can hear him. He knows how to dance, with the skill of a principal dancer. He can do tricks of all kinds, jump through hoops. And all for six cents? No sir, for a penny! And if you’re not happy, we will refund you at the door.

The monkey is right. It’s not the bright design of an outfit that pleases me; it’s what’s in the spirit of the person. The first bores those looking at it in less than a moment. The second makes everything more pleasurable.  

Oh! How many great people are like leopards, with nothing but their outfits for talent.

We live in an age of bright leopard outfits. Social media is a never-ending exercise of honing our personal brand. Our personas are oh-so-shiny, but thin and brittle, too. A discerning person can see through the razzle. We know this is true, because we often see through someone else’s Facebook life of fabulous vacations and best days ever.

Our authentic identity is robust, flexible and seamless. Our monkey spirit has density and complexity. Sounds excellent. Why wouldn’t we all be monkeys?

Because it’s hard and scary as crap. Social media increases the pressure to repress the bits of us that don’t match our personal brand. The velocity of the gossip cycle is so extreme that the least misunderstanding poses enormous risks. Even if a person isn’t on social media much (like me), the demand for spots, inlays, striations and speckles is enormous. Differentiation and messiness (aka complexity) obstruct a tight brand message.

Lately, I wake up with this thought: I could get up to talk about this knotty problem of authenticity and my own efforts toward aligned identity and just cry for 20 minutes. I’m working on a book and I’m in the worst-book-ever stage of the process. The part when I wonder why I write.

Then I’ll come across something like this Hunter S. Thompson quote a friend sent the other day, “…to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.” And I stop wondering why I write.

Instead of crying, here’s a highlight reel of what I’m going to say:

  1. If we don’t know who we are, then we cannot live our fullest life.
  2. The process of aligning with our true identity requires that we know what we value and what our values are.
  3. Values are what we care about when no one is looking.
  4. Values allow us to step off the treadmill of constant comparison, of do-I-have-more-or-less-than-the-other-person.
  5. To arrive at: I am enough

I don’t always arrive at #5. So who am I to recommend this monkey business?

I am visibly messy and imperfect. And I am enough. The King may not want my fancy pelt, but I’ve got some dance moves.


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