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I made lemonade today, and said lemonade got me thinking. Why? The lemonade I made looked like cloudy water. It was a pale yellowish milky color with little random bits of stuff floating around in it, absolutely nothing like lemonade is “supposed” to look. But when I drank it, it was like getting face-punched by a citrus-flavored Tyson, which is exactly what I wanted.

lemonade 1

Compare that to the nearly radioactively yellow lemonade that gets served all over the place. Looks exactly like lemonade is supposed to look, but tastes deeply artificial – overly sour or overly sweet, with hints of preservatives, colors, and stabilizers in the mix. Why do we drink it? Why do we buy it? The packaged stuff looks like the ideal of what lemonade is supposed to look like, and as a result, we tend to like its flavor by our appreciation of the ideal.

One of the words we bounce around in social media so often that it’s nearly meaningless is authenticity. My question to you is this: are you making a judgement about authenticity based on its faithfulness to what is real, or what is the ideal?

Authenticity to the real means showing the ugly parts. It means heirloom tomatoes that look like produce accidents. It means employees saying something stupid on Twitter from time to time. It means relationships that have strife. That’s being authentic to what is real. The more you can be that, the happier you’ll be, because you’ll spend less and less time and energy pretending to be something that you’re not – at the cost of dealing with the consequences of who you are.

Authenticity to the ideal means showing what people expect to see. It means lemonade that is perfectly colored, even if it’s imperfectly flavored. It means the brand is more important than the product, and your time and energy are best spent on building the brand, not the product. It means relationships that tolerate no strife or disagreement. It means social media presences that are practically 140 character embodiments of Norman Rockwell. It means being who people want you to be, at the cost of never being permitted to show who you actually are.

Which you choose depends on what result you seek. There isn’t a right or wrong here, because the real and the ideal each provide value. If you only had the real, you might never chase the ideal, might never strive to be more than you are. If you only had the ideal, you might never value what you already have, might never see just how fortunate you are. Neither is better than the other.

The only danger is confusing the two. If you want the ideal but you demand “authenticity” from someone who provides the real, you will always be disappointed and let down. If you want the real but your vision of authenticity is tied to the ideal, you will always be dissatisfied and nothing will ever be good enough. Know which you really want if you demand authenticity, whether in social media or in life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pitcher of cloudy, pale lemonade to go drink.

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