Image vs Authenticity: What Does The World See In You?

Jul 31, 2015 1 Min Read
image vs authenticity


As leaders and people who carry a certain weight of authority, we may constantly face this dichotomous (or so it seems) dilemma: which “self” do we project to the world, our image or our authentic self?

Our image is the face (or faces) we wear for people around us to see – the self that we consciously project to the world.

Our authentic self is the true essence within, the inner man or woman – who we really are, especially when no one is looking.

When people find out that our image (who people see) is very different from our authentic self (who we really are), things can get pretty embarrassing, to say the least.

It’s not surprising that many leaders and famous people (think politicians, heroes, celebrities) painstakingly craft an ideal image for the public eye. It seems that their true selves have not caught up with the images that the public idolises!

“Do I look great?”

When you care too much of how you look to others and focus on getting their approval and acceptance, you are guided by your image rather than your authentic self.

You present yourself as more than who you are – you misrepresent your personas, values, beliefs and other information to gain favour.

There’s totally nothing wrong with desiring to project a great image for the world to see. It’s important to bring your best self to win in the marketplace and for the world to like you.

However, when your image is totally disconnected from your authentic self, you have to constantly keep “shining” and improving your image, for fear of what truth the others may discover! It’s very tiring to live this way.

I’ve seen and known some leaders who operate very much in their image persona, and I could feel the pressure that’s imposed (mostly by themselves) on them.

Because they’re not in touch with their true selves, you don’t feel the authenticity in their words and actions; shaky grounding and little trust, devoid of power.

Your image and your authentic self do not have to be in conflict. Your image can be based on your authenticity instead of the masks you try to put on.

How do you see yourself?

When we think about our true selves, most of us inevitably would first see the faults, black spots and the ugliness.

We instantly recall the criticisms and negative remarks that have been thrown at us especially in our early years, even from people who are dear to us like our parents, family members, teachers, etc.

Most of us grew up in a society that catches us when we’re doing something wrong rather than when we’re doing something right.

Those well-intended “corrections” affected us more than the little praises that we get occasionally. Inevitably, all that influenced and shaped how we see ourselves.

The truth

Here’s the truth. You do not know who you really are. You do not know the true extent of your capability, the real size of your capacity and how surprisingly beautiful your true essence is on the inside.

It’s true that you have your weaknesses and flaws – we’re only human. And it’s precisely our humanity and vulnerability that make us beautiful and real.

People are drawn to your real story, not a made-up fairy tale. People get connected with you when your authentic self shows up. They get put off by some inflated image.

People can identify with your vulnerability, and get inspired by what you can do in spite of that.

A perfect Superman that doesn’t get affected by Kryptonite won’t make a very compelling story, would it?

Your authentic self

Criticism cannot affect or hurt our authentic self. You may think it can, but you’re merely operating at the “image” level – you care more about how good you look rather than expressing your real self to the world.

The value of your authentic self is innate, completely unaffected by criticisms. You can, however, be informed by what those criticisms are trying to tell you, so you can bring more value to the world.

I would encourage you to explore some of these questions on your own:

  • Do you want to look good or to make a difference?
  • When was the last time you let your guard down? Was it fine?
  • How comfortable are you in “your own skin”?
  • Would you feel happier if you achieve great success through a fabricated image and celebrate with many raving fans, or if you achieve some success through your authentic self and celebrate with the circle of people who accept you for who you are?
  • How can your image be more of who you really are?
  • What benefits can you gain by allowing the world to see and connect with your vulnerability?
  • What would it look like if you’re totally unaffected by criticism, and allow your true self to express itself in the world?

Yes, imagine what that would look like…

Reposted with permission on

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Tags: Emerging Leadership

Hwai Tah Lee is the founder of and a certified professional coach and Professional Certified Coach with ICF (International Coach Federation). He coachess leaders to think strategically and focusing on what matters to move to the next level.

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