Being Real in a “Reality” World

Today we read a lot about “reality stars”—the Kardashians, the “Real Housewives” of various locales and others come to mind. The problem is that these “reality stars” are not actually being real. Rather, they are leading lives tailored to mimic an altered/scripted reality through which millions of people live vicariously—while developing very skewed views of reality.

Gaining Definition: Losing Our Illusions
To offer a shared definition of reality, allow me to clarify via Webster’s Dictionary, which definitely states “real” is “not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory.”

For me, the key criteria of being real has always been defined and best illustrated by having an impactful, meaningful and lasting impact of those around us—at home, at work and within our communities.

Bridging the Reality Gap
How then, do we “be real” in a world of abundant artifice? The concept of the projected self versus the real self is one that is often used in counseling. Using two circles to illustrate this, the counselor works with the individual to bring them as close to overlapping the circles as possible—thus closing the “reality gap.”

Wisdom of The Velveteen Rabbit
Perhaps the most timeless definition of being real is found in the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit. The conversation between Rabbit and the old Skin Horse wonderfully describes what being real looks and feels like:

“What is real?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near ?the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse, “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

A Lifelong Journey
This classic tale is a fitting allegory for us today—whether you are a CEO, HR Manager or an up and coming rising star. Being real is about genuinely defining who you are, not creating a LinkedIn or Facebook caricature to please and entice others into liking you/hiring you.

For many today, it is a challenge to become real over “a long, long time.” Surely there must be an app or some AI to take care of that instantly, right? The reality is that there is no short cut to being real. It is about becoming genuine, truthful and authentic—and it is a lifelong journey.

Five Principles of Becoming Real
So how do we move from the old Skin Horse’s rules for becoming real to defining what becoming real involves for us? Here are some suggestions for you to consider:

  • Becoming real is built from experiences in our lives and how we react to them;
  • Becoming real is about truth, not about shading it to make ourselves look good or protect our image;
  • Becoming real is a process not an event;
  • Becoming real is about acceptance and inclusion both for you and those you interact with; and
  • Becoming real is about being who we are meant to be, not who others think we should be.

The Real Challenge
When someone challenges us with the phrase “get real,” when we are asked, “is that really what you believe?” or “Really, who are you?”—these are all pokes and prods that challenge us to be real. How we respond will be a good indicator of where we are in our journey to bring the two circles closer together and ultimately close the reality gap.

Ultimately it begins with asking questions of ourselves. Do we break easily, have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept—or are we willing to press on because once we are real, we can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand?

Ian Gibson, CPHR is the corporate human resource/labour relations manager at The Gisborne Group—one of Western Canada’s leading industrial contractors.

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