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Of all the online entrepreneur-y buzzwords, I find myself the most conflicted about “authentic”. It’s seen as one of the pillars of the community — we’re not like those corporate sell outs, we’re authentic. Our lives are authentic. Our podcasts are authentic. Hell, our groceries are authentic. And you can bet your buns that our blog posts are authentic.

In one way, I love this — I think authenticity and all of its buddies, “being genuine”, “being transparent”, and “having integrity” are incredibly important.

But when authenticity becomes an aesthetic, we’ve got a problem. And when authenticity becomes an excuse for emotional dumping, we’ve got an even bigger one. And when great people who have genuinely vulnerable, helpful things to share hold back because they see all the people doing it wrong and are afraid of looking like attention-seeking jerks, that’s the biggest problem of all.

Tricky waters to navigate, I know. But here’s a start.

Your “vulnerable post” has to actually involve vulnerability.

It’s so cringey to see those posts where people tell you they’re going to be vulnerable and then share some peccadillo, leaving you thinking “Wow, if that’s your deepest and darkest, then my life is really fucked up!”

It’s the equivalent of the #nofilter #Iwokeuplikethis pictures — if you’re going to be vulnerable and expect us to undertake the emotional connection with you that requires, make it worth our while.

But on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got those posts where people who are clearly still in the middle of processing something spill their emotions everywhere, slapping an intro and a call to action on it to make what is essentially therapy look like a blog post.

If you still get a huge emotional charge off it, you probably shouldn’t post about it.

Look, a blog post is a blog post, it’s not therapy. Writing can be incredibly therapeutic, but the context is important. Dumping loads of emotion on people in the context of your business blog is a bit like getting messy drunk in your favourite bar and bawling your eyes out about your divorce. It absolutely happens, and people will often forgive you for it, but it’s not something you want to make a habit of, and it doesn’t contribute to other people, which is rule #1 of blogging.

That being said…

It doesn’t have to be comfortable.

You may be tempted to water things down, because after all, true vulnerability is uncomfortable, especially when it’s tied to deep emotions or traumatic circumstances. But if you think that it’s impossible to write about some truly horrific shit in a good, helpful way, check out this column by Cheryl Strayed as Sugar on The Rumpus. I love it so much not only because of the pragmatic grace with which she talks about something really awful that happened to her, but how she turns that awful thing into something that can help other people.

The truth is, this really is incredibly difficult to do well. It’s really easy to end up in “authenticity lite” or “messy drunk bawling” mode. But I keep trying, and you should too, because when you do get it right — when you can create that “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one” moment, it’s one of the most beautiful forms of service you can give to your readers.