A few days ago, I started thinking about the tension between authenticity and relatability, courtesy of a few YouTube videos, which I did happen to encounter in the context of that industry. Like many others, I follow a lot of people on YouTube. And most of the time we follow them when we can “relate” to them—we find similar personalities, shared problems or interests—while the fact is that the mainstream YouTube culture is made up of multimedia company CEOs and millenial millionaires under the age of 30. Hardly could it be considered relatable. In fact, one can easily be perceived as inauthentic by having more money than you did before or employees who work for you—especially compared with bookish-and-shy-pixie-girl brand, or struggling 20-something who did amateur makeup videos on her bathroom floor. Now, she might already be on Forbes magazine. I suppose across all fields, when people start to become successful, they also easily become distrusted. (Hank Green’s video, Rosianna Halse Rojas’ video.)
I myself have changed so much over the past year. And I won’t lie and say that I haven’t been “successful” in some ways—I consider myself really lucky and recognize that I come from a position of privilege. Having graduated a creative writing major, I still have those internal discussions about whether or not working in a completely different field now (a corporate job, no less), and loving it, has made me somewhat inauthentic. And I didn’t abandon poetry on purpose. I think I just grew out of it. Now, I can honestly tell myself that the chances of me going back to writing and not further pursuing what I do now are nil. That’s the conclusion I’ve arrived at, and I’ve realized it for a while now—I don’t feel as if I’m lying to myself.
By recognizing that, is that authentic? I think it happens oftentimes, we conceive authenticity as something you exude or acquire because you realized how important “it” was all along. The senior vice president of Corporation X resigns because he’s always, without fail, wanted to become a painter. Recently I came across the anecdote that Theodore Roosevelt became a horseback rider after leaving the presidency. For others, finding “it” doesn’t even take much. But authenticity doesn’t seem to work the other way around, at least not tastefully. Realizing that I truly want to pursue something worthwhile in the corporate world seems to pale in comparison with writing poetry and teaching literature. I wanted that before. (Perhaps there is some elitism or, I’d prefer, reverse-elitism there.)
Still, I want it to be “authentic” enough to say: I used to be this person. I can still love what I did because that was “it.” I don’t need approval. I’m just not that person anymore.