Have you ever seen the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s? It’s more than just an iconic fashion film to me. After watching it, I realized that Breakfast at Tiffany’s teaches us valuable life lessons about authenticity. And what it means to be a Real Phony.
Escaping the Real Phony syndrome
In the movie, Audrey Hepburn’s character, Holly, prances around in the most fabulous outfits. She’s a popular social butterfly that throws spectacular parties for the rich and famous.
[SPOILER ALERT] But we later find out that it’s all an illusion, and that she’s actually a “real phony,” as described by one of her ‘friends’:
“You’re wrong. She is a phony. But on the other hand you’re right. She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes. You can’t talk her out of it.”
What’s scary about the Real Phony syndrome is that you don’t even know you have it. It’s so easy to think you’re the best thing since sliced bread and start losing your authenticity.
The cold truth of self-reflection
I love this quote from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Holly’s love interest, Paul Varjak. He gives her a real slap in the face with his words (not literally slapping her, just to be clear):
“You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, “Okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness.” You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”
Related post: How to Have Difficult Conversations at Work
Now, “love” is not exactly my topic today. What I want to explore today is about keeping it real, being authentic, and staying true to yourself.
When was the last time you checked whether you trapped yourself in a Real Phony syndrome?
I started asking myself the questions below, and it was a time of some scary self-reflections!
Looking busy or adding real value at work?
At work, are you just trying to look busy and important? Or are you being truly productive and adding value to your business?
Sometimes it’s not glamorous or popular to be doing the right thing by your business. You could be working on something that would add significant, long-term benefits. But it might not be a sexy project or need some hard grit.
On the other hand, you might be running around to meetings after meetings that make you look super important. But you know these time-suckers add no real value to your work.
As a rule of thumb, I ask myself, ‘Would I still be spending my time on this piece of work if I got no recognition for it?’
If my answer is ‘no’, then I know that I have trapped myself into the Real Phony syndrome. That means I need to start allocating my time to more productive, meaningful work.
Of course, the above question doesn’t apply if your work’s purpose is to gain credit or recognition. In that case, go for it!
Trying to appear popular or actually creating meaningful relationships?
It’s so easy to let vanity take over our social lives these days.
We have so many different social media platforms that scrutinize every detail of our social status. Words such as ‘like’, ‘connect’, ‘friend’, ‘share’, or ‘follow’ have whole new meanings than it used to.
When was the last time you tried to connect with someone without worrying about your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram status?
There’s nothing wrong with genuinely wanting to share happy experiences, news, or useful information. But any superficial relationships that you only use for your social status is not going to last long. Those relationships will not be there for you when you need them the most.
So, how about shutting down your Snapchat, and really getting to know the people in your network?
Acting like an expert or helping people with authenticity?
When I started blogging, I was amazed at the number of people that blog about their expertise. They are SO MANY.
Then recently, I came across an article on The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex. I couldn’t help but wonder with every ‘expert’ that I came across – how many genuinely want to help people? And how many are just trying to add fuel to their publicity?
The Real Phony syndrome can also happen in our everyday lives. It could happen at work with your colleagues, or among your private network of friends and family. How often are we giving out advice to genuinely help others that are in need? Are we trying to advise others to feed our ego?
Spending money to show off or because you really need it?
I love this saying (first mentioned in a 1957 magazine):
“Spending money you don’t have for things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”
How often have you been guilty of this? I cringed in shame after reviewing my past spending habits.
We’re in a world where we fill our lives with excessive amounts of consumer products. We need to start questioning whether we need something before we spend money on it.
I love this interview of José Mujica, nicknamed the ‘World’s Poorest President’. He tells the world in an inspiring and thought-provoking way about what the true cost of spending is:
It’s so easy to get trapped into being a Real Phony. Regular self-reflections are so important to help you stay authentic. It ensures that whatever you’re doing is adding real value to yourself and others.
How do you self-reflect, and what have you learned from it?
I’d to love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.