Who Do YOU Think You Are?

Freud, Jung, Sartre, Gatsby and former web chameleon Holly Dawson explore why you need to take the ‘persona’ out of ‘personality’…

Being different people online is exhausting, time-consuming and creates psychological dissonance. It’s bad for your business, compromising your productivity and authenticity. It stultifies your digital success. After all, it’s hard to trust someone in a mask.

That’s where ‘persona’ comes from – Latin for theatrical mask. There is much written about the use of personas in digital marketing as an effective business strategy: you get what you want if you be who they want. Yet, while there may be quick wins and short-term gains, greater professional and personal fulfilment comes from the alignment of your multi-faceted identity. The only sustainable strategy is to be yourself.

On The Couch…

The psychotherapist Carl Jung believed personas were an inherent part of human nature, with masks “designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”.

We can learn a lot from a Jungian approach to our online behaviour. Who are you trying to impress? What are you concealing? Are you too focused on what people want you to be?
Listen to these words of warning:

“The danger is that people become identical with their personas—the professor with his textbook, the tenor with his voice – [resulting in] the shallow, brittle, conformist kind of personality which is ‘all persona’, with its excessive concern for what people think.”

But everyone pretends on the Internet. What ‘danger’ can there really be?

Firstly, your mental health. Jung was not alone in believing that presenting just one aspect of your identity inhibits psychological development. His peer, Freud, agreed: “A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.”

It is physically damaging too. Dr. Lissa Rankin, whose TED talk was about the impact of your mind on your physical health, believes it is responsible for a host of ailments. She prescribes being your true self: “It’s time to take the masks off. It’s time to stop doing what you should and start doing what you feel.”

Real People, Real Gains

Your business development and your bottom line is also at risk. We are moving into the connection economy. It is no longer about making your cog fit other cogs to do what the system expects, to make things quickly and cheaply. Successful companies now thrive because people believe their story and are able to connect. ‘Authentic’ and ‘true’ win the long game.

‘Authentic’ as a buzzword is almost meaningless; perhaps it is useful to return to the existentialist understanding. Sartre and co defined it as acting purely as oneself, untainted by other ‘essences’ or external constraints. Pursuing any form of “mimicry” where you act as you should, is inauthentic, informed by social norms about how that certain persona should act.

You need to work towards an online presence with, as Jung describes, “no false veils or adornments”.

Would Gatsby Still Be ‘Great’?

But aren’t these adornments sometimes useful? You don’t have to go to dating sites to find people who are not what they seem. Pretty much everyone is doing a bit of pretending – performing what F. Scott Fitzgerald termed, in relation to Gatsby’s self-invention, “his Platonic conception of himself”.

The modern Gatsby would have to delete all notion of James Gatz. New Facebook account, new Twitter. An impressively fabricated LinkedIn, with a host of fake accounts of fake colleagues to endorse and recommend him. Faked maps of ‘Where I’ve Been’. Extensive follower lists, bought to create the impression of overnight popularity. He would definitely know his way around Photoshop.

Who Do You Think You Are?

Are you, as Jung says, ‘all persona’?
Do you use your real name? Does your name describe just one part of your identity?
• Do you use a real picture?
• What is the work/life balance of your posts?
• Do you post-to-boast? Are you endlessly plugging your own services?

And most importantly:
• Would you actually like to meet your online self in real life?

Show Your Best Side

It’s not about having no persona. As Jung points out, such people are “dreaded for their tactlessness, eternally misunderstood”. It’s about one true persona: yourself, the very best of yourself, yourself on a good day.

Take time to think about your different facets and form a unified identity. It might not be easy; as Jung points out, the dissolution of multiple unauthentic personas can make you feel pretty bad at first. But in the long run you will benefit from developing “a more realistic, flexible persona that helps navigate in society but does not collide with, nor hide, the true self”.