August 23, 2008

Falling in love with the real you



I recently saw the movie, "Alice Adams," starring Katharine Hepburn as a young woman struggling to fit into a circle that has outpaced her, socially and financially. Her father, content with his low-paying and thankless clerical job, is constantly berated by the social-climbing mother, in an attempt to create a life for Alice that will ensure the security of her future -- mostly by finding her an affluent mate.

Alice is portrayed both as a comical and a tragic character, where she is repeatedly snubbed and put down by other girls because of her outdated clothing and lack of social status. She "puts on airs" and pretends to be sophisticated around other people, and has an optimistic attitude that carries her through some demoralizing situations, but in private is insecure, sad and lonely.

My question throughout the whole movie was "Who is Alice Adams?" The person I see fakes her way through every social situation and cries by herself in her bedroom at night, embarrassed to tears by her family, her house, her 2-year-old organdy gown, her hand-picked bouquet and her social failings. But who is Alice, really? She must have something going for her beyond her determination to fit in, but the movie doesn't let us see any of that.

In trying to win the affections of the wealthy Arthur Russell (played by a very young and handsome Fred MacMurray), she never reveals her true self. How can Arthur fall in love with her if he doesn't know who she really is?

And this leads me to my question for you: How can your audiences love you if they don't know you?

As a speaker, how much time and effort are you spending pretending to be something or somebody you're not?

How much time and effort are you putting into cultivating a character who dresses, speaks and gestures a certain way?

Is that you? Or are you trying to be like someone whose keynote you liked at a conference or someone who won a Toastmasters competition?

Here's what Alice has to say about pretending to be someone she's not, once she's seen the light:

"You do thus and so; and you tell yourself, 'Now, seeing me do thus and so, people will naturally think this and that'; but they don't. They think something else — usually just what you DON'T want 'em to. I suppose about the only good in pretending is the fun we get out of fooling ourselves that we fool somebody." (From the book, not the movie.)

She nails it. When you pretend to be someone or something you're not:

1. People aren't fooled.

2. People are fooled, but not in the way you want them to be.

3. People are fooled, and then feel betrayed when they *do* discover the real you, as they inevitably will.


In the movie, Alice's pretense doesn't stand in the way of her getting her man, even after several humiliating events, including a disastrous dinner meant to impress Arthur on a sweltering summer night. It's Hollywood, after all.

In the book, however, Alice is dumped by Arthur and goes on to business school -- apparently a dreaded option leading to spinsterhood. Ahh, the 30s.

In real life, pretending to be someone you're not leads to more hiding, more deception, and more pressure as you attempt to manipulate and protect the public's perception of you.

Being yourself, on the other hand, leads to an incredible sense of liberation. No pretense, no faking it, no mimicking others to try to get the same approval and response.

Pinpoint your unique qualities. Appreciate them. Savor them. Use them. Never be ashamed of who you are or where you are in your life.

Your audience will appreciate (and maybe even love) you for it.


(Check out the original 1935 New York Times review of the movie here. And you can read the book here at Project Gutenberg.)

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

locspoc said...

authenticity is huge these days, with the internet moving towards social media like youtube you can no longer hide behind words on a screen, you have to walk the walk if you're going to talk the talk

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Nicely put, locspoc! Authenticity has always been huge with me, but maybe not with everyone!

Julian said...

We can sometimes get caught up in "techniques" that make us better presenters that we lose sight of these sorts of things. But it's just like in real life - no one likes a fake.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Exactly, Julian. It's not "techniques" that make a great presenter. If that were the case, anyone who can read a public speaking manual would be spectacular.

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