On Sincerity, Effort, and Authenticity

I don’t know when it became uncool to be sincere. I used to think it was a problem with kids these days, but it seems to occur among people of all ages. I have a hard time defining the exact attitude that I’m so bothered by, but it’s… it’s the embarrassment and shame that is somehow associated with hard work, sincerity, and failing at something you tried so hard for.

It’s the unwillingness to show someone that you care about them or that you’re thinking of them. It’s when your friend gets a bad score on an exam and says they weren’t really trying anyway, as if that absolves them of any responsibility or association with their poor results. It’s when budding couples are only ever “hanging out” because nobody wants to reveal their feelings by asking whether there’s something more. It’s not even wanting to admit that you actually like an unpopular band because you’re afraid of being criticized for your taste in music.

I get it. Putting yourself out there is hard. When you say that you put a lot of thought into something, it’s as if you leave yourself open to judgment alongside your work. By pretending you don’t care about something, you distance yourself from it. You disown it so that if people form negative opinions about it, maybe they won’t connect those opinions to their overall opinion of you.

If you put your whole heart into something and fail, people will know that you couldn’t have done better. If you pretend that you weren’t really trying, there’s still the potential for you to have done better than you did. You can maintain the pretense that one day, when you do try your best, the result will be wonderful. It’s just not your time yet, of course.

I understand the mentality, but I just wish it weren’t this way. I wish people could be open about when they tried their best and when they’ve been disappointed without it being considered uncool. I hate that the term “try-hard” exists. Why is it so bad to try hard or be open?

I’ve found that the people I am most drawn to in my daily life are those who are unabashedly passionate about what they do. There’s something beautiful about someone being so overcome by excitement about what they love that they forget that instinct to be aloof about it. I surround myself with these people and they inspire me to be just as open about my own interests. I want more of these people to exist so that we can all stop expending so much energy on appearances and more energy on pursuing the things that matter to us.

So, with all that said, here’s what I’ve always wanted to say to people I meet who are too cool to admit that they care about anything: You are not your taste in music. You are not less of a person for developing attachments to people who might not feel the same way. You are not your shortcomings.

At the risk of sounding like after school special, I feel the need to acknowledge the fact that yeah, yeah, it doesn’t matter what other people think of you. I know that, and yet I still care. A lot. Despite the overall tone of this message, I am not so idealistic as to simply conclude with “stop caring about what other people think of you.” That’s unrealistic. Instead, I will emphasize the value of authenticity, both in yourself and others. I want to encourage a culture of admiring people who are honest about what they care about, rather than those who do everything “effortlessly.” Effortlessness should not be something to be rewarded. Society decides what is valued and what is undesirable. Valuing authenticity as a trait doesn’t come naturally, but I hope I’ve at least made a convincing argument for seeking it out more often.

1 thought on “On Sincerity, Effort, and Authenticity

  1. Trevor

    Thanks Sean for the link to this article.

    Yeah you know I used to wake up happy everyday and excited to start a new day. I still do sometimes, but the environment I live in treats this attitude as a threat, but that’s because they are miserable.

    I would replace “try hard” with “just do it.” “Hard” is a relative term and “try” is ambiguous. “Just do it” to me is definite and quite clear.

    About all those people caught up in the sways of societal pressure. Sometimes is good to because there are societal norms that make it easier for everyone to live together. For all its almost universally required to have clothes on in public. To the extreme of social norms, I don’t care who’s wearing Tommy or J.Lo. However, some subcultures exist on the extremities of social norms.

    Just a final thought. In America we have a tolerance for all different types of cultural groups with their weird little ways and taboos, but we should be proud of that. If we don’t like them that’s okay, no problem. We can always opt to stay out of those groups. If members of these groups, however, are blind to reality because of their groups’ practices then their principles should be challenged. An example is the polygamy-practicing religious groups. Sometimes these beliefs of others is so harmless that it is a waste of your time to challenge them.

    So I guess the moral of the story is choose your battles carefully.


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