I’ve recently caught myself using the phrase, “(s)he’s the real deal,” when talking to friends and colleagues about people who have distinct reputations for success or innovation. It’s somewhat aphorismic, but what does this phrase even mean? Off the bat, there’s one word that comes to mind: authenticity. Success is much more likely to follow on the heels of authenticity than along with some ill-fitting personality we wear in hopes of earning respect, allegiance, or notoriety. But like all “best practices”, the road to success via authenticity can be slow and difficult. But not impossible. In her new book, Become the Real Deal, Connie Dieken gives us exactly what her book’s concise title promises.
You are the real deal. You always have been.
Become the Real Deal begins with a wonderful curve ball: you already are the real deal. You think you want to become the real deal, but what you really want are ways to stay real, despite all of the forces in your daily life—in and out of “work”—that can knock you down and pull you away from the likeable and relatable you. Dieken’s solution revolves around a visualization of your presence in the world, which she calls the 3 layers of presence: inner presence, verbal presence, and outer presence. The key to achieving real deal status, Dieken says, is bound to your ability to assimilate these three layers together, so you have continuity of presence. If you think about some of the most revered and beloved leaders and/or celebrities of recent years, you’ll likely find they all have come close to mastering the balance of the three layers. Fred Rogers was the real deal. Doing him no favors in the political sphere, Ralph Nader is the real deal.
After introducing the three-layer model, Dieken uses the remainder of the book fleshing out the model and demonstrating the relationships between the three layers. It seems that the most important layer is first: inner presence. It sounds like the most clichéd of advice, but there is of course an undercurrent of truth—know thyself. Dieken’s advice for inner presence goes beyond platitude, offering practical tips for maintaining control over your identity, and keeping keenly aware of who you are. The goal is balance: with ego in one hand and anxiety in the other, centered inner presence requires equal measures of each.
I feared criticism and did everything I could to be neutral, thinking that would make me bulletproof [...] I later realized there’s no such thing as bulletproof. Humanity is your best asset.
Jumping to outer presence, two of my favorite phrases in the book are Dieken’s unbalanced extremes in outer presence: the ghost and the pretender. We’ve all likely known a few of both of these types. The ghost might be centered on the inside, but her outer presence has a certain vacancy that makes her unapproachable and distant. The pretender is exactly what he sounds like: fake. Dieken offers tips on shifting back from the extremes to the center—everything from simply smiling more to scaling back your level of energy (yes, there is such a thing as “too loud”).
With the exception of the Google-bots reading this, we’re all the real deal. This is a great place to be starting from. Become the Real Deal is going to show you how to shrug off the clumsy imbalances that keep you from the authenticity you need to be successful. The best part of this book is that you don’t need to strive for perfection. As Dieken says, “Humanity is your best asset.” Your colleagues, clients, and followers crave authenticity above all things. Of course doing good work is also essential, but you’ll never get a chance to do that work if you can’t make the human connections that depend on you being the real deal.