Everyone could always tell. Everyone instantly knew that I’m somehow different from all the others. Don’t ask me how, but they just knew.
I’ve been traveling around the world for the past ten years. I’ve visited more than 80 countries. If there’s a common philosophy in my travels, it’s been to always integrate myself into local cultures. When I lived in Mexico, I’ve learned Spanish with Mexican slang. When I lived in Colombia, I spoke Spanish with a clean Colombian accent. The more I integrated into the local culture, the more secure I felt with myself.
However, my greatest achievement of blending into a culture was when I lived in one of my favorite countries in the world, Brazil. First, since I’m of a somewhat darker complexion, people thought I was Brazilian from the get-go. I also learned Portuguese fluently. Two and a half years later, while I was wrapping up my sojourn in Brazil’s largest cities, São Paulo, I was staying in a hostel with another Brazilian. We spent the entire two weeks going out and having fun. The entire time we spoke Portuguese to each other.
And the entire time my roommate thought I was Brazilian; it was only after I had mispronounced a certain word, did he look at me in a strange way and asked where I was from.
I had achieved something that I dreamt for a long time: blended into the culture so deeply that even a local couldn’t tell that I was actually from somewhere else. I felt like James Bond who had infiltrated a secret society.
Five years later I arrived to a country where it all started: my former homeland of Ukraine. After roaming around the world, I essentially made full circle and ended up in the only country on the entire planet where I’d never need to pretend to be a local—I was a local. I didn’t have to proof anything to anyone. After all, I was born in the country and spoke its language fluently.
Except there was one small problem: I was no local.
Right off the bat, people noticed that I spoke differently. They noticed that I had some sort of an accent. Although they couldn’t figure its source, they just knew it was different. It wasn’t very strong, but it was noticeable.
Actually, the more time people spent with me, the more they noticed that everything about me was different. Apart from the slight accent, I had a different body language. I was more nonchalant and relaxed that a typical Ukrainian guy. I was essentially a foreigner who happened to speak fluent Russian.
Essentially, I was back to square one. Even in my own country, a country where I was born and partly raised, I was exposed as a foreigner.
The rise of the true self
I struggled with this for a long time until I realized that there’s a crucial difference between trying to be someone else and actually being someone else.
For instance, I could try to be Brazilian all I want, but no matter what I’ll do, I’ll still be a guy who was born in Ukraine and grew up in New York. I could try to act like someone else, but no matter what I do, the real true self will be always shining through.
That’s exactly what eventually happened in Brazil, and what’s been happening in Ukraine. Unlike in other countries, I could “fake it” a bit longer in Ukraine. I don’t make silly grammatical mistakes in Russian like I would in another language (although sometimes I still do!). But, the longer people spend time with me, the quicker they discover that something about me is just different. Basic questions like where I went to school or where do my parents live quickly exposes my true background and outs me as more of a foreigner than a local.
If I can be outed in my own home country, then there’s very little that I can really hide about anything. All it takes is a series of carefully constructed questions to expose the incongruity between who I claim to be and who I really am. No matter how much I try to hide it, the true self is always shining through.
One of my inspirations to mastering Spanish and living in Mexico was when I met a Russian guy in California who spoke fluent Spanish. He had spent the last five years living in Mexico City building startups and making a ton of money, and spoke Spanish on such a high level that you really couldn’t tell him apart from a local. He knew all the idioms, the slang, and even mastered the Mexican accent.
But he never hid the fact that he wasn’t Mexican. He was simply a Russian guy who lived in Mexico and spoke Spanish. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t Mexican. It also didn’t matter that he didn’t live in Russia those years. He was comfortable with being different like a square peg who didn’t fit into a round hole.
All of this made him unique and more interesting than a Mexican who never lived in Russia or a Russian who’d never lived in Mexico. All of this shaped his personality and defined him as a person he is today.
Eric Hoffer, in his landmark work, The True Believer, said that when we’re unsure of ourselves, we try to integrate ourselves into a mass movement. Instead of finding strength in ourselves, we dissolve ourselves into something that’s greater than us.
The real strength is understanding that everything about us, all the rough edges, are the exact stuff that makes us unique and interesting. Building a brand and a business is the perfect example. You can’t succeed if you’re trying to copy someone because not only you don’t know why that person is successful or how they got there, but also because you’re not them.
On the other hand, success is easy when we transform ourselves to work on things that define us. Things that make us different from others. That’s when we’re able to truly connect to the audience and build an army of loyal fans. When we work on something that truly defines us, success is a builtin part of the equation. When we don’t “try,” things just miraculously work.
Leveraging the true self
Leveraging your true self is essential to building a powerful personal brand and a business. In fact, it’s the core component of my proven comprehensive course on translating your passions and interests into a profitable lifestyle. You’ll learn how to use your authenticity to build something truly amazing that your fans will crave. You’ll learn how to dig inside yourself and market something that only you possess. The beauty is that when you’re comfortable with your true self, you’re able to offer products and services that others cannot. In business speak, that’s called differentiating yourself in a busy market.
I can certainly tell you that one of the easiest ways of building a personal brand is by leveraging your authenticity; one of the hardest is by trying to be someone you’re not.
Here’s the conundrum which took me many years to understand. When you’re trying to be someone else, you’re attracting people who’re similarly trying to be someone else. But when you’re comfortable with who you are, you end up attracting people who are also comfortable with who they are.
After all, the most attractive quality isn’t being Brazilian, Ukrainian, Italian, French or Russian, or that possessing certain talents like speaking a bunch of foreign languages (although that’s always a plus).
No, the most attractive quality is the fact that you’re comfortable with the fact that you’re different. The most attractive quality is that you’re comfortable with yourself, your background, values, beliefs and experience, and don’t see the need to hide it or deflect it by dissolving yourself into a group of people.
That’s your way of saying: “This is me, and I’m fully comfortable with who I am and what I represent.” Instead of joining the mass, you end up carving your own path.
That’s because the things that define us, the things that make us who we are, are precisely the things that make us different from everyone else. It’s precisely the things that makes us interesting and attractive.
There’s also a certain liberty of living your life according to your own standards instead of the standards set by others. This is what self-reliance and self-sovereignty is all about. That’s when the true self turns into a form of power. And there’s nothing more powerful and confident than someone who’s comfortable with who they are and couldn’t care less about the opinions of others.
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