Honesty is about the scars. It's about the blemishes. But it's more than just bragging about failure, which could be a form of ego. It's about truly helping people.
There's a trillion websites competing against each other. The most honest website of all? Google. Google can't help you with your problems. If you suspect you might have herpes after a particularly courageous night out on the town, going to Google will not help you (although you may feel a vague feeling of remorse when you see the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button).
Google has no content on it at all. But Google is honest about that. You just walked into their store and said, "Please, help me -- do you have anything to prevent a potential outbreak of herpes" and Google will say, quite honestly, "I'm sorry, I can't help you, but here are ten of my competitors who can potentially help you. And, by the way, here are three more of my competitors who might be able to help you but, in full disclosure, they are paying me to tell you this." And then Google shrugs its shoulders. That's all they can do for you.
But that's honesty. That's not branding. So you'll come back to them. Because they are a straight shooter and the target was on your head. And when you need to know about that growth behind your ear, or what the best software is for keystroke logging, they will say the same thing: "Sorry, we can't help you, but we can direct you to at least ten of our competitors who seem pretty decent at it."
With honesty they've set themselves free. Here's the thing about a brand. It puts you in jail. You know who had the original patent that Larry Page tweaked into the PageRank that made Google (and separately, that Robin Li also tweaked into the patent that became Baidu?) I'll tell you: Dow Jones. The Wall Street Journal. [See, "10 Unusual Things About Google"]
They knew how to make Google years before Larry Page even thought of the idea. But they didn't do it. Why? Because their brand says they don't give out stuff for free. Their brand says that everything you need to know is trapped inside something with the Wall Street Journal or Dow Jones trademarks printed on it and if it's not there then it's not anywhere. Branding jails corporate America but honesty sets entrepreneurs free.
1) People Will Stop Speaking to You
Forget personal branding. Start to dip your toes into personal honesty. Let me tell you what will happen. Your family might stop speaking to you.
I have experienced this not just from myself but all of the bloggers I consider "honest bloggers." Some of your friends will also stop speaking to you. Some of your colleagues will avoid you. Some investors will shun you. Your personal "network" will transform and shift.
My own personal motto is: honesty to a point. I will never harm anyone. I believe in what Buddha said to his son Rahula the day after he showed up after abandoning his son for seven years:
"Before, during, and even AFTER you say something, make sure it doesn't hurt anyone."
But even despite that rule, people will stop speaking to you because not every hurt you can control. Historical is hysterical for many people.
2) People Will Think You Are Going to Hurt Yourself
The next thing that will happen is people will ask "are you killing yourself?" Because every blog post almost seems like a suicide note.
3) People Will Think You're Crazy
Then people will send emails to your friends, "is he as crazy as he sounds?" And that's how I make friends now because introductions will be made and people will have to find out for themselves.
4) People Will Get Frightened
So they will call you names. Oh, that guy is just trying to be a "contrarian," for instance. Or an "idiot." Or worse. I've been called everything. I had to call the Brown University Public Safety office the other day because I got emailed a death threat and the guy didn't think I could track him. The guy was a senior and had also apparently threatened the life of a librarian there.
They need to understand why you are telling the truth. Why you are being honest about what you really think. In meetings at the office everyone is quiet. You're not supposed to speak up. So people will dislike you, try to put you down, post comments, whatever. In many cases (but not all) these are what I call "crappy people." And here's how to deal with them.
5) People Will Find You Entertaining
Then finally, people will come back to you. Because you're entertaining -- if 20,000 people are lying and only one person is telling the truth then that 1 person is going to stand taller than anyone. At first people will come back to you for voyeuristic reasons. Why? Because they know if they watch Real Housewives they aren't watching anything "Real" and they aren't watching Housewives. But you're real. So they want to know what you'll do next.
6) People Will Trust Your Advice
People will also come back for advice. Not always because they agree with you. But because they know the advice is coming from the heart and not because there is anything for sale. It's like Google can't cure anything. But they can direct you to all the people who can. So you go back to Google because you might not always find what you want but at least you know they are trying hard to direct you to the right place.
We've all hidden our failures in dark comets orbiting the peripheral edges of the solar system, where the sun is dark and faded. But when someone brings their orbit close to the sun we want to land there for a brief moment and see if actual living conditions exist. And if so, then maybe a small settlement can be formed, advice can be asked, a failure can be related to, a friendship can be formed.
7) You Will Become Free
At first we hug our boundaries in chains. We think "if we tell the girl we like her, she might not like me back." We think, "If I say I like this candidate, my friends might hate me." If I say X, everyone else might say Y. And so on. But more and more we start to feel where those boundaries are and we push them out. We push them further and further away from ourselves. Until finally they are so far away it's as if they don't exist at all. You don't need money for that. Or a big house. Or a fancy degree or car. Every day, just push out those boundaries a little further.
We reach for that freedom. We never truly get there. We're always striving to see how far they can go, just like a little child with her parents. But eventually, the boundaries are so far away we begin to feel the pleasures of true freedom.
And it feels good.
Follow James Altucher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaltucher