The Need for Authenticity

I met a young Indonesian man once who worked in the dining hall of a cruise ship and who had an unusual talent for remembering names. Eight hundred, even a thousand at a time—he never made a mistake. If the computer, with its near endless capacity to store and retrieve the tiniest bits of information without hesitation, was not already in existence, one would have to search long and hard for a metaphor to describe this ability.

His name was Imam Harjowarsito Danarekso Riyanto. He shortened it to H.D. when he left home and later converted the initials to Hunky Dory. He liked that his made-up name did double duty, as it answered who he as well as how he was. “Hunky Dory!” he’d reply to either question, his face cracked wide with a smile.

Just about everything is done for you on a cruise ship. It was Hunky’s job to give each passenger a clean tray from the stack waiting at the head of the line, a busy little towel in hand to wipe away any lingering dishwasher drops. The ship’s guests enjoyed him and lined up on his side of the dining hall just for the pleasurable shock of being greeted by name and with such cheer.

Meanwhile, across the ship’s dining hall, another assistant steward, with the same job, was envious of Hunky’s celebrity. Also Indonesian, and playing on Hunky’s trick, he simplified his name to Okey Dokey. But because he did not have the same peculiar gift for recalling a patron’s name, nor was he particularly lighthearted, he did not woo away any of Hunky’s adoring patrons.

For a writer, it was a lesson in authenticity.

Okey would have been better off sitting down, examining his gifts, and building a 

plan for himself based on his strengths. Everyone has strengths. Instead, he chose to copy something that was not authentic to him, and the results were a little bit sad.

No matter the genre—and no matter art form, really, painter, writer, musician, inventor, whatever the creative undertaking—what you bring to it has to be the authentic you, or it likely won’t succeed. Begin with what you do well.