Gary Vaynerchuk is almost always on the move. If you doubt that, watch him. His new YouTube show DailyVee is a chronicle of his daily life. He seems to personify the word hustle. The man hustles 14 to 16 hours a day, every day. He has for a long time.
Gary Vee, as he’s known in the social sphere, is an early adopter and a vocal proponent of the power of social media. But at heart, he’s a business-builder. He started by building his father’s liquor store business from $3 million a year to $60 million. Now he’s the CEO of VaynerMedia, an angel investor and a venture capitalist with the skills and instincts to get in on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Uber. In 2014 he co-founded a $25 million investment fund. In his spare time, he’s an in-demand speaker and a New York Times best-selling author.
Despite his impressive and hard-earned influence, he does have his critics. People object to his attitude, his word choice and his unapologetic censure of time-wasters, scam artists and the occasional multibillion-dollar brand. And he meets detractors head-on with openness.
Take him or leave him, he’s one of the few people in the spotlight these days who is what he says he is.
“A lot of my friends who’ve known me for a long time, they’re like, ‘Wow, you really haven’t changed,’ ” he says. “I always laugh. I’m like, ‘I don’t think money and power and success changes anybody. I actually think it exposes ’em, you know?’ ”
Vaynerchuk took time out of his hectic schedule to talk about how we get to know ourselves, the importance of a thick skin, and what it all means in the larger business landscape.
The ‘Reality’ of Getting Naked
Nearly 20 years ago, we were all talking about who moved our cheese, thanks to author Spencer Johnson’s now-classic business book. Entrepreneurs were tasked with taking personal responsibility for their success and the success of their companies. It felt a lot like freedom as they shed their victimhood and charged ahead to forge their own paths.
Along with personal responsibility, and its cousin individuality, came another soft-skill trend: authenticity.
From books such as Patrick Lencioni’s Getting Naked to the burst of “reality” shows on prime-time TV and the rise of the hipster, we suddenly became a culture obsessed with being authentic. Hierarchical leadership was on its way out and executives were inspired—and sometimes pressured—to become more authentic than their buttoned-up predecessors.
Vaynerchuk says changing public relations models and emerging technology helped spur this need for a more authentic approach. In the old days, he says, there weren’t many media outlets. If you were a celebrity or big-business owner and you had a friendly (or lucrative) relationship with the owner of a magazine or newspaper, those people helped you avoid negative press.
As the Internet evolved and social networks came out, there were more media outlets. In fact, anyone with a phone became a media outlet. “Public relations changed,” Vaynerchuk says. “Everyone became PR companies and it became harder to hide. I mean, I basically live my life now on the record. I had a very important breakfast meeting. There were 10 people who were easily within earshot of what I was talking about. And so we now live in a world where they could record that. They could’ve taken a picture of it. They could’ve quoted that.”
We’re living in a far more open world than we were 10 years ago, he says, when people could control their press simply by knowing the right people at the right media outlets. “You look at TMZ and Tiger Woods? That would’ve never seen the light of day in the Michael Jordan or Mickey Mantle eras. So I think authenticity became important because it became a requirement of survival in this new open information world.”
If we don’t show the world who we are at least to some extent, the world will likely find out anyway. For most people, that’s scary. And it certainly strikes fear into most organizations. Why?
“I think we all have skeletons in our closets,” Vaynerchuk says. “I mean, could you imagine a world where everybody knew everything about you? Like, everything you said? I mean, just think about the amount of things people have said behind each other’s backs. Even if they’re in white lie kind of territory, or not a lot of venom behind it.”
Even Vaynerchuk needs limits: “We live in a world where our society is held up by the secrets and shadows, and I think authenticity is scary. I mean, I live a pretty authentic life. But I don’t want everybody to know everything. I think we’re scared of that.”
Vaynerchuk is known for creating headlines with his authentic content. His popular YouTube show #AskGaryVee is also a hit podcast on iTunes. His other show, DailyVee, is usually structured around a theme for each episode, but it’s mostly a backseat ride-along for his insightful “rants” and a dizzying look at this nonstop agenda.
One of the biggest surprises of DailyVee for Vaynerchuk, he says in Episode 11, is the number of comments he gets about his level of productivity. He’s constantly working. And the show proves that. You see him up at 6 a.m. to work out and still taking meetings at 10 p.m. He says this is really who he is and he’s a little gratified to finally be able to prove it. This kind of transparency over video has changed the way people think about how deserving he is of the results he gets.
It’s Clearly the Egg
In a Harvard Business Review article, Erich C. Dierdorff and Robert S. Rubin of the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University and co-directors of BusinessEducationInsider.com, report their findings in a study about workplace self-awareness.
“Put simply,” they write, “self-awareness is understanding who we are and how we are similar to or different from others. One key facet is self-knowledge—how we see our various personality traits, values, attitudes and behaviors. But another aspect is being aware of how consistent (or inconsistent) our self-view is compared to an external appraisal—how other people see us or against objective data. The latter is essential for transforming self-knowledge beyond mere personal introspection into accurate self-awareness.”
This translates into something a lot of us don’t like to look at, that what others think about us is just as important in self-awareness as our own evaluation. Even widely used professional personality assessments are sometimes considered incomplete without some evidence-based results and reporting by others.
Dierdorff and Rubin found that a team’s probability of success increased with the level of self-awareness among team members. They also found that most participants overestimated their skills and abilities, leading to conflict among teammates.
Vaynerchuk believes one of his greatest strengths is his self-awareness, and that necessarily includes understanding how he comes across to others.
“I think the biggest reason I won in social media and I can win in authenticity is because I’m self-aware,” he says. “Meaning, I just know myself, which means I know what my B.S. is; I know what my hyperbole is; I know what’s right; I know what’s not. And all those things allow me to navigate life in a much more comfortable way because I’m not tone-deaf to my own self. That makes me more relatable to consumers. Look, there are plenty of people who don’t like that I curse onstage and that I’m very opinionated.”
But that’s just the kind of authenticity he pulls off because of his self-awareness—including his awareness that others don’t always like him. This is what makes his forays into media of all forms so powerful and so successful.
In his latest book, #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness, he writes, “I know what people think of me, and I know that the same things that draw people to me turn others off and keep them away. I’m OK with that because I think I can help more people and get my point across better when I’m my unfiltered self…. If you don’t know yourself, you’re gonna be in big trouble in trying to be authentic because you’re gonna be confusing in communicating what you’re about.”
Vaynerchuk says knowing how you come across to others can often give you an advantage as an entrepreneur. Self-awareness enables us to operate and communicate authentically. Without that essential beginning, an organization or a person is left portraying a lie.
“When businesses are not self-aware,” Vaynerchuk says, “they don’t think that an oil spill’s a big deal or they don’t realize that using bad chemicals is so bad. And then once that becomes the case, well of course they’re gonna communicate it that way. So it’s really quite important.”
You Can’t Get It by Staring at Your Navel
You may have read articles or blogs that suggest you can get self-awareness through meditation or self-evaluation, or by taking those professional personality assessments. And all of these methods help people understand themselves better. Looking within ourselves, journaling, asking pertinent questions, analyzing our reactions and behaviors in light of our ideals are steps we can take toward further understanding. But all the navel-gazing in the world won’t create an openness to self-awareness where there is none.
Vaynerchuk puts it like this: “I think you just either are [self-aware] or you aren’t, right? I mean, think about your life right now. Think about your seven or eight closest family members and friends. Some are, some aren’t. I’m not sure it’s teachable, and so I’m not sure that self-awareness is any different than being pretty. It just comes.”
Put another way, perhaps self-awareness is either something you say you want or something you act like you want. We’ve all met people who stick to their denial guns to the bitter end, no matter how much evidence they have that the pistols are pointed at their own heads. Yet over and over again they’ll say they want your input. You can tell someone that their sky is blue just like the rest of ours, but if they don’t want that reality, if they can’t deal with that reality for some reason, then they’ll look up and talk about how pink the view is.
In her article “The Impact of the Self-Awareness Process on Learning and Leading” for the New England Journal of Higher Education, Patricia Steiner describes the damage we do when we stay in denial: “Self-deception can be described as a skewing of our cognitive awareness in order to find a way to avoid pain and anxiety, a way to cope with life’s frustrations, and make sense out of events that are incongruous.”
Steiner says self-deception shows up as a big difference between what we say we do and what we actually do, and it can lead to what psychologists call feedback-avoiding behavior. This means we aren’t gathering evidence properly, making accurate conclusions, or learning the appropriate lessons from our experiences and choices.
Of course, we’re all in a bit of denial at some point. Self-deception is a pretty common coping tool. But there’s a great deal of harm caused when we practice this kind of avoidant behavior on a regular basis.
“Lifelong learning and development depends on accurate and meaningful knowledge about us as individuals,” Steiner says. “A lack of this knowledge can be devastating to our learning process and outcomes… In general, people dealing with self-awareness problems blame others around them for things that go wrong and block their awareness of their own responsibility for the problems they face, thus preventing solutions or progress.”
This lack of self-awareness is lethal for entrepreneurs. In fact, Steiner’s description of the victim mindset of a person in denial is reminiscent of the mouse who was peeved about the missing cheese. Building a business requires near-constant progress, innovative solutions based on authentic evidence and personal responsibility. It seems that without self-awareness none of this is possible.
It Takes a Village
Despite the grim reality that there are some things we may never fully see about ourselves, most of us have the ability to grow in self-awareness.
A lot of us have reached a certain point in life where we suddenly see ourselves in a new way. We’re surrounded by just the right people at just the right time, and with some hard truths, everything changes.
Vaynerchuk thinks we can evolve into self-awareness simply by maturing.
“I do think we mature and we start caring less about what others think and we start learning more about ourselves,” he says. “I’m definitely more attuned to who I am today than I was 10 or 15 years ago. So I think it’s a process.”
In #AskGaryVee he writes about one hack for becoming more self-aware: “Asking people straight up to tell you your strengths and weaknesses. These people have to be the five to 12 people who know you the best or work with you the most.”
He suggests doing this by creating a safe zone, an understanding that they won’t pay for it later if they’re honest with you. And he advises against going to people who love you too much to hurt your feelings.
“You also have to be prepared for them to tell you things you may not want to hear or that you disagree with. That’s why you have to gather a diversity of opinion. If you hear enough people say the same thing, whether it’s that you’re too kind or too aggressive, you’ll eventually have to accept that it could be true. In fact, embrace the people who tell you you’re full of crap. Double down on those relationships, because they’re the ones who will help you improve the most.”
Vaynerchuk’s best advice? “Get yourself a thick skin. If you’re aggressive about getting the feedback and you’re man or woman enough to ‘eat it,’ you can make changes in your interactions with people and your approach to business that can pay off in big ways.”
This article appears in the May 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.