Menu podcast

in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: June 3, 2021

Podcast #135: Keep It Fake — On Inventing an Authentic Life

The need to “discover your authentic self” has become an article of faith in the United States. There are thousands of blogs, books, and seminars that supposedly teach people how to discover who they really are. But what if our obsession with uncovering an authentic self is getting in the way of living a truly flourishing life? What if instead of trying to discover an authentic life, we should be focused on inventing one instead? Well, that’s the argument Eric Wilson makes in his book Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic LifeToday on the podcast, Eric and I discuss questions of the self that have boggled philosophers for ages and how thinking about ourselves as the authors of our story can help us lead a truly excellent life.

Show Highlights

  • Why the way most people define authenticity is misguided
  • How the West’s notion of authenticity has changed over time
  • Does the “self” even exist?
  • Why “be yourself” is terrible advice
  • What actors like Cary Grant and Bill Murray can teach you about creating an authentic life
  • Why embracing “enriching fictitious truths” can make life more meaningful
  • What the heck is Romantic Irony? (And how can it make life more interesting?)
  • How thinking of yourself as the writer of your own story can help you with issues like depression and anxiety
  • And much more!

Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life book cover Eric G. Wilson.. 

Keep It Fake is one of the most thought-provoking, fun reads I’ve come across in a long while. I finished reading it a few weeks ago and I’m still chewing on it.

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

Available on itunes.

Available on stitcher.

Soundcloud logo.


Google play podcast.

Spotify Logo.

Listen to the episode on a separate page.

Download this episode.

Subscribe to the podcast in the media player of your choice.


Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. So it seems in the past like 50 years, there’s been this obsession in America and probably in other western countries with authenticity, right? Our goal in life should be to uncover or discover our authentic selves. Once we do that, the universe will unfold before us, relationships will be awesome. We’ll work with passion. We’ll make money and our family will be awesome. Just everything will be great. In fact, you can buy books that’ll help you uncover your authentic self. You can hire a life coach that’ll help you discover you authentic self. You can take courses on living authentic manhood. I’ve seen that around.

Marketers, this is … I’ve gotten ahold of this obsession with authenticity that we have and now you can buy authentic artisanal pizza from Domino’s, or you can buy a candle made by an authentic craftsmen in a New England Hamlet, and because we are drawn to that we’ll buy it because it says authentic. But what if this drive, this obsession with authenticity is actually hamstringing us from living a truly, flourishing life? That’s the argument my guest today made in his latest book. His name is Eric Wilson. He’s a professor at Wake Forest University. He’s one of the leading experts on the connection between psychology and literature. He’s a scholar of Romanticism. It’s a big R, Romanticism, and is his book, Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life, he makes the subtle but powerful argument that instead of trying to uncover some platonic authentic self that what we should really be doing is trying to create our self an authentic self.

Sometimes that’s going to feel fake, but that’s okay. Today on the podcast Eric and I discuss how you create an authentic life and what we can learn from philosophy, from science, from literature, from art, from films, from actors, particularly actors like Bill Murray or Carrie Grant about creating an authentic life. A really fascinating discussion if you love philosophy and art and neuroscience and psychology and literature and I do, and how those interconnect you’re going to love our discussion, so without further ado, Eric Wilson, Keep it Fake. Welcome to the show.

Eric Wilson: Thanks for having me.

Brett McKay: So your latest book is called Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life. I think it’s kind of funny you called it inventing an authentic life. We usually don’t think about authenticity that way. I love this book because it hits a topic that I’ve been thinking about this past few years, and this idea of authenticity, because it becomes like yeah, it’s an article of faith in America that you have to be authentic, right? Everyone’s trying to be authentic. There’s psychologist, therapists, gurus will help you find and discover your authentic self. Corporations are kind of using authenticity as a way to market their wares. So we have artisanal pizza from Domino’s that looks rustic and I guess it’s authentic. It’s one of those words that I think we use so much that we take it for granted and we often don’t think about what does authenticity mean. How do you define authenticity?

Eric Wilson: I can talk about I think that mainstream America defines it.

Brett McKay: That’d be great.

Eric Wilson: And I can talk about how I define it. You refer to how authenticity is often used in marketing. For instance Domino’s can say, oh we have an authentic pizza. It’s an artisanal pizza. I think that authenticity in the mainstream is a kind of naïve belief that there’s some rock solid reality that goes beyond societal convention, that goes beyond how we talk about the world. A kind of is-ness, a kind of being, a kind of essence, and if we can just get in touch with that we’ll be okay. This idea is expressed often by the idea that you can be yourself or you can find yourself as if there’s some sort of essential Eric-ness or essential Brett-ness, sort of underlying all the developments of your life, all the circumstances of your lives, the history of your life. I think that idea is carried over to our desire to have local food, or organic food, the idea that there’s a kind of be for realness to that that escapes artisans.

I think this is just kind of Platonism in reverse, right? If you go back to read Plato, he said that there’s some sort of ideal realm of forms in some eternal realm somewhere, and each of us is a particular manifestation of these forms. The going life is just sort of find how we relate to these stable forms, and then we’ll be in line with truth, beauty, and goodness. Now we’ve kind of sunk that down into this idea of organicity, right, that if I can sort of go down deeply enough into existence there it will be, realness. What I say is that there’s no such thing as a self like this. Basically existence is too ephemeral, too transient for there to be any sort of stable being. I know for myself, and my parents told me, “Be yourself. Find yourself.” Maybe I’m just too wishy washy, or maybe I just lack fortitude. I can’t stay the course. It’s always seemed frustrating to me to try to find some stable idea of identity when I’m constantly, constantly changing.

In my book I explore the idea that a more powerful, and useful form of authenticity, a less frustrating form of authenticity is to think about authenticity is something that’s not found, but something that is made. What I mean is for me, it’s been very empowering to think about myself as a kind of way of interpreting my life as it at a given moment. When I’m in college I’m going to think of myself one way, because of that certain circumstance. When I’m a father I’m going to think of myself in another way because I’m in a different circumstance. What I try to do is I try to create a kind of narrative that helps me make sense of the chaos of my life. I sort of imagine myself as a character in that narrative, sort of the character in a novel.

For instance, if I said to you, “Brett, who are you?” You’d probably immediately thinking about moments in your past that were especially meaningful to you. “When I was six this happened to me and when I was eight that happened to me. That led to this happening to me when I was 12. In other words, you would try to kind of create these causal links among various moments in your life and that would allow you to create a kind of cogent story that will lead up to you who you are at that moment in the present. Well five years down the road, ten years down the road as your present circumstances change, you might focus on different memories right? You might emphasize other memories and de-emphasize the memories that you earlier valued and come up with a kind of fresh narrative. What I’m suggesting is that we’re constantly, whether we want to or not, inventing fresh narratives to make sense of the kind of, the flux of experience.

There’s a lot of neuroscientists recently who have actually talked about how that’s, that’s how cognition itself works. What I say in the book is why don’t we just become self conscious about this? Why don’t we become aware of the fact that we’re making narratives and sort of take charge of our narratives and try to create a narrative that will make our life as rich and full and varied as possible and then sort of take responsibility for that narrative. For me that’s what authenticity probably should be.

Brett McKay: Okay, we have a lot of unpack there. I guess is the reason why people are so drawn to the platonic idea of authenticity is that maybe it’s just so, it’s hard to manage complexity, an ever changing flux life? Is that what’s going on? Is that why there’s that drive?

Eric Wilson: I would say so. If I were to account for psychologically, I would say that it’s very seductive to imagine there is such a thing as permanent truths. I mean a lot of life is unsecure. It’s unpredictable and that leads to pain and frustration very frequently. It’s nice to think that if I could just find that one truth, that one identity then I could rest, I could find calm, I could find peace, I could find tranquility. I understand the desire for that. I mean I still have that desire. I would love to be able to say, “This is who I am. My work is done.” Because it’s hard work, as you’re suggesting to sort of honestly face the complexity of life and try to come up with a way of thinking about yourself that is sensitive to that complexity, that allows you to organize that complexity in a way that doesn’t sort of kill and reduce it, but also doesn’t allow the complexity to overwhelm you at the same time.

Brett McKay:                      All right so your book, Keep it Fake, the format is a lot different from some of the other books I’ve read because it’s a mixture of whole things. You get into philosophy, literature, you bring in Bill Murray, you bring in your own life. What was your organizing principle with the book?

Eric Wilson: I would call it a hybrid book. It is kind of, it is kind of all over the place, but I hope in a good way, right? One part of the book is I interweave stories of my own life, my life as a phony, as someone who has been a fake in good ways and bad ways. That’s really I think the backbone of the book. Also there are a lot of philosophical sections, scientific sections, psychological sections, literary sections, and also just a lot of sort of playful riffs on say, Bill Murray or Carrie Grant. I really wanted the book to have a kind of playfulness to it, like the kind of multiplicity because that’s the kind of persona I would want to create, one that has that kind of heterogeneity and playfulness to it. That’s really what I tried to capture in the book. I guess my models would be sort of playful philosophers, not that I would compare myself in anyway to these folks, but someone like at Montaigne or Thoreau would be a model for this. I hope people get into the playfulness of the book.

Brett McKay: Yeah. For sure. It was a lot of fun to read. That was just, the thing, I wanted to keep reading because it was just so much fun.

In your book you refer to a lot philosophers, writers, who grappled with this question. They might not have called it authenticity but it was the same idea of what is the self? Is it possible to be yourself? I mean how did philosophers in the past deal with this question of self-hood.

Eric Wilson: The whole, the idea that there’s sort of a single, individual, unique self, unrepeatable, unprecedented and it will never be again I think really didn’t come into being until probably the 15th century when the French philosopher Montaigne started writing his essays. His basic question was who am I? He was writing basically about the very idiosyncratic weird things that make him who he is and no one else. I’m going to generalize kind of wildly here.

Brett McKay: Sure.

Eric Wilson: But roughly before that, and again Montaigne was actually, he was in the 16th century. I think I said 15th before. 16th century. You go back to someone like Plato and I think there’s a sense that each of us is not a sort of discrete individual, but one expression of some sort of universal ground of being. In Plato’s it’s the forms. You can go to Christianity, there is an idea that each of us has an individual soul, but the individual soul is mostly fully itself when it expresses the kind of Christ within that all of us share. I can talk about medieval philogens and I could talk about someone like Dick Hart. All of whom do kind of suggest that ultimately who we are is a manifestation of some sort of universal being or power of substance.

Then Montaigne comes along and says, “No, there is such a thing as a unrepeatable being. I am that and no one will ever be like me again.” You kind of see that idea played out in someone like Shakespeare who’s a deep reader in Montaigne. In fact, he was reading Montaigne very deeply when he wrote Hamlet. Some would say Hamlet is the first literary work in the west in a way that treats this idea that this is no one like Hamlet and that there will never be anyone again like him.

The same is true, the same is true of all of us. This kind of idea becomes a ground for I’d say a mid to late 19th century philosophical turn embodied by people like Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard who were really the first to say in a kind of disciplined philosophical sense and Montaigne was like an essayist that Shakespeare was obviously a dramatist because he’s not philosophers but tricky…in a kind of philosophical sense went on to say that the place to start with philosophy is raw existence, the kind of now-ness, the kind of messiness of where we are right now and life is messy. It’s unpredictable. It is weird, strange, and to try to reduce to that some sort of logic or rationale is wrong from the start and kind of blinding oneself to what reality is.

This becomes the basis for what became known in the 20th century as existentialism, right which is precisely that this idea that the place to start for philosophy, for literature, for art, really for anything is precisely this sort of single isolated individual self and how he or she makes sense of his or her own personal world. Again, those are sort of large philosophical claims.

Brett McKay: Sure.

Eric Wilson: I think that kind of gives the shape of how the idea of self has kind of loosely evolved in the history of philosophy.

Brett McKay: Okay, if we all just, if it’s not possible to discover your authentic self right, and we’re all just acting in a way … And I’m saying that in a positive way. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable. Yeah, why is that? People are uncomfortable with this idea that you are putting on a performance. Not only for other people, but for yourself in a weird way. Isn’t that not right?

Eric Wilson: Yeah, it shows up in our politics. If we talk about Tricky Dick and Slick Willy, the best way to sort of throw politicians to just refuse is to say well that person’s a liar. You look at our sort of American cinema icons, you think of someone like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck. It’s all about shooting things straight, being sincere, telling it like it is. We value that idea and when we think someone is being dissimulating or play acting, we often think that’s hypocrisy. What I try to say in my book is there are degrees of play acting, right? Let’s say that I get an idea of something, we make that we don’t find. Let’s say that the idea of self is a kind of ongoing narrative. Does that mean that I can be anything that I want to and does it mean that I should be able to lie and it’s okay? I say absolutely not in my book.

All fictions are not created equally. Paradoxically what I say is that some fictions are truer than others. What do I mean by that? If you think of the self as a narrative, as a novel, you can start thinking well some novels are better than others. What makes a novel good? What makes a novel not so good? One way to think about a really powerful novel is a narrative that is open to complexity that is able to connect with as many different points of view as possible.

In other words, to create a sense of self that is open to the others of the world and tries to accommodate the otherness of the world as opposed to a narrative that closes you down, that basically says okay I have sort of one way of thinking about the world and I’m going to stay connected to that one way of thinking about the world. That can lead to isolation. To create a narrative that is narrow, dogmatic, fanatical, and also to sort of go through life lying, to go through life try to deceive people to gain power over them. These are dis-empowering narratives I would say because they lead to isolation. They lead alienation and ultimately I would say they lead to unhappiness. Whereas creating narratives that are kind of close to the reality of your particular present tend to be those that are the most satisfying.

Look, things happen. I have a certain genetic makeup that makes me who I am, certain things in my past. My parents, my teachers made me who I am. I can’t change those things. There is such a thing as reality. I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as reality, but what I’m saying is reality only becomes meaningful to us when we start talking about it and interpreting, putting it into language. At that point what reality is is not some kind of stable is-ness, but it’s our understanding of it.

Let me give you a kind of metaphor for that. Imagine that existence is like being thrown off a cliff into an ocean. So, I’m being thrown off a cliff into an ocean, gravity pushes me down to the water in the same way that my past pushes me towards to certain actions in the present and the future. I’m being forced down into the water by gravity. What can I do? I have choices right? I can flail wildly into a belly flop, or I can do a nice swan dive, or a jack knife for a gainer. In other words, we’re given a certain facts that we can’t change, but we can choose how to react to them and choose how to interpret them. That’s where imagination comes in. We can imagine our falling as it were, imagine our lives in such a way that they have a kind of beauty and grace and generosity. Those fictions are truer I argue, than a kind of interpretation or reaction that is closed and narrow and strained.

Brett McKay:                      You mentioned a type of irony I’ve never heard of before until I read your book. It was called romantic irony. Can that help? First, explain what that is and can this help us navigate a world where most people say, “No, you can’t, embracing enriching fictitious truths,” right? It’s kind of weird. You got to stick to the facts.

Eric Wilson: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Can romantic irony help you navigate a world like that?

Eric Wilson: I think so. Romantic irony has a fairly specialized definition. If you studied literature you know that there are many different kinds of irony, right? There’s dramatic irony which occurs when the audience watching a play knows something the characters don’t know. Or, there’s dramatic irony … I’m sorry, verbal irony, where an author is saying something that has more than one meaning. Like when Jane Austen opens up Pride and Prejudice, and I’m paraphrasing by saying that impacted every man of good fortune who wanted a wife. That’s the kind of grammatical meaning. The rhetorical meaning is that women want to marry wealthy men. All right? Those are just two kinds of many kinds of irony.

Romantic irony really is developed in the late 18th, early 19th century two writers in Germany, the Schlabel brothers and it’s gets developed in England by people like Byron and in America by people like Melville. The basic assumption of romantic irony is this. The world is simply too complicated, too abundant, too vast for any one interpretation of it to be accurate. Right? So, Christianity, say Marxism, Platonism, say. Any world view only tells part of the truth because the world’s just too big. It’s too complicated. It’s too vast. If I’m a romantic ironist I acknowledge this and I embrace it, and I don’t see it as something that makes me depressed, this constant gap between what I say about the world and what the world really is. But it becomes and invitation to be creative. It becomes a kind of occasion to be exuberant.

Think of it this way, if we go on a field trip, say to Greece and we go to a ruin temple and I said, “Oh, look at that column from that ruin temple. Can you imagine what the temple actually looked like when it was whole?” What do we start doing? We start imagining what his temple would look like, but since the temple’s not there our imagining never stops right? We can endlessly imagine what this temple might have looked like because we can never actually know what it looked like. Some might say that’s really frustrating, but if you’re kind of practitioner of romantic irony you would say, “That’s really exciting, because my mind is constantly activated. It’s constantly moving. It’s constantly in action.” That leads to a kind of vitality.

This side is really exciting to me and it shows up in works of literature, like when you have a self conscious narrator who while telling the story will kind of stop to say, “Oh, I’m telling you a story,” which kind of highlights that this is a fiction, that it’s not real. We see this in film sometimes too, where a character starts talking to the camera. To apply this to life is basically again to say that any understanding of the world is only one narrative among many possible narrative. Only one interpretation among many possible interpretations.

Again, this doesn’t lead to relativism. There are some interpretations, some narratives which are better than others and what are those that are better than others? Those that are more aesthetically powerful. Some narratives are more aesthetically powerful than others. They approach the quality of art more so than others. Again if you think of art as a kind of very complicated system that can bring together a lot of diverse points of view into some sort of basic harmony that is pleasing and graceful. That’s the basic idea of romantic irony and it’s also how one can think about romantic irony in relation not only to literature, but also in relation to one’s own life. Look, the way to think of it is no matter what you do you’re an artist. If you’re a gardener, if you’re a banker, if you’re a professor. No matter what you do that becomes an art form. If you think of life in this way and if you try to see it as a work of art then I think it makes life more interesting and more exciting, and ultimately more beautiful.

Brett McKay: We did a series not too long ago about the philosophy of Nietzsche. This sounds very Nietzsche.

Eric Wilson: Yes.

Brett McKay: What you were telling me, and existential.

Eric Wilson: It is. It’s absolutely. I mean, what I just said you could translate to Neecha very easily.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Eric Wilson:I mean Nietzsche never really used the term romantic irony but he did talk about an aesthetic understanding of the world. Right? The idea being that we are always interpreting and what we formerly thought of as truths is really just an army of metaphors. For Nietzsche, we should see this as an invitation to create. For him the philosopher practices the joyous wisdom, right? The gay science, which is just constantly creating sort of new narratives and new interpretations which hopefully open up the eyes of other people and encourage them to create their own sort of interpretation that we all become artists, that the greatest philosophers are the greatest artists. That all shows up in Neecha.

Brett McKay: I love this idea that we are actors, also screenwriters in our movie. I think there’s a podcast. I think Joe Rogan says that. He’s a pod caster. He says that you are the star of your own movie. What would it be? I thought this was … I like that analogy because I’ve read several, I’ve read this biography about John Wayne. Never really knew much about him. I mean I watched his movies, but when I read the biography I was actually, I kind of got to like the guy a lot more. I was endeared to him and what endeared to me about him was this idea that through the character of John Wayne, he became a better man. He created this character that he himself tried to become, like a fictitious character.

More recently Tom Hardy, guy who played Bane in the Batman movie. Always plays these like really tough, manly dudes. He even said that like his characters in the process of embodying this fictitious character, like he himself feels like he’s becoming that person in a way. Can actors like movie actors teach us something about being the writers of our own narrative? Were they aware of that? Were they aware of what you’re talking about in a way?

Eric Wilson: I learned a lot from Cary Grant, and I write about this at length in the book. Cary Grant was very much aware of this. Of course he created Cary Grant as a persona in his own life. He was born Archie Leech, a very impoverished youth in England and somehow eventually made his way to the United States and he created his persona, Carrie Grant. It’s where he lived into it. He had some really interesting quotes. He says, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” He also said you learn to play yourself is the most difficult thing in life that you’ll do. But there’s a real sense in Grant and these quotes but also in his acting that sort of creating a very wildly interesting persona and living into that. It can give your live a kind of value and vitality you wouldn’t have had you not done that.

I’m especially enamored of Grant because to me his acting is always unexpected and unpredictable. He never kind of becomes a cliché of himself, I don’t think. You go see a Carrie Grant movie. You don’t care about the plot. It’s a Carrie Grant movie. Same as John Wayne, right? It’s a John Wayne movie. You go see those guys to be those guys. Just as you might see, go see Audrey Hepburn or Katherine Hepburn, to be those women. This is kind of classic Hollywood model. Whereas now we often think that good acting is the ability to transform into something totally other than yourself. Like I’m going to lose a lot of weight, or I’m going to get an accent. Back with classic Hollywood, it was let’s create a persona and make it endlessly interesting. To me Grant is endlessly interesting because he’s always doing double takes and always gazing here or there. In other words his characters show that he’s very much aware of the fact that he is acting. To me that’s kind of an example for how one might live one’s life just knowing that one is making a step and being aware of that.

I think that Bill Murray does the same thing in a lot of his films. I write about him in the book as well. That kind of knowingness that he brings to lots of his characters. I value them more than say a John Wayne even though I’ve kind of grown to like John Wayne too. I feel like the character he created to me isn’t as wisely interesting. It’s a little more static and predictable than the Grant character or the Murray character, but I do agree with what he says. And I kind of agree with what Tom Hardy says that, “Yeah, you create something that’s totally artificial but it can generate a kind of reality that can enhance your life.”

Now, I had a really big sort of psycho therapeutic breakthrough and I write about this in the book as well when a psycho therapist of mine said, “Hey man are there any movie actors you really like?” I said, “Well yeah,” I listed some. He said, “Why don’t you try to be like that guy in the next stressful situation and just see what it’s like.” You use the cliché fake it til you make it, but you try to give it a more kind of profound meaning. I could talk a little more about the kind of psycho therapeutic value of some of these ideas if …

Brett McKay: Yeah, I would love to. I mean I’d love to get into that because I think something I’ve struggled with, depression that I’ve written about on the site. When I was reading it I was like this could be really powerful in helping people deal with things like depression, anxiety, or just hardship in general in life.

Eric Wilson: This is one of the main reasons I wrote the book is because these ideas have been so important for me in dealing with my clinical depression. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and soon after my daughter was born, she’s now 13, I fell into a really, really deep suicidal depression and I’ve been depressed before but I’d kind of prop myself up by doing … I was very success oriented. I was kind of workaholic. I was working all the time. I was also drinking alcohol and suddenly my child’s here and if I’m going to be a decent father I can’t work as much. Nor can I drink as much. It’s like all those props were kind of stripped away and I was just there. Oh my gosh. My life is nothing. It’s meaningless.

So I started seeking psychotherapy and I saw several psychotherapists, didn’t have much success. Saw several psychiatrists, took several anti-depressants, didn’t have much success. Finally when my daughter was about three, four years old, there about, I did find a good psychiatrist who gave me a good kind of a, mélange of medications and also said to me, “Go see this psychotherapist. He’s really good.” I go see him and really from the very beginning, he’s very much about that if you’re depressed it’s because you’ve trapped yourself in a narrative that doesn’t empower you, that takes away your freedom.

He said to me, he said, “Look, you’ve made this bipolar disorder the kind of controller of your life. You’ve made yourself a victim of it.” You can say things like, “I can’t be a good father because I’m bipolar or I can’t be a good father because I’m bipolar.” He said, “Doing that, you’re making your bipolar disorder a kind of tyrant controlling your life and taking away your power to change, and you’re kind of enjoying that victim hood because it takes away responsibility. You don’t have to take responsibility for being such a bad father, a bad husband. He said, “You got to change your narrative. Reinterpret this bipolar disorder. Think about it in a fresh way. Put it in a different kind of narrative.”

He says, “Your assignment is to go home and write a new narrative of your life, a novel as it were as yourself as a main character thinking about your bipolar disorder in a new light.” We sort of started working in that way and finally what I decided was a father that I probably wasn’t going to be a good traditional father, a father with a big head who could be all authoritative and wise. I was just kind of good at being silly and stupid and idiotic. I was really good at making my daughter laugh.

What I did is I self consciously created a persona. I will be crazy dad. I won’t be good parent. I will be crazy dad. I just really tried to be as ridiculous as possible. My main goal in life was to make her laugh. She’s four years old and that created was us relating to each other. We started having fun together and I connected with her in new ways. Again that led to deeper, more valuable ways of connecting beyond crazy dad but the point is that this fiction making had really powerful psycho therapeutic value for me. I mean in some ways it’s very much a cognitive behaviors therapy, the idea that psychotherapy should not so much be going deeply within as even Freud might have you do but rather just create new habits and try to follow through on those new habits. Try to do something five times a week and eventually it will stick.

In other words, you’re trying out new stories and you want to kind of live into those new stories. For me these ideas aren’t just philosophical. They aren’t just, I guess just psychologically interesting. They’re really existentially powerful for me and without them I don’t know where I would be.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that idea because when you tell it, for example when you tell a depressed person be yourself, the depressed person is like myself sucks. I don’t want to be myself.

Eric Wilson: Exactly.

Brett McKay: Terrible advice. Yeah, the idea is like create a new self. That’s so much more empowering.

Eric Wilson: It was so liberating for me because I had been through a lot of more traditional psychotherapy which is … I’m not discounting that but I’m just sort of recalling the past thinking about how the past effected the present. Perhaps thinking about past traumas. That can be useful but it wasn’t working for me. I guess because I’m kind of overly introspective anyway, and I’m kind of narcissistic, so I kind of got off on this endless navel gazing, but it never led to any change. This more kind of outwardly directed psychotherapy did. I still struggle. I’m not healed by any stretch of the imagination. I still struggle mildly with depression, but I feel like I have a kind of tool kit now which is more helpful than some of those earlier tools were.

Brett McKay: I love this. Basically sum up here. I think we’ve gone to some big picture things but I love how you said this is really an actual, it’s an existential tool that you can use to have a more flourishing life as Aristotle would say. Basically the idea is is there is no authentic self to be found. You are the creator of that self, right?

Eric Wilson: Yes, that’s what I’m saying in the book, absolutely.

Brett McKay: So just go out there and create the best like whatever you want to be, create it within limits. You can’t do anything too out of the ordinary, but you can create something better for yourself if you want to.

Eric Wilson: Yes, that’s exactly it. I’ve had people talk to me who have had very serious illnesses and they said things like, “you know I realize when I had cancer I could say “I’m the guy who has cancer who might die'”, or I can say “Oh I have cancer, but I’m also this, and this, and this, and this.” Right? It’s how you respond to what is given to you. That’s where the fiction I think comes in. That’s where the interpretation comes in. That’s where the creation comes in. So absolutely, and I would say create a self that opens you to the world, that makes the world more heterogeneous to you, that gives you more opportunity to connect with as many other people, with as many other narratives as possible. If you create a narrow narrative you’re going to be isolated and lonely and sad.

Brett McKay: Great, well Keep it Fake. I love this. Eric Wilson. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Eric Wilson: Oh you’re welcome. I really enjoyed this conversation, bro.

Brett McKay: Our guest today is Eric Wilson. He’s the author of the book, Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life and you can find that on

That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoy this podcast and you feel like you’re getting something out of it I’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. That’d help us get some constructive feedback on how we could improve the show as well as get the word out about the podcast. And the best compliment you could give me is to recommend the podcast to your friends. I’d really appreciate that. Thank you for continuing to support the Art of Manliness podcast as well as the site and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

Related Articles