The PeopleAlchemist Edit: change & transformation, business & lifestyle experimentation for TheWomanAlchemist – Where does your authentic self end?
Authenticity is the buzzword on everyone’s lips, but can you really be your true authentic self at work or at all times? Where does your authentic self end?
According to the enduringly popular mantra, you must live authentically, including bringing your whole self to work.
The authenticity debate has been raging for several decades but exploded in the last few years, enveloping everything we do: from rejecting supermarkets favouring artisanal farmers’ markets to social media, where the hashtag #nofilter intends to show our pride in offering the world the representation of our authentic reality.
Phoney or inauthentic, putting on an act is one of the worst sins one can have, deceiving everyone else and themselves.
And this debate has permeated the world of work too. Be your best self, and success will surely follow. So bring your whole self to work etc. etc.
Theoretically, this sounds like a great idea, but it can be problematic in practice.
AUTHENTICITY IN PRACTICE
What if this self hates small talk, people, and 9 am starts? Or what if this authentic self is an absolute incompetent a****e? What if people around you don’t like that self that much, and neither do your customers?
Every individual is a mix of character traits, some attractive, some less so. One thing is for your family and friends, with whom we should have a completely different relationship, to tolerate your character flaws and poor habits and love you unconditionally, but why should your work colleagues or boss do it too?
The pragmatic truth is that if we want to get on, many of our not-so-nice habits/traits must stay away from the workplace. Instead, our professional self should ooze competence, confidence and the ability to deliver.
Professional identity and true character are fluid and evolving notions which are not necessarily mutually inclusive. And even our authentic self is (or at least should be) a work in progress that can constantly improve and learn.
Moreover, colleagues and bosses do not necessarily seek authenticity but integrity, independent of being “real”.
However, integrity is tough; walking the walk and talking the talk requires constant reviews and balances provided by the external world (like it or not), not just an unordered flow of consciousness. Plus, people (colleagues, bosses, customers) do not have to like you, love you (or vice-versa), or agree with your lifestyle choices in a work context.
The “moral” contract is: you need to productively contribute (and not let others carry you) and deliver (what you are paid to do), and they need, in turn, to contribute and treat you with dignity and respect (it goes further if we are talking about your bosses, of course, but you get the gist).
They do not need to know ALL of you.
When it comes to leadership (in a work context), leaders must be able to conform and adapt enough to make the connection necessary to deliver change and business results. In other words, great leaders are chameleons who play different roles, like actors. And this is not innate but learned behaviour.
But, over the last few years, we have increasingly wanted our leaders to be less formal, more human, and more commonplace. They must be relatable and likeable as a real person and not distant with their competency to do with the job almost taking second place.
For me, authenticity, at its purest, is the uncensored manifestation of our genuine self, which may be acceptable to our parents when we are two but less so as functioning adults in the workplace.
Work is not our natural state but a contract that we need to fulfil while developing our knowledge and skills, understanding context and situation, and then adapting to deliver products or services to customers while achieving our aspirations.
We must learn to feel comfortable with discomfort and acknowledge that what got us “here” won’t necessarily get us “there” career-wise and that our authentic self is not always what is needed or wanted in this context.
At least, this is what I think. What about you? Where does your authentic self end for you? Or should end?
Answers on a postcard…
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