(pic compliments of http://www.dreamstime.com)
Here’s a question: When asked at a job interview what your weaknesses are, how do you answer? I’m a workaholic and I cannot seem to switch off? I’m too trusting and people tend to take advantage of the fact? ‘I’m a perfectionist and therefore unpopular amongst colleagues.’ It’s almost expected to hear a positive trait sneakily turned inside out to make you look good. Would you dare say I was not really a team player but I am working on it as I acknowledge my shortfall and understand the benefits of working in a team? Oh, the horror! How about “I’m not a morning person but I have started a morning routine recently that has got me to enthusiastically jump out of bed with glee!”
We love dropping clichés when the situation calls for it: ‘Be yourself’, ‘Keep it real’, ‘Love yourself or nobody else will,’ ‘Be the real deal’ but are you taking heed or mindlessly throwing up drivel?
It is certainly not a novel idea or some ‘secret’ to success. Authenticity was studied from the time of the ancient Greeks. It was Socrates who claimed that the way to happiness is to discover your ‘true self’. Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, puts forth the notion that one of the ways to reach self-actualisation (the highest point that a human being strives for) is self-acceptance.
Yet people still struggle with exposing their true essence. Why?
Baggage. And we all have it. Everyone has an element of their personality or past experiences, even present situations that they are not particularly proud. Your attitudes and perceptions today are the product of your past. And thanks to that, our insecurities surge, resulting in the attempt to be someone else – someone that (you think) will be more accepted. We humans are social beings. The instinct to be socially accepted or conform is stronger than that of displaying our uniqueness to the world. In fact, people are so afraid to display any human weakness that they would rather take on a different persona or even lie to avoid others discovering their true selves.
Yet one of the traits that stand out in highly successful leaders is the courage to be true to themselves. Within the entertainment industry, a rags to riches story is respected and even attracts a larger following. Leaders like President Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama transformed their humble beginnings into the highest hierarchy of leadership with a worldwide following because they remained real throughout their remarkable growth. The magic of self-acceptance is that people are more engaged with those who are real and vulnerable, because it is relatable. Did you perhaps suffer with a learning disability as a child? This attracts more admiration because people appreciate that you would have had to work harder than those who did not have those life experiences….and besides nobody likes a fake.
The first step to being true to yourself is knowing yourself. As a child, you were the truest form of yourself. If you didn’t like the taste of something, you spat it out. You didn’t pretend to like it because another child enjoyed it. The saddest part of growing up is losing that self-trust and as we transition from adolescence to adulthood, we learn how to dismiss our beliefs and values and become what parents, society, or the boss expects of us. We fire ourselves from the job of living and hire a stranger. If you will not hire yourself, how can you expect others to? Here are 3 ways to help you regain your authenticity easily and naturally:
- Observe yourself in conversations or in meetings. Do you take on the personality of the group? Speak as they do? Use slang and profanity if they are? It is said in the study of body language that a degree of mimicking a person or group you are with actually makes you more likeable so it’s quite okay to adapt to your surroundings. If it is a fun event and you are required to let your hair down a bit, you need not be a stick in the mud but if you find yourself becoming someone that is not instinctively you, it’s a fail! Do not discount your innermost values because you are in a team or an environment that does not share your beliefs.
- Make a list of negative events in your past that you are not comfortable sharing with others. Next to it, write down how those events have shaped you positively or what lessons were learned from it. Were you bullied as a child and thus easily able to spot people who intimidate others? Now you are changing the negative event into a positive one. Read it again but this time from a different perspective. You may feel a little differently about sharing your life lessons after this exercise.
- Think like a child again. Remember the elation and satisfaction you got from completing your first 100 piece puzzle? Well, we never out-grow this feeling of self-accomplishment. This holiday, start a project that is yours alone – completing it will give you a sense of triumph. Choose a personal stimulus: a DIY project, build something from scratch, or start a vegetable garden. In the process of a personal mission, you will re-discover yourself, be rid of an adult limiting view and gain insight into your strong and weak points. Project managers will agree that if you want to really know the true nature of a person, work with them on a project. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard offers the theory that when a person despises themselves and attempts to be someone different, one abandons their true self and the result is despair. He further suggests that if you do not know who your ‘self’ is, the result is an artificial happiness – or ‘ignorance is bliss’. Therefore, when you start the journey to discovering yourself, a level of despair is expected but remain persistent on your project and on your journey. As you become more self-aware, the despair decreases until true bliss is reached.
If you visit a company’s website, their unique values are usually proudly published in bold. I have found many of these to be just sugary words which many do not even remember in their daily operations or cannot recall within 30 seconds. Many companies are disappointingly losing their ability to be authentic. But wait, companies are made up of people so shouldn’t the buck stop with us? We need to restore ourselves so that we can become better employers, better leaders and stronger workforces.
I love diversity. Nothing is as stimulating as learning from the unique experiences of others. Your individual story is your gift to everyone who knows you. This year I coached an employee who was gang raped and left for dead at the age of 10 and has never felt worthy of anything since. After relating her story and tirelessly working on self-acceptance, she has gone from feeling completely worthless to delivering talks to abused women at her church. I am so pleased to say that she is now the happiest she has ever been, about to become a mum and has become so sought after in business that a competitor has recently headhunted her. A big loss indeed but I was delighted for her. She has taught me more than I could have ever reciprocated and I am richer for it.
The lesson is simple: Get real and the results will show!