Todd Dewett | August 7, 2019
[This is part three of a five-part series addressing aspects of authenticity.]
Many ideas are easy to understand, but harder to behaviorally embrace. Authenticity is one such idea for many of us. We like the idea: being a bit more aligned with our true selves and allowing this alignment to be reflected in how we speak and act. Less posturing, more candor and honesty. I’m not suggesting that it’s a good idea to be fully unfiltered all the time. That would become strange quickly. Yet, because we all censor so often, I’m merely suggesting that, on average, we can be more real.
Nor am I suggesting the goal is to become close friends with your colleagues, your neighbors, and everyone else you see regularly. Your goal is to move your average forward, which means you’re looking for the magical sweet spot in-between being distant and measured on the one hand and best friends on the other. In the middle, you find that space where it’s okay to be transactional as needed and also reasonably real and personal. Once developed, it’s this middle ground where greater authenticity can grow.
Okay, so where do you start? How do you make that first push towards authenticity? In other writing, I’ve advocated for the toe in the water approach. You just start with small adjustments, such as sharing something new or asking a new question. I stand by this approach, but to be really effective, I want you need to take a deeper dive. You need to be more aggressive in thinking about who you are and what you share.
To really become more authentic, you must grapple with these three difficult questions.
1. What part of you must die?
To become something new in the eyes of others requires you to leave something behind. It’s about taking off the armor and the make-up that defines impression management. Lose the tie, stop supporting everything at work, stop acting like you enjoy kale. Who knows?
There is no right answer here, just honest attempts to posture less. Is there a group you need to leave? A look you can no longer maintain? A behavior you can no longer engage? Target a stale and uncomfortable piece of the facade and let go.
2. What new thing must emerge?
To be authentic is to reveal something about yourself. While being respectful, you’re going share something you normally hide. When you do, please know that not everyone will like what you share. It’s simply not always safe to be open and candid. It is in no way safe or easy compared to living inside your manufactured and well-maintained persona.
Try adding a word, phrase, or topic to a conversation. Indulge the goatee. Take up hot yoga. Be more honest for the first time about religion or politics. Declare your love of musicals! Let a new part of you speak.
3. Are you willing to lose people in your tribe?
As you pull back the curtain, reactions will vary. Sometimes they will like what they see, other times not so much. In fact, sometimes a few people will decide to stop liking you all together. How do you feel about that? What you show publicly is somewhat manufactured, and it operates in some ways like a brand. To define a brand is to target some people and exclude others. For example, Starbucks has diehard fans as well as serious detractors.
In your case, you might lose favor with a certain crowd of people at church or at work. You could lose a friend. You could even offend your family. Thus we face this terribly difficult question – which do you prefer: having more relationships defined by censoring and impression management, or fewer defined by candor and honesty?
All social actions imply risk. The only question is what type of risk you wish to take, and how much risk can you stand. There are of course no perfect solutions here. I don’t wish to suggest that one size fits all. I do, however, wish to remind you of the beautiful feeling of a burden lifted that most experience when they let go of some of the armor and make-up and allow a little more of the real them to be seen.
From the school yard to the office and beyond, one challenge remains the same. Work hard, risks and all, to create less filtered fulfilling relationships, or skip the risks and settle for something easier. At the risk of overstepping, let me just say that I hope you don’t settle.
If you’d like to connect, reach out on LinkedIn. Be sure to check out my library at LinkedIn Learning: https://linkedin-learning.pxf.io/instrctors-todd-dewett