Everyone wants to be authentic. It is the key to building a fulfilling and rewarding life. Authenticity means being truly present and connected to people and experiences in a way that is meaningful to your life. It is a commitment we make to ourselves and a quality we look for in others. It is found at the root of confidence and passion, which grows into trust and respect. Yes, we want to be authentic, but it takes immense courage to practice. This article outlines where to start, reveals what living authentically can offer you, and, hopefully, provides some encouragement in the face of challenge.
Who we are, or at least who we appear to be, matters enormously
It is not uncommon to feel that we have many different roles to play in our personal and professional lives to meet expectations. For example, you may be a leader to your team, a co-worker and friend to your colleagues, a team member to your manager, an employee to your employer, an expert to your customers; you may also be a wife or girlfriend, a mother, a daughter, or a sister. Each title carries the expectations of others, from the way we speak, act and dress, to the knowledge and skills we should possess.
Although many of us would agree with Oscar Wilde’s wisdom to “be yourself; everyone else is already taken,” it seems ever so difficult to put it into practice with so many external influences. Our true self remains the same no matter where we are, who we are with, or what we are doing.
So, first and foremost, what does it mean to be authentic?
Authenticity has become an omnipresent buzzword – in business, personal blogs, mindfulness journals, magazines, and more. Everyone wants to be authentic, and a myriad of definitions exists.
For example, an authentic person, object, or emotion, is genuine; you can describe something as authentic and mean that it is of real, true, or of undisputed origin, however you can also mean that it is such a good imitation that it is almost the same as the original. An authentic piece of information is reliable and accurate; trustworthy.
This article explores authenticity and defines it as genuine. To be authentic therefore means to be true to yourself, your values, beliefs, goals, and ideals by living in such a way that these things are congruent with your actions. Authenticity is about your presence, and acting with conviction, confidence, and passion.
What can authenticity do for your life and why should we strive for this?
It is exponentially more rewarding to live authentically. The fact is most people desire authenticity and we hope that the people we invite into our lives also regard this virtue highly.
Building trust and respect. Being true to yourself opens way for a deeper sense of trust in your judgements and decisions. Seldom do we doubt the integrity of authentic people, because their behavior, in terms of their ethics and morals, is consistent. This trust extends to the people around you and builds a foundation of respect over time.
Gaining increased confidence. When you can trust yourself to make the best decision, you are being genuine. It takes an immense amount of courage to stand up for yourself in many situations and by doing so, you gain increased confidence and self-esteem. This, in turn, gives you a greater sense of optimism, empowerment, and satisfaction in the work you do.
Releasing stressors. Always working to meet the expectations of others at the expense of your own values is tiring, disheartening, and restricting.
Leading with greater authenticity, instead of adopting a persona based on other people’s expectations, unlocks our potential to pursue our projects with passion; work in lockstep with your values; lead with both head and heart; and foster meaningful, lasting relationships. People who are authentic bring their entire selves to the table. They contribute fully and honestly in the workplace, and exponentially increase their value.
Unsurprisingly, workplaces need difference – of opinion, talent, perspective, gender, expertise, background, and more; authenticity is the route to realizing the value of that difference. Why then, do we seek to simply step into roles? Why not rewrite them to include our quirks, ideas, and aspirations? It is only when we seek new ways to actively be ourselves in any given setting, that our differences can thrive.
But why is authenticity so difficult to put into practice? It is certainly not always easy to live authentically.
According to the latest World Economic Forum Gender Gap report1, bias, both conscious and unconscious, often in the form of false narratives about women, continues to be innately present in our workplaces, our policies, and our talent discussions surrounding women and their representation in senior roles. Prehistoric myths that women lack ambition and confidence, that they must carry more of the load at home, and that they frequently opt out of senior roles are still widely believed by people in power1.
Additionally, in an article published by Forbes2 research that clearly illustrates the barriers that exist for women, and especially mothers, in the workplace. Globally, there are laws that explicitly outlaw discrimination, such as the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, featuring a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. Unfortunately, anti-discrimination laws don’t always protect against discriminatory practices, especially the subtle interactions, beliefs, or nuanced body mannerisms resulting in biased and unfair treatment of people.
Another issue that resonates with many women is the imposter syndrome; the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills. Our beliefs about ourselves are incredibly important in shaping all kinds of decisions – such as our career paths, whether we are willing to contribute ideas in a discussion, or whether to compete for a promotion.
It is not surprising to state that, more than likely, we have all found ourselves in a situation in which we have been faced with compromising progress just to keep the peace. To be authentic, we may need to be unconventional, open, vulnerable, and innovative, and we must draw on immense courage to do so.
This opportunity is uniquely ours – to take our courage and the challenges we face and use them. Doing so makes us resilient. Cultivating resilience, doesn’t necessarily mean confronting major issues and adversity every day, but it starts when we choose to be authentic and be unapologetically individual when we choose change.
So how can we become authentic considering all the roles we must fulfill now and in the future?
Reflect inward and look outward. Authentic people are generally deep, introspective thinkers. To step forward more authentically, we must consider:
- What do we want to achieve?
- What gaps exist between who we are now and where we would like to be?
- What qualities do we value and what does this say about us?
- What would we like others to know?
Be conscious of your personal drive and how to translate it into actions you are excited about.
Listen. Authentic people are also emotionally intelligent. They are honest in their communication and respectful of others’ thoughts and opinions. Being an active listener, however, is not only something you do for others – for your coworkers and loved ones – but something you do for yourself. Listen to the voice in your head and in your intuition. There are few things more authentic than embracing yourself.
Be open minded. Open-mindedness means we are fair and ready to accept new thoughts, ideas, and people, and all they bring to the table. Discovering and living by the values and morals you hold closest is wonderful, but authenticity also asks that you judge honestly and remain free of bias. You won’t find and develop your true self overnight. Rather, authenticity is a long journey of growth, learning, and development and in being open minded. It is a key that unlocks vast potential.
So, what’s next? Ultimately, we are a multiplicity of selves.
While the notion of an authentic self doesn’t seem like it can coexist as we navigate the roles in our lives, we can still find a sense of a “true self.” We all have complex layers that define us, and it is okay to find where we fit in any given situation. If we take the time to look inward and build a good sense of a true self, we can be authentic to it.3. It will always be worth engaging in this question of authenticity, because by making it a noteworthy experience to strive for, we all benefit; and this is perhaps the most significant catalyst for change at work.3
In the month of May, we will be focusing on "Authenticity and Resilience" as part of our Inspiring Women program. Find out more about our Inspiring Women 2021 here.
- World Economic Forum article: The route to true gender equality? Fix the system, not the women
- Forbes article: Gender Discrimination Is Still Alive and Well in The Workplace In 2021
- Psychology Today article: What does it mean to be authentic?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anna-Marie is the Executive assistant to Sally Guyer, Global CEO at World Commerce and Contracting. Her role involves providing support to the Executive Office with organization, scheduling, correspondence, and meetings. She also takes responsibility of project management, deadline compliance, governance support, and knowledge management. Her principal studies are a Bachelor of Arts in Education and Sociology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, alongside a recent certification as a CCM Practitioner.
Content reflects views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of World Commerce & Contracting.