Authenticity is Great – Just Don’t Go Overboard
Authenticity is one of those buzzwords I hear a lot lately, and in theory, I agree with the notion that we should all strive to be true to ourselves and live an authentic life.
But as a woman who’s had to find my own way in a business (the law) that didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat to people of my gender or ethnicity, I’d like to temper some of the authenticity evangelism with a bit of real-world pragmatism.
Particularly when it comes to your professional life, “authenticity” can be an excuse to stay within your comfort zone and that’s a death sentence for anybody looking to grow and improve their skills.
It can take a toll in your personal life as well. If you only do those things that make you comfortable and feel “authentic,” you can be closing yourself off to new adventures, new experiences, and maybe even new loves. If you’re single and looking to meet someone new, it’s especially important to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
So many of our negative relationship patterns stem from sticking with the familiar, especially if our previous relationships were less than ideal. Breaking out of those patterns is especially uncomfortable and may feel inauthentic, even phony, but unless you want a repeat of your last bad relationship, you need to experiment with being uncomfortable now and then.
Let me be very clear: I’m not telling you to be a phony. We all have some core values that guide our actions, and we need to stay true to those. Where I take issue with the authenticity movement is when people use it as an excuse for never stretching their wings because they mistake discomfort for inauthenticity.
Here are a few things that will probably make you uncomfortable and might not feel authentic but that you absolutely must do – at least occasionally – if you want to grow professionally:
· Volunteer for a leadership position on an important project
· Apply for a promotion even if you don’t fit 100 percent of the prerequisites (statistically, a man will apply for a job if he only has 60 percent of the requirements, whereas a woman won’t apply unless she meets nearly all of them)
· Accept a speaking opportunity
· Ask for a raise
· Go to a networking event and talk to someone you don’t already know
· Ask a prospective client or mentor to lunch
On the personal end, here are some things that might make you squeamish but can help you grow:
· Plan a “bucket list” trip
· Take up a new sport or hobby
· If you’re single and looking for a partner, map out a game plan for finding one that doesn’t just rely on chance and setups from friends (that could mean joining a dating app or simply asking out that person you’ve always wanted to ask out but didn’t want to embarrass yourself)
· Take a vacation by yourself
In other words, you need to put yourself out there and occasionally risk embarrassment if you want to grow.
This isn’t just me talking, by the way. Actual experts in psychology and business counsel some form of “fake it ‘til you make it.”
Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, says authenticity is “highly overrated … [b]ecause doing things that don’t come naturally can make you feel like an imposter [and] authenticity easily becomes an excuse for staying in your comfort zone. The trick is to work toward a future version of your authentic self by doing just the opposite: stretching way outside the boundaries of who you are today.”
Athletes are good role models for this. In one 2013 study, a team of British researchers coached half their bicyclist subjects on motivational self-talk (a popular choice was “feeling good”) and let the other half do what they normally do. Both groups were asked to ride until they were limp with exhaustion.
After two weeks of practicing positive self talk, the “feeling good” group actually pedaled much longer before reporting that they were exhausted, leading researchers to conclude that physical fatigue might actually start in the brain, not the muscles.
That’s usually the case, isn’t it? Our minds defeat us before our bodies get the chance to.
So give yourself permission to be less-than-authentic, especially if it means becoming a better version of yourself.