Have you ever had someone tell you to just “be yourself”? Maybe you’ve read an article that told you that one of the keys to success was to “be more authentic”.
What on earth does that even mean?
People used to tell me that all the time and it’s really frustrating because nobody ever explained how to be more authentic.
When I finally discovered what it meant, I understood just how right everyone was. I still think it’s completely useless to tell someone that they should just be themselves or be more authentic if you don’t explain what it means or how to do it.
So I’m going to explain what I’ve learned so that you don’t have to be frustrated when people give you this advice.
Authenticity Is Surprisingly Rare
You wouldn’t think that people are wandering around being inauthentic all the time, but when I learned what authenticity actually is I realized that it’s pretty rare to encounter a truly authentic person.
To better understand what authenticity looks like we need to understand what it looks like to be inauthentic.
A common misconception is that authenticity is being genuine, sincere, or honest. However, you can be all of those things and still be inauthentic.
A person can not be authentic if there is a disagreement between the thoughts in their head, the feelings in their heart, and the actions they perform.
If these 3 things are not in alignment, it creates a form of dissonance that affects everything they do in subtle, but powerful ways.
Let’s look at some examples so we can understand how this plays out and how we can be more authentic in life and at work.
A More Authentic Mindset
If inauthenticity is a dissonance between head, heart, and hands, then authenticity naturally comes when there is a resonance of the three.
If you want to be more authentic, one of the easiest ways to start is by examining your thoughts.
There are a lot of ways to be more mindful and to be conscious of your thoughts, but if you want to be more authentic you’ll need to consider your thoughts as they pertain to your actions.
When you do something, what are you thinking as you perform the action?
When I was in my early twenties I bought a sub sandwich for a homeless man I saw outside of a sandwich shop. That was a nice thing to do, but while I was doing it I was thinking about whom I could tell and how it would make me look in their eyes.
Not authentic kindness or generosity.
The actions I performed with my hands were selfless, but the thoughts I held in my mind were selfish. This created dissonance inside my mind as I wrestled with knowing that the thoughts were selfish and tried to justify it because “at least I did something nice”.
The homeless man got the benefit of my actions, but I suffered from the inauthentic dissonance.
Authenticity in the workplace can be a bit harder to pin down.
I used to work for a marketing agency in which I didn’t fit in. It was a great agency and I was proud to work there, but everything I did blew up in my face.
I would often joke around with my co-workers, but the jokes would offend some of them. I would then shift to complementing them, but I got called a brown-noser.
The problem wasn’t the people I was working with, the problem was that everything came across as inauthentic. My actions were fine and aligned with the workplace culture, but my thoughts created dissonance because I was doing those things to prove that I fit in.
Because my thoughts were misaligned with my actions, I came across as desperate for attention and I distracted the team from their work.
Ironically, the one thing that was my primary motivation was harder to get because I was more focused on getting it than on the people who could provide it.
Had I shifted my mindset to focus on others, understanding them, and caring about their lives more than my own desire to fit in, I would have fit in much more naturally.
It is true that you can’t fit into every group, but self-focused thoughts don’t help your chances one bit.
That story was about relationships at work. How does this dissonance affect your work itself?
A bit more recently I was employed as Vice President of a different marketing agency. It was an amazing job with a fantastic team and I was on the way to being President of the company with a salary I never would have dreamt was possible.
Over time though, I started feeling less motivated in my work. It was almost impossible to focus and I would do anything I could to avoid doing the important work. I dropped the ball on a lot of projects and got myself into hot water.
Why did it happen? Because the vision I had of my future didn’t align with the future I was working toward. I was trying to convince myself that it was worth the money, but I also kept telling myself that I would do the things I really wanted to do when I took over the company.
I knew deep down that it wasn’t true. I wouldn’t have time to do the things I really wanted to do and I was giving up my dreams for money. There was nothing wrong with the position or the work, but it wasn’t right for me and I knew it.
My actions were not aligned with my thoughts, and it led to a lack of motivation and even depression.
As I took the time to recognize my thoughts and the dissonance, I was able to converse with my boss and make a decision that would benefit us both in the long run.
A More Authentic Heart
The heart is a bit more difficult to change. Because it has to do with feelings, it can be hard to understand or communicate the state of the heart in any given situation.
It also blends into, and sometimes leads to, many of the thoughts that occur in the mind. That’s why it can be tricky to understand why the mind and heart are experiencing dissonance.
In the story I just shared about my time as VP, my heart was leading the downward spiral into depression while my head was completely absent.
I was feeling down before I stopped to think about why, so I kept beating myself up with my thoughts because I was being unproductive and letting down my boss and my team.
This is where prayer and/or mindful meditation would have come in handy.
There was such dissonance in my life that my head, heart, and hands were all pursuing different goals. It was like being pulled apart in three different directions without leaving my desk.
Even when your head and your hands are aligned, if your heart is not in it you can feel that sense that most people describe as being “checked out”.
Likewise, if you fear in your heart that you’re not worth much you’ll have difficulty asking for money in sales situations. The threshold will be different for everyone based on what you’re used to.
If you’ve spent a lot of time around in situations where $5,000 transactions are made all the time, you probably won’t have much trouble asking for $5k yourself. If you try to ask for $10,000, though, you may find it hard to give your price without explaining why it’s so high or offering discounts.
I was raised in a pretty poor family. My mother was single for 3 years and had 6 kids. To me, $100 was a lot of money. When I got a job selling websites for a minimum of $2,000 I felt like I was asking people to take out a second mortgage.
I could justify the value of a website in my head, but I wasn’t struggling with the value of the product, I was struggling with my own value. I didn’t think I was worth $2,000.
Every time anyone pushed back even a little, it felt like they were rejecting me and I felt like they were justified in doing so because I felt like I wasn’t worth accepting.
My head knew that it wasn’t true and I tried to show by my actions that I didn’t believe I was worthless, but the inauthenticity bled through and I eventually had to part ways with the company.
If you want to align your head, heart, and hands, changing your heart will be one of the hardest parts.
The steps will vary for everyone, but there are a few things you can do to assess where you need to start:
1. Look for unforgiveness
Unforgiveness isn’t always obvious. If there is a person whose name always lights you up with rage when you hear it, you may be harboring unforgiveness. Alternatively, if you silently avoid a person (maybe a parent?) because you don’t want to think about them, you may need to forgive them.
There are a lot of ways it shows up, but one of the trickiest to spot is when you need to forgive yourself. You can not be authentic at work if your heart and mind are at war.
If you frequently feel ashamed of a particular action or behavior, past or present, you may need to forgive yourself to move on. Continuing to focus on the things that spark your shame will keep you stuck in place. It prevents you from seeing ways you can help people because you’re too focused on how you’re not good enough.
Blaming yourself for the actions of others is another way this shows up. Children from broken homes often subconsciously blame themselves for their father or mother leaving. Logically, this can easily be proven wrong. As you likely know, however, logic and shame rarely agree.
The only way to be free from problems like shame and self-blame is to forgive. Forgiveness is about finding peace in your heart, not about forgetting what happened. They say that time heals all wounds, but that can only happen if you stop poking the wounds so they can heal. Once your heart is at peace, you’ll finally be free to shift your focus toward helping others.
2. Identify a purpose
The next step in changing your heart is to identify a purpose. How does this help? To understand this you have to understand how to identify a purpose.
For starters, you shouldn’t confuse charitable donations with a purpose. Some companies donate a certain percentage of their revenue to a cause so they can further the goals of that organization.
In those cases, the organization receiving the donation has the purpose. The one giving the donation may be motivated by this cause to make more money, but if it’s not the primary reason they’re in business it’s not their purpose.
A purpose is the core motivation driving everything you do. If you start a business for a purpose, the revenue is the result of acting on the purpose rather than the purpose being pursued after gaining the revenue.
My purpose is to help entrepreneurs recognize self doubt and overcome it so they can tear down internal barriers to growth and serve others with confidence. I know that this is a true purpose because I’m passionate about it and it’s focused on helping others overcome a problem and improve their lives.
Many view choosing a purpose as overwhelming because they think it has to be their “life purpose.” The reality is that we’re only human and we’re not likely to identify a path from which we’ll never deviate. As we learn and grow, our interests and passions grow with us. The things that motivate us change and the problems we’re equipped to solve also change.
Don’t let this misunderstanding hold you back from taking action. Keep it simple and just find a place to start, knowing that you’re not locked in for life.
Here are few prompts to help you find a place to start:
– Is there an especially painful problem you’ve solved for yourself?
– What is a commonly misunderstood idea that always fires you up?
– Do people often ask you for help around a particular frustration in their lives?
– Can you make a complex idea simple and easier to understand?
If any of these questions ignite a spark in you, consider how you can fan the flames of your passion and direct that energy toward helping others. If you’re looking for a purpose, that’s a great place to start.
Being More Authentic At Work
If you want to be more authentic at work, you have to know who you are, who you serve, and why. Everything I shared to this point is designed to help you accomplish this.
Authenticity happens when your actions flow from a heart and mind in alignment. When you aren’t second-guessing yourself all the time in your head and you aren’t seeking in your heart to get something from every interaction with someone else, authenticity is the natural result.
So if you’ve looked inside and found peace from all of the things that are keeping you focused on yourself and what you want, you can shift your focus toward helping others.
When you’re clear on who you’re helping and why you can serve much more effectively. If you own your own business, this can be as easy as the steps I mentioned previously.
If you work for someone else, all you have to do is make sure you’re aligned with the purpose of your employer and view your company as a vehicle for serving your purpose.
You don’t have to be a business owner to serve a purpose. Serving a purpose as an employee is just as effective and important. If we all tried to serve as business owners, we would limit ourselves to serving a smaller number of people less effectively.
As humans, we can only focus on one thing at a time. If you’re focused on yourself and what you want, you can’t focus on serving your customers. If you’re not focused on serving your customers, you’re going to have a really hard time growing your business.
Regardless of how you serve, being more authentic requires you to focus inward, seek peace, and then focus outward.