About a month ago I was having lunch was a previous boss of mine, he remarked that it still baffled him how confronting it was for some people to work with a person being themselves. The more I would say what I really thought, the more it made certain people start to spin out.
He values people’s authenticity. I’m not saying he always liked it, there were times we wanted to kill each other (not literally but it was nice to have a cartoon version of it in my head on occasion), but his preference was for passionate authentic people. The line of thinking is you get a lot more discretionary effort and much better results. I agree.
But it’s an interesting subject, authenticity.
Wikipedia says authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit or character, despite external pressures. Sounds great, but how many of us truly know our authentic selves? If you do, well done. But for me, it’s still an ongoing journey.
For years I’ve been interested in psychology, always drawn to the multitude of personality and character tests that exist. While some basic understanding is helpful – like the revelation we aren’t all wired the same way i.e. some people prefer interaction with others while others prefer tasks, some people are introverted, others are extroverted, and (a big one) men and women are quite simply different – it can quickly get very complex from there.
But I’ve come to realize that psychology is about understanding people with their nature and nurture swirled together, with ongoing life events that reinforce things we’ve come to believe about ourselves and the world.
Let me give you an example. A child is born, in its early years it starts to sing. Its parents say “ooh, maybe stay away from the singing”, backed up with a few grimacing looks or laughter every time the child does its best rendition of Old MacDonald or Twinkle Twinkle. Now this child has just added a layer to their true nature, some ‘nuture’, a layer that says “I can’t sing”. Starting to recognize the layers? We’ve each got hundreds, probably thousands, of these layers.
What I mean by being who you are, is to be the person under all those layers. So how do you even know who that person is? As I said, it’s a journey, one that involves being confronted by the same issues time and time again, going round the same loop. A common example of this is in relationships, we attract the same types of people time and again, the same issues in different guises. Many go through their entire life repeating the same old issues, feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, if you look at your part in these situations, and learn from them, you take away some layers and move on.
The story of my relationship with one of the people my old boss referred to as being "confronted" when I was being me, provides a great example of just this. Her personal story is not relevant here, but it’s now easy for me to see I’d attracted an old scenario again. A domineering, overbearing person trying to force their opinions on me. And initially (and for a long time) I reacted as I always did, in defense.
Now, I’ve always been ‘professional’, so “in defense” was of course within those boundaries - lots of ranting to the boss, drawn out ‘discussion’ and heated debate over this or that, platitudes and compromises, all of it exhausting. But I’m a fighter, especially of injustice, so it’s fair to say the pictures in my head as I was ‘professionally’ dealing with this person weren’t of a cartoon variety.
Right there, there’s a ‘layer’, “ I’m a fighter”.
I was so sure that being a fighter was my true nature. But how could it be? I never liked fighting, there’s a clue. But I wasn’t going to be diminished either – the true fear – not realizing until now that the true me will never come to light while it’s repressed by this fear.
Funnily enough then, it turns out my true nature is not to fight, not to defend. None of it sits comfortably; it’s simply what I learned to do to survive. But now I know there’s a different choice. Now I know if you give attention to something it simply fuels more of it.
So now I am learning to switch that off. Consciously at first. The driver/survivor in me is no longer required nor helpful. I don’t want to waste my communication skills in defense all the time, it’s too wearing. The outer and inner me simply weren’t a match. Are yours?
So I made that decision with that person at work, and ended it by being authentic. I stopped trying to be nice or professional, in our final fight I simply said “I won’t be bullied by you or anyone”, and walked away. Then I stopped giving any energy in that direction, I knew it was done. My energies went into the more productive transformational stuff I was there to do.
This earth needs more people being who they are, rather than who they’ve become. Certainly the corporate world needs it, politics needs it, and the government needs it. Be who you are, you’ll be better for it and so will we.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
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