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The power of authenticity

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

There is something about being true to who you really are that is terrifying. Especially when you have thin skin, and I'm pretty sure that I do. When I hold things back, it protects me from judgement and criticism and allows me and my thin skin to bask in the peace and comfort of the Safety Zone.

The CEO of my consulting firm recently sent out a note on the importance of authenticity and why being real was so important in creating a diverse workplace. The crux of the issue is that when we aren't being true to ourselves, we're closed-minded, not learning, growing, and challenging norms. Everyone trying to fit a mold that's not reflective of the real world leads to stagnation. She is brilliant, our first female CEO, and her thoughts on this topic really stuck with me - that there's inherent business value in diversity of thought, experience and perspective, yet we choose to edit out what's diverse about ourselves. It made me think about how I do this, and how to change.

Obviously, there are some parts of your "real" life and personality that are worth omitting in a professional setting, such as political beliefs or college spring break stories (not that I ever had a wild spring break, unless you count binge eating Key Lime Pie in Sarasota with my BFFs). The challenge is defining the line of how much of yourself to bring to the table.

Personally, walking this fine line has been a struggle for me in the 7 years I've been gainfully employed. The things that I choose not to share at work, but will admit here, include:
  1. This blog, my Instagram feed, any of my freelance publications. 
  2. Any photos of me from middle school. (Think bowl cut, braces, glasses, extremely anxious Odyssey of the Mind world champion and last chair violinist in orchestra.)
  3. That my biggest fear (aside from losing my family) is being judged - and worse, being judged as stupid. (Yet somehow I still muster the audacity to continue posting photos of myself on the Internet…)
  4. I have a brother whose struggle with alcohol and drug addictions has been affecting my family since I was 14 (but the upside is that it motivated me to be one of the rare successful graduates of the D.A.R.E. program).
  5. When I take the train, I never get on the first or last car due to an irrational fear of a collision.
  6. My favorite genre of books is self-help, and I can give you ten titles that truly changed my life.
  7. That I graduated with a journalism degree, never took a finance class in my life and get extremely uncomfortable when my colleagues start doing math out loud in their heads.
  8. That I'm not sure where I would be in life if I didn't meet my husband at 24. As cliché as it sounds, he is truly my rock in life and demands that I stop second-guessing myself and go after what I want. Anything I've accomplished in the past 6 years can be attributed to his influence on me, but I give him zero public credit for that because of my deep-seated need to be seen as Miss Independent. He is generous, trustworthy, hard-working, hilarious, etc., yet sometimes I also want to kill him for inexplicable reasons. (Do all married people experience this dichotomy, or is it just me?)
  9. When I walk into people's homes, I immediately want to rearrange their furniture and change the paint. (I think it's a tic.)
  10. I spent way too much time in my 20's worried about what everyone else thought, and living up to other people's standards.
  11. Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel and be a yoga teacher, but I don't because of #3 above.

There are thousands of things that I could add to this list, and I'm sure you have one equally as lengthy. It's problematic, in some ways, that we edit so much of ourselves - not just in our professional lives, but with anyone outside our trusted inner circles.

The problem with being inauthentic

Editing who we are means we miss opportunities for connection, for mutual understanding, and for sparking relationships. We also fail to serve as an example to those around us who may desperately need to feel accepted, included and OK with themselves by watching someone demonstrate what it means to be genuine and comfortable in her own skin. (There are several women who have been this to me, and I am incredibly grateful to having them in my life at exactly the right moments - and I am equally grateful for everything Anna Quindlen has ever written.)

 Social media often compounds this issue, leading us to compare ourselves, our lives, our families, and our successes to impossibly perfect images of other people's tastefully edited 500 pixel squares that we surround with our own assumptions and projections. It plants seeds of self-doubt, as well as desires for things we think will make us happy but we don't really need. (Recently, I found myself pages-deep into a blog wanting a baby… and a remote farmhouse in Montana.)

How do we solve it?

Despite our collective craving for realness, it's hard to find people and content that satiate that need and inspire you to genuine, to embrace who you are, where you are at, and the value you bring to the world. (I've also heard this described as, "Let your freak flag fly.") It's not really surprising that inspiration and role models for realness are hard to find, given how fearful we all are to be our own authentic selves.

In an effort to improve, I'll be exploring new topics on this little blog to use it as a podium for authenticity while continuing to pose in my old clothes to prove you don't need any new ones. Also, I challenge you to find ways bring more of your real self forward - where having an opinion, taking a stand, or sharing something about yourself that's not necessarily comfortable or mainstream in order to inspire someone else to do the same. 

I'd also love to hear your ideas on the topic of authenticity and what might be worth exploring or expanding! 

(Now I'm off to go take perfect little pictures of my bea-yoo-tiful home and snuggle with my perfect dog who never chews my shoes or pees on my friends' feet when they come over.)
4 comments on "The power of authenticity"
  1. Soph would NEVER pee on my feet ;) Great post, I love this topic so much! We can all use a little reminder to "keep it real". Oh, and I'm totally with you on #6...

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    1. Haha she wouldn't dare! I think she's only done that to you once or twice... And your support of #6 is obviously one of the reasons you give such great advice and are filled with so many good suggestions. Unofficial book club / meeting of the minds needed ASAP!

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  2. This is such an interesting post, Colleen! I think we all struggle with finding the right balance when it comes to "keeping it real." It took me a very long time before I even admitted to my own sister(!) that I have an IG account for fear of what she might think about me "modeling" clothes at my age and how shallow that was of me. And as for sharing it at work - forget about it!! Well, sounds like I still care too much about what other people think of me.

    Also, I completely get #8 and have experienced such polarity in my own marriage, which is no reflection on my wonderful husband who somehow, at some point in our life together, managed to acquire the patience of a saint necessary to live with my over-complicated self.

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    1. Ivanka, thanks so much for reading and for the comment. I totally understand the fear about sharing with family and friends - the little negativity I've experienced from blogging has come from family and friends, not internet trolls as some would expect! But I am really happy that you have your IG account and don't think it's shallow at all, it's creative! But not everything thinks like we do ;) Glad to hear it's not just me on #8... and feeling like a post with an open call for people's best marriage advice may be needed...

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