Is Being Authentic Worth It?

This week we're trying something new! Atlanta writer, mom, and general-good-things-advocate, Kendra Gayle Lee has written a piece for us about the importance of Authenticity. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Good reminder that yes, yes I do think it's worth all the effort. 


 
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 “Authenticity” gets thrown around a lot. We want authentic relationships. To be our authentic selves. Authentic guacamole. But, when we get down to it, there’s a helluva lot of vulnerability in being authentic. It’s mask down, heart-open stuff--and that’s not for the faint of heart.

But there’s risk in not being authentic, too. Studies on emotional labor (which is  “the effort that goes into expressing something we don’t genuinely feel”) show that faking feelings can be detrimental, too. Denying or suppressing true feelings in a sprint toward (perceived) perfection, or in an effort just to get by and get along, can ramp up anxiety and create feelings of inadequacy and disconnectedness. Ugh. That’s a pretty steep price to pay just to avoid some boat rocking.

When you lay it all out there, it seems obvious: constantly denying your feelings eventually leads to denying who you are.

Take, for instance, the case of Patricia Thompson. Today, she’s a successful corporate psychologist and president of a management consulting firm. But when she landed her first gig, she remembers being “reluctant to be authentic. As a Black female who had just finished grad school, I was all too aware of potential negative stereotypes that others might have about me based on my age, gender, and race. As a result, I made it my mission to come across as pulled together, polished, and serious at all times.”

Although the knee-jerk reaction to attempt to go full-on-wallflower instead of calling attention to yourself (especially if you belong to a minority group that often faces discrimination) is understandable, ultimately pretending to be someone else--or at the very least building a completely unscalable emotional wall between you and your colleagues--can bring on the very judgement you initially feared.

That’s what ultimately happened with Patricia Thompson: in an effort to blend in, she second-guessed herself out of sharing innovative ideas, making her seem less valuable to her bosses; and colleagues distanced themselves from her because they saw her as being guarded and hard to read.

Ouch.

Although dropping the mask and being real--with yourself and people around you--can be all kinds of scary, the benefits are hard to ignore. For folks brave enough to take the leap, authenticity “gives them a greater sense of freedom and fluidity, and less stress. It boosts their confidence, increases their fulfillment on the job, and increases their effectiveness as leaders. By voicing their opinions more consistently, they also enhance the level of respect others have for them because they’re making more of a contribution to important dialogues. Moreover, by opening up, they generally experience deeper relationships with those around them.”

In case you fear things will go completely off the rails if you get honest about your feelings, rest assured: being true to to who you are isn’t incongruent with quality interpersonal working relationships and good client/customer service. It’s possible--and desirable--to modulate your responses at work. Flying off the handle or lacking finesse is never going to fly. But there are ways to handle your emotions without betraying yourself. “Surface acting,” shorthand for grinning it and bearing it (no matter how emotionally insincere it feels), leads to emotional burnout. But “deep acting,” using empathy to relate to others and actually change the way you feel about a situation, can lead to a healthier emotional response. Deep acting takes the adversarial nature out of interpersonal work relationships--the goal isn’t winners and losers, but instead an empathetic approach that facilitates cooperation and understanding.

Authenticity is vulnerable and real. But it can coexist with polish and smart interpersonal maneuvering. The end goal is to be the best, most real version of yourself. And you can use empathy to create a heart-shift in difficult and complex situations, to open yourself up to someone else’s experience and to create a collaborative, win-win solution.