Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what it means to be authentic at work. In the corporate world, there’s such a huge emphasis on logic, metrics, and being analytical, that we can often feel that isn’t space for the other aspects of ourselves to be expressed.
What does it feel like when you think that you can’t express yourself as a whole person?
That’s why companies that create psychologically safe environments have such engaged workers. It feels good to be yourself. It’s incredibly freeing to stop having to devote your energy to hiding or diminishing yourself, and instead, channel that energy towards true self-expression.
In my work as a psychologist and executive coach, I hear all sorts of stories from people who feel constrained. They often have all the trappings of success – the big job they wanted, comfortable lifestyle, and requisite letters after their name. Yet, something is missing – they don’t feel purely self-expressed or centered.
Often, as opposed to taking this as a sign that they need to get in touch with who they truly are, so that they can approach their work from a place of power, instead they choose to contort themselves to others’ expectations in the hope that if they figure out how to do it in exactly the right way, it will work out for them.
I’ve been guilty of it myself. Whether it was not using my voice (either at work or at home), ignoring a strong intuition, or placing too much emphasis on making myself more neutral for others’ comfort, I’ve definitely been there. Even in writing this blog, I wondered, “Will there be people for whom this is too much?”
You know what?
The reality is, none of us will resonate with everyone. We all have different opinions, ways of being, and preferences. But that’s okay. We have heard time and time again about how diversity contributes to power and performance in teams. Diversity is what makes the world go around.
After all – think of it – out of all the possible combinations of genes and characteristics that could have been combined together, you came into the world as you. You have talents that are all your own, and they are of value. You have unique gifts to share.
Getting in Touch with Your Authentic Self
So many people have a desire to be more authentic, but over the years, they might have lost sight of who they really are. Years of programming and invalidation can cause you to question your worth, fill you with self-doubt, and dim your light. Yet, we all have a yearning inside of us. We all want to be seen and appreciated – just for who we are.
If you have lost sight of who you are, and want to get back in touch with the “real you” as a whole person, here are some practices you can explore.
1. Explore your ancestry
This one is really new for me, but not too long ago, someone encouraged me to look into my ancestry as a means of personal growth. I was born and raised in Canada, by parents who came from Bermuda and Jamaica, and eventually met at McGill University, in Montreal. Based on the rich cultural history from which I come, I’ve been doing some exploring. This week, I’ve been learning more about the Gombey dance tradition from Bermuda and the Ettu culture of Jamaica. (The internet is teeming with all kinds of information, so it’s been really fun to look into it all). I remember the first time I watched a YouTube video of the Gombey dancers, I had a visceral reaction – I can’t explain it any other way than as a feeling of homecoming.
Another way to get more in touch with your ancestry is to talk to your family’s elders. Whether they’re your parents or grandparents, talking to them will not only help you to learn more about who you are, it can also help you to deepen your connection with them. To develop a fuller sense of meaning, you might also ask them to reflect on if they have any regrets, or things that they would have done differently in their lives. By taking in their wisdom and applying it now, perhaps you can live more authentically in the present.
Often, we are so focused on our future, or keeping up with all of the obligations in our daily lives, that we don’t take time to reflect on our deep roots, and the people who came before us upon whose shoulders we now stand. The traditions and customs from the past are coursing through your DNA. Strive to get in touch with your ancestry in a whole-hearted way – not just an intellectual way – and see what it does for you in terms of freeing you up to live more authentically.
2. Get in touch with your body
Our world – especially the business world – tends to be a very left-brained one. Thinking, planning, being methodical are held in high esteem, and often, our softer sides are devalued. Yet, there is much to be gained from tapping into your body. First of all, our bodies often carry messages to us. We often experience things physically – gut feelings, intuition, a sense in the pit of your stomach that something is not quite right. (For a fascinating overview of how gut health may even affect mood and cognition, click here). Being aware of your body can help you to be more emotionally intelligent, as it’ll help you to notice strong reactions, and hopefully moderate them before they become problematic for you.
Listening to your body can also help you to be more effective at work – although many of us have gotten so used to ignoring the signals, that we don’t take advantage of the cues. For example, when you feel fatigued and are working on something, do you take a five-minute break? Or are you like many of the people who grind on through? Research suggests that if you gave yourself a bit of a rest, you would allow yourself to recharge. Do you exercise when your body craves it? Or, do you tell yourself that you don’t have time because you have to work. We know that exercise is linked to enhanced mood, concentration, and even pro-social behaviors. And, believe it or not, even the act of shaking your body may even help you to release stress and trauma. (Learn more about that here).
Your body is you. It’s quite literally where you live. So, bring a deeper awareness to your body, whether through mindful exercise or simply being intentional about responding to its needs. In doing so, you’ll get more in touch with who you are.
3. Give yourself permission to feel
Being able to regulate your emotional displays in the workplace is important. After all, if you’re prone to yelling at people or panicking every time pressure hits, you’re probably not going to be very effective at leading others. Still, for some people, self-regulation can be confused with stuffing down feelings, or rationalizing and analyzing to the point of disconnection. In short, it can cause you to stop giving yourself permission to actually feel your feelings. While these approaches might cause you to come across appropriately in the short-term, they may result in a lot of suppressed feeling that are never given a chance to “complete” themselves by simply acknowledging that they exist. They’ll also cause you to lose touch with the real you.
Now, obviously in the workplace, you can’t express every feeling that you have – emotional regulation definitely serves an important purpose. But, at the appropriate time, in a safe space, you can experiment with giving yourself permission to experience your emotions.
Feeling angry? Journal your anger without censoring yourself, write a letter to the offending party (make sure you don’t send it – you can rip it up and throw it away or flush it down the toilet) or perhaps let yourself get your feelings out with physical activity or a loud battle cry. (I play my best tennis when I’m annoyed – maybe because I’m not only getting to hit things with full force, but I’m also letting out grunts while I play).
Let yourself feel sad by crying if you need to, and allow the waves of release course through your body. Emotional tears have actually been shown to release stress hormones, and crying may stimulate the release of endorphins – our “feel good hormones.” And don’t forget about the more pleasant emotions – allow yourself to feel elation and pride for a success. Savor moments of joy. Even do a happy dance if you’re excited about something!
Emotions are an element of who you are – they are a part of being a human being. Instead of making them “wrong,” embrace all sides of yourself to live authentically.
4. Ask Yourself, “How do I feel about this?”
Some of us can become so preoccupied with considering how others will respond to us, that we don’t give ourselves permission to get clear on our own thoughts. You might even become so disconnected that when someone asks you for your opinion on something, you might constantly find yourself not having one, or feeling more comfortable asking them what they think. To start to undo this, get back in touch with yourself by getting quiet and asking yourself, “what do I think?”
When you get clear about your thoughts and opinions, and can tap into how they align with who you are, it can give you greater assurance to voice them with confidence, as opposed to tentativeness. Knowing your opinions doesn’t mean that you won’t consider how you might craft them in a way to better persuade your audience, or that you won’t be open to others’ perspectives. Still, by first getting clear about your thoughts, you’ll be better able to stand in your power as you present them.
5. Don’t use authenticity as an excuse for poor behavior
Finally, please note that I’m not suggesting that you mistake authenticity with the defensive posture of saying “that’s just the way I am” to excuse rudeness or poor behavior. After all, part of the beauty of being human is the ability to continuously peel back the layers to learn more about ourselves, so that we can evolve, mature, and grow across time. The feelings associated with acknowledging something as a legitimate strength and part of who you are, versus clinging onto a less constructive behavior because you feel threatened or vulnerable, are qualitatively different. Self-reflect, and be honest, as you check in with how you feel about any given behavior or characteristic. You’ll be able to tell the difference.
A big part of becoming more attuned to your authentic self is taking the time to mindfully get quiet with yourself. With practice, when you do that, you’ll become more aware of that deep sense of who you are at the core. The part of you that has deeply held dreams and goals. Vulnerabilities. Areas in need of healing. Barriers and beliefs that prevent you from showing up the way you want to in the world. Strong senses of knowing. Peace, Resolve.
Get in touch with those parts of you, and instead of shying away from them – move towards them. They will guide you towards greater freedom and expansiveness.
Eckhart Tolle wrote, “Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.”
When you get in touch with the truth of who you are, from a place of centeredness, you will become much more comfortable in your skin, and allow yourself to unleash your true self, in all its brilliance into the world. And, that will be a reward in and of itself. Go forth and be you!