Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. O. Wilde.
A decade ago, when I had finally made the decision to leave academia, change career path and transition into a corporate environment, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I loved research without a doubt, but I knew the academic system was not for me anymore and that my true calling was somewhere else. Until that point, I had never really been challenged on my performance, values or capabilities at school or at laboratory, yet I had managed to have a successful track record. Then I decided to move to the corporate world.
Unaware of the depth, I dived in the ocean of office desks, open spaces, performance and 360 reviews, leadership development programs, long teleconferences, business trips, team building activities, objectives, ratings and meetings, meetings, meetings…
I was not even familiar with the basics, let alone the nuances. This was a more structured world, less forgiving with mistakes, a world where words, body language and perceptions mattered to a very great extent, compared to the world full of crazy-but-genius-scientists I had been hanging out with.
In the face of uncertainty, when we lack foundations, sometimes we pretend to have them as a survival mechanism. So I decided to imitate those who seemed to be on top of everything, at all times. When I faced adversity and difficulty, I constantly asked myself what my “corporate role models” would do in this or that situation. I mostly failed in my interpretations, asking them how a situation could best be tackled and then absorbed every word they said and every mimic they had, I memorized their postures and their attitude, I used every opportunity to get more clues on “leadership”.
Over the years, this tactic helped me survive for a while but mostly I knew I left something at the office door when I arrived at work, and the same applied to getting home. It almost felt like I was living two different personas: my real self with my family and friends, my “wanna-be self” with my colleagues, playing the shadow of my role models. I was afraid to be “100% honest” and “transparent”. I sometimes felt diminished with an impostor syndrome, unable to contribute fully, and secretly unhappy. All of a sudden, survival in that environment mattered less than the willingness to be myself. Now that I had a good understanding of the nuances in this ocean, I wanted to put my head outside the water for a while, breathe fresh air, ditch the wanna-be skin I built, reveal my true self and values, fulfill my need for self-integrity and honesty.
Turns out, I wasn’t alone. We think it is scary to be honest and transparent as they could make things fall apart, and we might disappoint or anger people. In fact, many people are deathly afraid of being their whole-self and what it might bring. It’s a very sad state of affairs that anybody should feel they have to hide their true selves in order to be employed, accepted, appreciated or loved.
I had constructive conversations with my friends, mentors, managers, coaches, peers, and also looked into countless Ted talks, data from studies, and articles. I also was lucky, because I was surrounded by very knowledgeable leaders and friends full of empathy, who kept telling me to “be authentic”. I never considered it a buzzword or catchphrase, despite the overwhelming amount of opinion on the matter. I found my favorite definition of authenticity given by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston.
I discovered that in a study quoted in Harvard Business Review authenticity has been proven to have a positive effect on job satisfaction, in-role performance and work engagement. Data from Google’s research revealed that psychological safety, the sense of trust, respect, and acceptance created in an authentic workplace, is the determining factor in why top teams succeed while others falter.
I knew that authenticity could take a while to achieve, so I was patient and adamant to become my whole self in professional and personal life, experiment humility and be genuine. The moment I started this inner work, I was able to be more authentic and share my passions (such as disruption in healthcare, AI, blockchain, IoT…) far more than at any other role. I could make deeper connections with people, and felt inspired to do our best work as a group. And magically, the gap between my “real-self” and my “wanna-be self” started to disappear.
It is important to be authentic as an individual, as a group and as an organic enterprise to create an authentic workplace so we all are encouraged to bring our whole selves to work every day, where it’s safe to be vulnerable and to make mistakes, where we can experiment, where our humanity is embraced.
But don’t get me wrong. Authenticity is not about blurting out loud what you think, it is not about dismissing what other people think/feel, nor about delivering your authenticity carelessly independent of the context. “Being authentic is much more than ‘being yourself,’” says Gareth Jones, coauthor of Why Should Anyone Work Here?: What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization. “If you want to be a leader, you have to be yourself–skillfully.”
As beautifully put by Brené, authenticity requires almost constant vigilance and awareness about the connections between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It also means staying mindful about our intentions. Real authenticity actually requires major self-monitoring and isn’t the lack of self-monitoring. In fact, setting boundaries is, by definition, self-monitoring — it’s thinking about what you’re sharing, why you’re sharing it, and with whom you should be sharing it.
Watch also this video from HBR to have more insights.
SO, HOW TO BE AUTHENTIC? (note to self and to you)
- Understand your true self. Until you do, the real you will never really be born.
- Be yourself and embrace vulnerability.
- Monitor yourself: your intentions, your emotions, your misconceptions, your beliefs, your biases.
- Monitor your context: your audience, your environment.
- Master the art of giving and receiving advice so you can engage in deeper connections and collaborate with authenticity. Authentic feedback is the best gift you receive.
- Experiment humility while taking risks to go beyond your capabilities. Don’t be afraid to fail, to make mistakes. Get out of your comfort zone!
- Set boundaries. Be true to your values and aspirations. Authenticity is clearly linked with the principles of integrity.
Fortunately, identities aren’t set in stone. From cradle to grave, we are works in progress and we can grow. Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.
If you found this story interesting, feel free to clap once or twice or fifty times 👏👏👏👏👏
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Ezgi Tasdemir, PhD is a Novartis Oncology employee. This article is created by Ezgi Tasdemir. All the views, analysis, and perspectives are fully independent and belong to the author only, they do not represent the views or opinions of Novartis or any other company or organization. The author does not receive any funding or support from Novartis or any other pharmaceutical/non-pharmaceutical company for this blog.