Becoming You: 9 Questions & 6 Resources on Authenticity

It is exhausting not being you, trying to remember how to play the part you've created for yourself in order to be accepted by others. Every moment that your mental and physical energy is devoted to this pursuit is time stolen from your true self.  It saps your strength and does not serve you well.

We all tweak aspects of our "selves" to fit the moment and the people with whom we are interacting.  But when this calibration morphs into creating a new identity for ourselves in order for others to truly embrace and accept us, we've crossed a line.  We're now merely playing a character in the movie or play of our life, instead of simply being.  

Barry Brownstein, a professor and the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership, has noted that “When we are authentic, we set in motion events that compound themselves and lead to discovery and growth. In contrast, when we choose to lead a life characterized by prevent defenses, the choice we faced at 20 is there again at 30 and again at 40 and again at 50 and again at 60.“

—"The Downside of the ‘Prevent Defense," The Systems Thinker, September 2003

In preparing for some upcoming workshops (sample handouts here) on identity, authenticity, and creating your own path as a leader and as an individual, I've been thinking a lot about authenticity.  Here are some of the questions and resources I've finding helpful.

  Authenticity Questions worth considering
  • What are some of your most deeply held values or core beliefs?  How are those currently exemplified in what you do and how you do it?
  • If you were to create a personal purpose or mission statement for yourself, what would it be?  How is that purpose reflected in your current professional position and the volunteer commitments you make?
  • Examine the major choices in your life.  How many of them have been made “from the inside out” rather than being based on external expectations?
  • Have you created or found your own voice?  How would you describe it to others and how are you expressing it in your relationships and work?
  • Authenticity is a way of being “in the moment.”  What do you find most challenging about being yourself and “being present”?
  • In what situations or with what people do you feel you ‘ought’ to be a certain way?  Why might this be and what can be learned from it?
  • When, where, or with whom might you most frequently slip into “performance mode?”  How could you bring more of who you are into these moments?
  • Where might it be helpful if you turned down the volume on your authenticity to make room for others’ authentic self-expression?
  • In what situations with which people do you feel like you can be more of a tempered radical, revealing more of your authentic self?

by David McNally and Karl D. Speak (2002)

 Particularly useful for individuals contemplating striking out on their own, this book helps you explore the qualities of your own personal brand, a term I know causes some to recoil a bit since your identify isn't a product per se.  It includes a worksheet for your Personal Brand Values and your Personal Brand Manifesto which consists of: your competencies (your role with others), your standards (how you do it), and your style (how you relate to others).   

by David Whyte (2001)
Whyte is a poet who has written several “crossover” books that apply artistic insights to business processes.  In this book, he intersperses stories of his own struggle of exploring work as a pilgrimage of identity (the book’s subtitle) with inspirational poems and narrative insights.

A rich narrative retelling Palmer’s struggle with finding his own authentic voice
as he pursued various career path’s.  While more philosophical and introspective in tone, the book offers key insights specifically related to the challenge of being authentic.

Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (2001)
The companion book to the Gallup Organization’s StrengthsFinder Profile, this text examines the notions that individuals and organizations will produce greater results by “leveraging their strengths and managing around their weaknesses.” It highlights “strength themes” measured by the StrengthsFinder Profile and how individuals can put their strengths to work.

This book is subtitled “How people use difference to inspire change at work.”  Meyerson does an excellent job exploring how people act as tempered radicals in organizations and bring about change by revealing parts of their authentic selves.

Leider believes that living on purpose means “using our gifts on what deeply moves us.”  This book takes readers on an exploration of how to do just that and includes stories of individuals trying to do so.

One of my favorite poets, May Sarton, offers inspired thinking on the power of personal authenticity in her poem, Now I Become Myself: Now I become myself / It's taken time, many years and places / I have been dissolved and shaken / Worn other people's faces /

Don't mask who you truly are by wearing someone else's face.  Life is not a costume party.


Joan Eisenstodt said...

Jeffrey - Thanks for this. Over the weekend, this topic was part of a discussion with colleagues. We looked at the blending of our professional and personal lives, our varied interests, into "one person" who authentically lives.

Another colleague (not part of the above noted conversation) said this was also excellent for people in recovery (from alcohol, drugs, etc.) and was appreciative of your thoughts.

Gratitude, always.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Sounds like you had another excellent women's retreat, Joan. Congrats!