You can’t ‘be yourself’ if you don’t know who you are

Authenticity at work is big these days, but what does it actually mean?

Woman in the mirror on a train driving the train, and smiling


Over the last couple of years or so there have been a lot of books, articles, etc, around about “authenticity” and about the importance of “being yourself” at work. I’m not entirely sure what that means because people are different in different situations. You adapt to circumstances. You wouldn’t talk to a client in the same way you talk to your daughter, for instance.

Much of business is about PR, whether it is talking up your company’s product or service or talking yourself up because, if you don’t, you get passed over or you don’t get the pay rise you deserve. It would be wonderful if companies just recognised that you were great at what you did without you having to ‘sell’ that, but we don’t live in that world. I’m surely not the only person who has worked for managers who were not very good at their jobs, but talked a good game. I remember asking in one meeting what exactly my manager’s job was because she seemed to give most of the tasks which seemingly she should have done to me. Some might call that ‘great delegation’. It wasn’t. I soon left.

Since I started work PR has taken over the world in the form of social media. It’s all about showing, rather than being. Everything is ruled by ‘likes’ – personally and professionally. Personal disasters and crises are ‘sold’. Relationships are reduced to swiping left and right. The result is misery. Just talk to any teenage girl. The tide of anxiety and misery is clear. Having daughters, I would say that anxiety among young people is at epidemic proportions. You have to ask yourself why their sense of self worth is so fragile when we bang on endlessly about the importance of confidence and ’empowerment’.

I’m not saying it’s all down to social media because clearly there are a lot of other issues involved, but they are subject to so many mixed messages about being independent and strong, yet being also ‘hot’ and popular. Every part of them is judged, fuelling perfectionism, and everywhere they look lies potential failure because the standards they are expected to reach have risen, as they have for women. It’s not enough to be good at school, they have to have travelled the world, started up a company, etc, before they are 16. Yes, the world has opened up to them and it is overwhelming.┬áMost particularly if you don’t know who you are yet.

Because that is where being yourself starts – it starts with knowing who you are. Teenagers are still finding that out, but with so much noise around them that is getting harder. If you know who you are you feel more confident about asserting yourself at home, at work, anywhere. If you understand how life has affected decisions you have taken and can try to avoid the worst ones. If you know who you are you can adapt to different situations and know that they are all parts of yourself, you can challenge established norms at work and you can be a better manager because you can empathise more with others. So, by all means ‘be yourself’, but first of all find out who yourself is.

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