Authenticity: to be or not to be?
I recently received a newsletter from a marketing coach entitled ‘Stop Being Authentic’. Their view was that we shouldn’t show up as we really are, or feel, because we should always strive to put our ‘best self’ forward. They also stated: 'your brand doesn’t exist for you, it exists for the people you serve'.
Now, I beg to differ and here’s why:
One of the reasons I decided to leave 30+ years of full-time employment and start up my own business was that I was tired of ‘performance’, tired of trying to fit myself into the wrong shape and having to ‘play the game’ (whatever the particular game of that organisation was).
I wanted to work for myself, not only for the reasons above, but also for creative freedom and flexibility, and the wish to align my work in the world more closely with who I really am.
I’ve put heart and soul and a lot of energy into developing my business offerings. And to my surprise, a familiar pattern has arisen, in which I’ve been noticing a ‘pushy’ tendency in myself (with no external boss to project that onto now!)
I’ve been exploring this theme in my previous articles on rest (here, here and here). In this piece, I’m looking at it from a slightly different angle and my hope is that this may have some resonance for you too.
I feel vulnerable revealing this, but here goes: after almost four decades of working full-time, I’m rather tired of striving, trying to be competent at everything I do, and wanting to be ‘successful’
Being authentic, honest, and open about my struggles with this pushy tendency may be one of the braver things a woman in business can do!
My gut feeling says that this may give permission to other people to recognise and perhaps share how they're really feeling too.
Can you sense the relief in this already?
Now, here’s the thing: it’s not as though my career background was in the corporate sector. Apart from five years in a local authority, and a few years in the health service, I’ve worked for 25+ years in the third sector (aka non-profit sector). And the culture there is also largely dominated by patriarchal structures with such underpinning drivers as: ‘strategy’, ‘operations’,‘performance’, ‘productivity’, ’targets’, ‘objectives’, ‘implementation plans’ ‘impact assessments’ and other terminology borrowed from the military-industrial machine.
So, it was with great relief and a sense of freedom that I decided to set up my own nature-based business, where I could work with my own natural rhythms and creative energy flows. I had intended to close the door on having to ‘perform to the max’, or ‘put my best self forward at all times’. I wanted more spaciousness, stillness, dreaming time, with lots of breaks in my working day and week. I wanted my working flow to be in tune with natural biorhythms.
But this performance/competence thing is insidious.
I’m aware now that even with the autonomy of my creative freelance role, I still have a habitual drive to be seen as someone who is competent, expert and delivering at full capacity, at all times.
Which isn’t always true.
And it’s a relief to say so.
In a recent conversation with an associate, a penny dropped when I discovered that my showing up with authentic honesty gave her a palpable sense of relief and permission to share some of her own struggles too. She told me it was refreshing to hear me name this struggle with always having to maintain a professional air of competency, as it allowed space and recognition for where life currently is. It’s not uncommon to be struggling with everything life has been throwing at us, particularly during the last year or so.
It really is okay not always to be on top form, not to have everything sorted, nor our ducks all lined up in a neat row. It’s only societal conditioning that dictates we should be capable, delivering and managing well, at all times. It’s a cultural expectation but it’s not natural.
Acknowledging there are times when everything feels like an effort (for all sorts of personal and worldly reasons) and telling the truth of how it is, sends a particular signal to those around us.
Our vulnerability is where our authenticity lies.
Being authentic can creak open what might have been a firmly shut door in another person, giving them permission to relax and speak the truth of how hard things have been for them too. It takes courage to tell the truth, to be like the little child in the story of the ‘Emperors' New Clothes’. And experience has shown me that it’s always worth taking the risk
So, I’d like to propose an experiment:
I’m going to pledge to keep showing up with what’s real and true for me. Even in my business. I promise to let you know what I’m struggling with. And I invite you to let me know how things are for you too.
I’d love to hear how this lands with you. As always, please drop me a line if you’d like to and I’ll be happy to reply to you.
And if this is something you'd like to explore in a one-to-one conversation, I have a couple of complimentary slots available each month, with further details here