Great success in life and leadership starts with being “YOU”
Authenticity is a hot topic at the moment (not just in management development but also in life). But what does it really mean and how do you make sure you’re being authentic?
Well the dictionary definition suggests that authentic means
not false or copied; genuine; real
So often in life, work and relationships our vulnerability is the first thing we long to protect, fearing shame or lack of acceptance for who we are. Instead, we present the side of ourselves that we think people want us to see. In Brene Browns latest book, Daring Greatly (which is a fantastic read by the way), she talks about the need to connect with your vulnerability to be truly authentic and successful in life. She discusses how the most successful people turn up to work/life/play with their heart on their sleeve, with honesty and an open heart, willing to share in their experiences, prepared to admit where they learnt from a mistake, to have those difficult (uncomfortable) conversations that help you move forward and to love without conditions (for those wanting to be a great parent).
Martha Beck in ‘Finding your North Star’ has a slightly different spin on authenticity (but still as insightful). She suggests that for most of us we’re more likely to be governed by our ‘social self’, that part of us which thinks we ‘should, could, ought to’ because someone told us it was the right way to be. We’re looking to connect as human beings, so often we’re found asking, ‘what would make this person impressed with me’. Martha suggests we actually ditch our social self (yep complete freedom from it) and tap into our ‘essential self’. Our essential self she suggests is the part of us that instinctively knows what’s right and true you. Not what anyone else has told us is right, but what feels right for you, right now. And that, she argues, is where true authenticity allows great friendships, real business relationships, and brilliant life choices to happen.
So how do we find out who we really are and make sure that when we turn up in life we’re being the real us, the genuine us? In addition to Martha and Brene, I’ve also been watching Oprah’s Master Class programme. In a recent episode she asked a number of successful well-known people to share their insights about “Being You, knowing who you are and being great at it”.
I’d like to share with you the key insights I took away, but I’d whole-heartedly encourage you to find the episode and watch it. It was very moving.
1. Know where you are from
What did your childhood teach you and what skills did you gain from it? JayZee talked about his cherished upbringing in Brooklyn saying he learnt key life skills about survival and determination from both positive and negative experiences in his neighbourhood. It’s what you learn from those experiences that make you a better person, not what you hide from.
2. Learn from failure
As Morgan Freeman says, ‘your biggest obligation to yourself is not to quit”. The best laid plans often come unstuck or life throws an American football when we were hoping for a rugby one.
Stay focused on what you’re passionate about. Jayzee launched a second album based on his social self and it bombed. In his third album he went back to what he loved and created another success. Don’t be tempted to play in the playground of a sport you don’t like. You’ll never be any good at it because you’re heart won’t be fully committed. If you do try something different, learn from it, what did/didn’t you like and why?
In the same way keep your self-belief. Bon Jovi discussed the number of knock backs he got before he actually achieved the start of his dream to be a rock star. “Mistakes are only training tools” learn from them and have generosity for your self and for others.
3. Tap into your providence/serendipity/grace
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”. Whatever your beliefs about serendipity/fate (choose your own term here), there is something massively powerful about learning to tap into your intuition. If you come away from a meeting/date/pitch and something doesn’t “feel” right, that’s your intuition giving you a signal about aligning to your life purpose and goals. Learn to listen to it. Martha Beck calls that deep intuition the ‘way-finders’ way (her book ‘Finding Your Way in a Wild New World is very helpful for developing those skills as is any decent book on Mindfulness).
4. Letting go is sometimes the best thing you can do
“Love liberates” Maya Angelou. What a wonderful woman. Maya discussed how her own mother was a rubbish parent with little children and babies but an amazing one with young adults. Her Mother gave her the freedom to go out into the world and find her own path, to live wherever she decided to live and do whatever she wanted to do, knowing that her mothers home would always be there for her to return to when she needed. She encouraged her to be free and find her own way. She let go of her in order to liberate her.
We all have roles that we play with others in relationships and keeping check on our own ego and desires at the sake of someone else achieving their dreams is a very important lesson to hold on to. Next time you’re having a 121 with someone in your team/family/relationship ask yourself, ‘is this for my benefit or theirs?’.
5. Dream BIG
6. Make it a better world
Be that person that other people refer to as “lovely, s/he’s absolutely inspirational, I love spending time with her/him, s/he’s so generous and open minded, I can’t wait to see him/her again”. Not the person people roll their eyes or screw up their nose. Find something you love and give it back, whatever that maybe, whether it’s listening to someone’s stories, soothing an achy back, inspiring the future of tomorrow at a football team, baking some cupcakes for a neighbour, singing at a karaoke. Whatever matters to you, will matter to someone else.
So my final note on authenticity and being YOU comes courtesy of Oprah,