Authenticity Deficit? 7 reasons why you’re holding your true self back at work
To experience satisfaction in your career, you need to be comfortable being yourself. Just like on the playground when you were a kid, it can be hard to show up authentically in all situations. Sometimes we just want to blend in, conform and gather a paycheque. Inauthenticity feels like a finger being jabbed into your ribcage – it causes discomfort, but over time, you might forget it’s there. That finger is causing pain, stress, and energy depletion though.
There are several reasons that could be contributing to why you’re finding authenticity difficult. And you’re not alone. According to research, approximately one third of North American workers “feel pressure to suppress their personal values and pretend to go along with the values of their organization.”
In my last role, my team regularly described me as an authentic leader. It took me a little while to develop this style, though. How did I do it? Well, I had to go through the experience of being in a role where I didn’t feel like I could be authentic to realize how important authenticity is to me – not only at work, but in all aspects of life.
Early in my career, I had the opportunity to take on a leadership role that focused on subject matter that I didn’t really care about. This experience, while so important to developing my people leadership skills, ate away at me – I felt like I had to fake excitement and interest. I wound up pursuing a “demotion” so I could do work that was more aligned with my interests. It took me a whole year to act on this. A whole year of questioning what was wrong with me. A whole year feeling like a fraud. Why? Because I assumed I was doing something wrong, that I should be grateful for the promotion and that perhaps it was just the normal growing pains of taking on more responsibility and new subject matter.
So, how authentically are you showing up in your current job? Have any of the thoughts above crossed your mind? In this week’s blog I’m sharing the top reasons why people are struggling to be authentic at work. Why? Because understanding the root cause will help you find the right solution to develop more authenticity – that is, to show up as your true self.
1. There’s a values mismatch
Most often, what’s really creating tension in your professional life is a misalignment between your values and the organization’s values, or those required to excel in your job. Take my personal example where I had no interest in the subject matter. Since the role required me to motivate a team, I felt I had to show interest and enthusiasm in the subject matter. The problem was that it wasn’t genuine – I was faking it. Digging a bit deeper into this, two of my core values are Integrity & Honesty. I woke up every day acting in a way that I felt compromised my values. The next time you feel tension in your job, consider if there might be a values misalignment.
2. You joined remotely, during the pandemic
Did you start your current role during the pandemic? Did you join your team virtually? If that’s the case, unless your boss did a phenomenal job of onboarding you to the team, it’s possible that you haven’t developed the same depth of professional relationships with your teammates as would be possible if you’d joined pre-pandemic. Perhaps you haven’t developed the confidence with this crew to be as authentic as you’d like. It makes perfect sense.
3. You’ve Had Negative Experiences “Being Authentic” in the Past
If you’ve put yourself out there in the past only to feel unwelcome or judged, it’s no wonder you might be struggling to be your true self at work now. We all have a desire to feel accepted and like we belong. Perhaps your past experiences in a former job or current job are making it difficult to feel comfortable being you.
4. Conformity Is Praised
Most organizations say they desire diversity and want to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. But maybe you’ve experienced first-hand how conformity seems to propel careers while expressing divergent views stifles them. This has less to do about you, and more to do with the organizational culture and leadership style. If you’re in a workplace where you don’t feel safe to express your ideas or concerns, to wear the clothes you want, or to speak in the way that is comfortable for you, you might wind up conforming instead.
5. You’re in New Territory
Working in a new field or industry is exciting. It’s also going to move you from your comfort zone to the learning or growth zones. To get to the learning and growth zones, you might have to pass through the fear zone, which is often riddled with self-doubt and lack of confidence. Could it be that you’re struggling with authenticity at work because you’re stuck in the fear zone?
6. You Have a Deep Desire to Be Liked
So many of us have a deep desire to be liked – we don’t want to be outcasts. If you find yourself replaying events and wishing you’d said or acted differently, your ability to show up authentically will suffer. Rather than performing with the team or project outcomes in mind, you might be caught up in doing things “perfectly” and pleasing everyone else, at the expense of yourself.
7. You Don’t Feel Worthy
Lastly, is it possible that you’re not feeling worthy enough to be authentic? Many of us have an inner critic that pops up, telling us that we’re not _____ enough. The message is unique to everyone, but it can sound like “you’re not smart enough”, “you’re not kind enough”, “you’re not good enough for this job”, etc. It’s this little voice that might be getting in the way of acting in alignment with your personal values and perspectives.
These are just seven reasons why you might be holding your true self back at work. Next week, I'll offer some suggestions on how to overcome some of these barriers so that you can be authentically you!
About Lauren McCreery
Lauren is a Leadership, Executive and Career Coach. As the founder of Swerve Coaching & Consulting, she helps leaders to build healthy, burnout-resistant workplaces where everyone can thrive by collaboratively designing programs and strategies focused on reducing burnout risk.
Lauren also helps professional millennials who are stressed, stuck or burnt out to transition towards work that's engaging, energizing and empowering. In her spare time, she enjoys taking her rescue pup, Finley for walks. If you're looking for some support, feel free to connect here on LinkedIn or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.