Books

Authenticity as an Excuse

I’m on a bit of an authenticity kick these days.  Perhaps because I’m reading a great book by Andrew Potter entitled the Authenticity Hoax.

Although I’m a believer that we must be true to ourselves, I sometimes worry that “being authentic” becomes an excuse for not changing what we need to change.

Last week, a student came to see me about a low classroom participation grade.  His reason for his poor performance? “I’m shy, so I can’t talk in class”.  His self-image was holding him back from completing a critical part of the course.

Our authentic selves are a collection of our personal experiences and what others tell us about ourselves.  Sometimes our understanding of ourselves is accurate, sometimes it is not. We all know what we are good at and what we aren’t good at. But sometimes we use this perception of ourselves as an excuse to resist change. 

If we buy into the idea of authenticity, we buy into the premise that we shouldn’t have to change who we are to be effective in a workplace.  Unfortunately, that premise doesn’t hold true in the world. People often think if someone doesn’t say anything, that they don’t have anything to say. While this might not be true, and it’s totally unfair to quieter people, the reality is that people who can talk in front of others have an advantage.

While we might like to be our authentic selves, sometimes the expectations of our bosses or the world don’t fit with our image of ourselves. Sometimes we have to change who we are, to achieve what we want to achieve, even if it is uncomfortable.

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5 replies »

  1. Great post! I think authenticity and integrity could be interpreted the same way.

    I don’t think changing ourselves to become more effective is abandoning our authenticity. If your student is quiet, and doesn’t speak up in class, then it’s necessary that he change his behavior in order to achieve get a good grade.

    But, maybe him maintaining his authenticity and self-image are more important that getting an A in the class.

    Either way- whatever decision he makes that he feels is the most important to him, in his life- he is maintaining his authenticity.

    Same with work. If you’re quiet, and your work requires you to give many presentations, you will either resist that change (in order to stay authentic), or change your behavior in order to be effective in the workplace.

    Honestly, I think if we are changing ourselves to make ourselves better, or improve our lives, we are still maintaining our authenticity. Even as we change and grow, if we are doing it for the right reasons, then we are still being authentic- before, during, and after the change. And as we change, so does our image of ourselves.

  2. I yam what I yam…Popeye

    Ah authenticity or narcissism.

    We all need a heathy dose of narcissism to survive but it is worth noting the seven deadly sins of narcissism as described by Hotchkiss….

    shamelessness
    magical thinking
    arrogance
    envy
    entitlement
    exploitation
    bad boundaries.

    A pretty accurate description of Hitler and Nazi behaviour..

    For Germans though after the humiliation suffered in their defeat during The Great War..Hitler shared a message that held an attractive promise of retribution-a kind of national and cultural narcissism.
    Which is why Hitler seemed authentic to them…because he echoed their collective will to ascend to their previous position of power and influence.

  3. Interesting ideas. However, perhaps trying to be authentic is like trying to plan spontaneity. People who try to be themselves may come across as phonies. People should just be themselves. I remember women at work who was considered pretty cold and standoffish. She went on a company sponsored course and got 360 feedback saying that she was cold and standoffish and that she should change. She came back and tried to act warm and fuzzy. It did not work. It was actually kind of scary. Clearly she was trying to be something she was not. And yet she tried and her failed attempt to be warm and fuzzy actually says a great deal about the strength of her character, a true element of her authenticity.
    You can’t compel someone to change and yet people do change and often they change as a result of some outside influence. Let’s try this. Perhaps what is needed is for folks to be comfortable with who and what they are. Call itself realization, or self actualization (not to be confused with any kind of narcissism). The shy student should be ok with the fact that his participation mark is low because he is shy. At the same time, he should learn and practice techniques to overcome his shyness, not to change his nature but to raise his marks. In the long run the result maybe that he overcomes his shyness just a little bit.

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