One of Shakespeare’s many quotes that rings true with many of us as we strive to create meaning for ourselves in this increasingly complex world.
As I continue my journey to understand authenticity as one ingredient in the recipe for leadership, I continue to struggle.
The literature from Psychology and Sociology about identity and the self is deep and varied. However, there are a few themes that are consistent throughout the literature.
First, since our identities are the result of both experience and feedback from others, it would seem to be that our identities change over time, as we add experience and feedback to our understanding of ourselves.
Second, we appear to have multiple identities (no, not multiple personalities), that we use in different contexts or situations depending upon what is relevant, and appropriate.
So while I wear my “academic” identity when communicating with other professors, and my “professor identity” when interacting with students and at public speeches, I might wear my “party girl” identity when out on a date, or hanging out with friends. I might also wear my “experienced manager” identity with my students. These identities are interchangable, but they don’t always fit well together. Usually we seamlessly shift from one identity to another, often not even aware that we have made a change.
Thus arises the question, to which self should I be true? Most of the time, this question isn’t important. But sometimes, when identities have different needs, they can come into conflict. For example, recently I was in a meeting where my “experienced manager” was very uncomfortable about some strategic decisions that were being made. But, if I authentically stepped up to object, my “academic” self would take a big political hit. So should I be authentic to my “experienced manager” self? Or should I just shut up?
The honest answer is that authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. How we see ourselves defines our authenticity. And it also defines our choices about which “self” to be authentic to. This leads to the next challenge of authenticity, self-delusion. But that is for another post.