The Benefits of Being the Real You at Work
In my office, I like sharing stories with co-workers about what’s happening in my personal life. I’ve come to believe that the more they learn about what’s important to me personally, the more genuine our connection will be professionally.
As an example, every year as the major Jewish holidays approach, I send an email to my team explaining the history of the holiday and will often share details about how my family plans to commemorate the occasion. For Passover this year, I talked about our plans to visit extended family and go camping in Tennessee. I also included a photo of my boys holding Seder plates they made. Now, there was a time when I would never have sent such an email for fear of what people would think. But being Jewish is an important part of who I am; why should I hide it from the people I spend eight hours a day with?
It takes a lot of energy to keep your true self hidden away. In the workplace, we often hide our authentic selves behind a veil of what we think is expected. Imagine for a moment that you’re in a meeting and you’re the only woman in the room. Or the youngest person. Or the newest in your department. How much time might you spend thinking about how to fit in, when to chime in or which words to choose? It takes a lot of work to be something other than your true self. When you let go of all that chatter in your head about how you’re “supposed” to be acting, you can simply put yourself out there and say, “I’m good at X, Y and Z, and that’s why I’m here. I don’t have to be like everybody else.”
Authenticity isn’t absolute, however. In his article “The Limits of Authenticity,” Ben G. Yacobi writes, “True authenticity isn’t about expressing one’s inner self with its full range of shifting emotions in all situations. ... The need for collaboration with others may demand some adaptation, that is, some inauthentic compromise.” In other words, you can’t simply run roughshod over people in the office (or in your personal life) under the guise of being true to your own beliefs. To some extent, authenticity and inauthenticity will always coexist, and you’ll need to find balance between the two.
I have found that the more I allow myself to be myself, the more energy I have to focus on the things that matter, like developing meaningful, productive relationships. In my office, for example, I spend a lot of time walking around talking to my co-workers. The informal interaction is something I personally enjoy, and it also benefits us professionally. I think it helps to create an environment where each of us is free to ask “What if?” without fear of judgment. Within this culture of trust, my team members can be their authentic selves, offer ideas and creatively problem solve in ways that energizes them and moves our business forward.
So whether you’re at work or at home, spend time being who you are, not who you aren’t. Decide what’s important to you, and don’t apologize for it. You may not be able to deliver on each of your priorities every day, especially when work and home life overlap. After all, you can’t be two places at once. But the goal is to not lose sight of what’s authentically important to you.
I want to be able to look back on my life and say, “I was a really good mom, I was a really good wife, and I was a really good leader.” In the meantime, I’m focused on being my authentic self.