Do you ever get a sinking feeling as you put on your work face? The very fact that you’re putting on a face should be warning in itself. So many of us go through that ritual, like an ancient warrior donning warpaint before battle, setting aside the real you to don the role that the day demands.
Do we really need to go through these rituals, through this discomfort of setting aside our real selves? Or can we do better by being our authentic selves at work?
Some of the benefits of removing the work mask and revealing your true self, your real views, and interests and personality, are obvious. Freed from the struggle to maintain the illusion of another person, you’ll lose the discomfort that lie brings and release the energy once committed to the disguise. It lets you go all in, putting your whole self and full energy into your work.
Being your real, authentic self is also a way to stand out from the crowd. Companies that lack a distinct identity and purpose don’t stand out against their competitors. The same is true for employees. If you just conform to expected behavior, doing the same as everyone around you, then you’ll never stand out from the pack, never achieve as much as you could.
And for employers, encouraging authenticity also encourages diversity. It gives people the freedom to be their real selves and to offer fresh insights you might otherwise never have heard. Being the authentic you sets an example for others to follow.
Being authentic is a great way to deal with your failings, to move on from them towards success, and to cope when things go wrong.
In his book The Confidence Gap, Dr. Russ Harris describes the psychological technique called defusion. This involves recognizing thoughts, particularly negative thoughts, detaching yourself from them, and moving on. It is a way of moving on from the negatives, of not getting caught up psychologically in your failings. It is a great tool for improving your mental health, but it can’t be done if you don’t start by acknowledging the negative thought.
By dropping the mask with which we hide our failings, we acknowledge them and are able to begin letting go. Without authentically acknowledging them we remain hung up on those negatives.
Think how it would feel to be responsible for a high profile failure at work, such as Honda and Nissan’s recent recall of millions of cars with faulty airbags. As long as you were maintaining the façade, could you ever acknowledge that something needed fixing, let alone let go of the guilt or embarrassment at work gone wrong?
Being authentic is not just about owning your failures–it’s about owning your successes as well. Think how much more pride you feel at work you go your own way, work that you have put your own stamp on, compared with those times when you’ve hidden your opinions and worked to the specifications of others.
Seth Godin has written extensively about how any work can be art as long as we do it as well and as passionately as we can. Will you ever have that feeling if you work with the mask up, doing the job of the pretend you, not the real you?
Authentic action is one of the most empowering options available to us. It lets you put your heart and soul into your work, lets you relish your victories and move on from your failures. And it is vital to a diverse, energetic workforce.
Don’t keep putting on your warpaint. Unleash the true you.