One of the things that really gets in the way of us being authentic people, leaders, partners, friends is behaving the way we want to look rather than the way we really feel. That sounds like it should be pretty obvious, right? Well it is and it isn’t.
The obvious things aren’t actually the problem, though, because we can admit them to ourselves pretty easily. And if we’re honest about it, most people can actually tell that we’re pretending because we’re being pretentious. When we try to act like we’re all sophisticated and then we pick up the wrong spoon, or tuck our napkin into our collar, or (gasp) hold up our pinky when we drink tea.
Yeah, the obvious things don’t really undermine our authenticity; the subtle things do. We can find them by recognizing that we are behaving in a way that will make us be seen a way that we don’t want to be seen.
I read a quote in a book that brought this idea home to me. (Yes, it was a murder mystery, not some deep thinking book.) “She remembered when she took her first step off of the high dive. It wasn’t courage that had caused her to take the step. It was the fear of looking afraid.”
You might say “who cares how or why, the important thing is that she did it.” And I would say that it does matter, because it’s actually a step down a slippery slope, not just a high dive.
Every time we choose to do something because of how it will look, we are building a defense around a false image. The more we do that, the more fortified the fake image gets.
And we lose access to and miss out on our authentic self. We lose the opportunity to be vulnerable. We don’t rely on our natural choices, talents and perspectives. We’re so busy pretending to be someone else that we forget how to be ourselves.
You know, this is really another way of saying that we worry too much about what other people will think. (And truth is, they aren’t usually even thinking about us.)
I see this at work a bunch, especially with people who are promoted to new leadership positions, who initially think that they should be articulate and experts on everything. So they talk a lot. Problem is, they aren’t articulate and experts on everything, so what they end up saying doesn’t sound articulate. They can’t access what they really do know and want to say, their own experiences, because they’re too worried about impressing people. Then the opposite of what they want happens – instead of getting respect, they’re judged and perceived trying to impress everyone or being egotistical. When we stop worrying about what we look like, we can be our natural selves. And you know what? We’re actually pretty good at that. In fact, we’re the best person on the planet for the job.
Oh yeah, another thing. Do you recognize how much work it is to keep up appearances and keep all the stories straight? It’s exhausting.
So relax. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to show some of our flaws and gaps and opportunities – because they are real. And because we are being real, we are more compelling, kinda like British tv dramas.
In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!
Love and light,