Just be yourself: what does that even mean?

I am an advocate for more humanness in the workplace (and life in general). However, there seems to be a lack of a clear understanding of what this concept of being your whole – or full, or true, or real – self entails in practice.

Many questions arise whenever we talk about ‘being yourself’, ‘authenticity’ and ‘bring your whole self to work’.  In this article I elaborate on what it does and does not mean to ‘show up as yourself’ and provide some first steps to get started.

There is no harm in showing a curated version

We all know moments in which instead of behaving in a genuine way, we tell people what we think they want to hear, and act in ways that go against our true nature. They are facts of life and socialization.

‘Being yourself’ doesn’t mean that you have no filter as to what you show to the outer world. Being ‘authentic’ does not have to mean that you behave in the exact way at work that you would in the privacy of your own home or when hanging out with close friend.

I think showing a carefully curated version of ourselves is a great way to set our own boundaries around what we share and with who.

The real problem with showing the curated versions

There might be no inherent  harm in showing a carefully curated version of ourselves. It does, however, become a problem when the balance gets skewed. When we constantly act in ways that go against our true nature and our own values. Or when we put these polished sides of our personalities on a pedestal and by doing this reject the parts of ourselves that do not match this idealized version of ourselves, afraid that being our own self is unlikeable or not ‘enough’.

What does ‘being yourself’ look like?

Per definition, there is no single prototype for what ‘being yourself’ should look like. To me, showing up as yourself, is being intentional about what parts of ourselves we do show and what parts we decide to switch off in a particular situation, without mentally and emotionally rejecting those parts of ourselves that we leave out. Without disregarding the fact that we as humans are inherently flawed.

Being intentional about this is key, because you don’t owe anyone your authenticity or vulnerability.  You don’t have to reveal personal details to every person you interact with. Some people are just more private than others. Similarly, no everyone is obliged to receive any piece of information you share with them.

Where to start?

‘Leaning in to being yourself, is like any learning process: it starts with pausing to reflect and become self-aware of who you are.

Start with self-awareness

Reflect on your core values, strengths, qualities and what makes you tick.  What energizes you? What drowns your energy?

Identify the gaps

From a place of strengthened self-awareness, you can start to look where in your life you feel out of alignment with yourself. For instance, do you feel trapped in a mask when you’re at work? Perhaps you’re acting more extraverted when you are with your team than you’d like to be, because you think that’s how a leader gets things done. Or, maybe you’re not sharing your ideas, because you’re afraid that they will be shot down, and this leaves you feel unseen in the workplace.

Identify the gaps and reflect on the reasons why these gaps exist. Are they intrapersonal, e.g., a result from your own assumptions and beliefs, or is it your environment that does not accommodate for ways of working in accordance with your true nature? Often it is a combination of both.


Combining your strengthened self-awareness and the identified gaps, you can look for ways to fill these gaps and start practicing being more your ‘authentic’ self in low-risk environments. For example, you might realize that you’re naturally reserved in large meetings but are more comfortable stating your opinions in smaller groups. Think about how you can still contribute in larger settings without feeling intimidated.

Practice together

If we want to create a safe space in which there is more space for all parts of ourselves, including the aspects that show our flawed humanness, we have to find ways to practice together.

We have to create (workplace) cultures that are safe enough for people to show up with more humanity. Cultures that allow for every individual to be authentic and vulnerable, on their own terms. Free to choose what you want reveal about yourself, in any situation.

Because when we have the courage to be ourselves and be authentic, it both liberates us and gives other people permission to do the same.


Acknowledging the complexity

Being yourself’ is one of those topics that leaves you thinking: easier said than done.

The truth is, we do not always have the freedom or feel the safety to make these choices intentionally. And creating a world where this is possible, is a very nuanced and complex issue to solve. Something that cannot be covered in a blogarticle.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe in the importance of raising awareness about this topic and together discuss steps forward, no matter how big or small. If you have any thoughts on this article, feel free to share them with me by e-mailing me: contact@lianangelino.nl

About me

Hi, I’m Lian Angelino, certified Career & Leadership coach who is passionate about helping women move through their career and daily life with more ease and meaning.

As a Career & Leadership coach, I combine my background in Work Psychology, (Mental)Health Sciences and Leadership development to help you get clear about what makes you tick and gain clarity around difficult career choices.

In this online space, I share work centered around embracing our full humanity in everything we do and the choices that we make in our daily lives.

Learn more about me here

career coach for women

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