Just be yourself: what does that even mean?
We all could use more humanness in the workplace (and life in general). But, unfortunately, there is still 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 genuinely, we tell people what we think they want to hear and act in ways that go against our true nature. These are facts of life and socialization.
‘Being yourself’ doesn’t mean that you have no filter for what you show to the outer world. Likewise, being ‘authentic’ does not have to mean that you behave in the same way at work that you would in the privacy of your own home or when hanging out with close friends.
Showing a carefully curated version of ourselves is a great way to set our 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. For example, when we constantly act in ways that go against our true nature and our 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. Showing a curated version of yourself out of a fear that being yourself is unlikeable or not ‘enough’ is problematic.
What does ‘being yourself’ look like?
Per definition, there is no single prototype for what ‘being yourself’ should look like—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 critical 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, not everyone is obliged to receive any piece of information you share with them.
Where to start?
‘Leaning into 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 you feel out of alignment with yourself in your life. 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 felt unseen in the workplace.
Identify the gaps and reflect on the reasons why these gaps exist. For example, are they intrapersonal, e.g., a result of your assumptions and beliefs, or is your environment not fit for your ways of working according to 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.
If we want to create a safe space where there is more space for all parts of ourselves, including the aspects that show our flawed humanness, we must find ways to practice together.
We have to create (workplace) safe cultures 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 to reveal about yourself in any situation.
Because when we dare to be ourselves and be authentic, it both liberates us and permits other people 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 blog article.
Nevertheless, I strongly believe in the importance of raising awareness about this topic and discussing steps forward, no matter how big or small. Therefore, if you have any thoughts on this article, feel free to share them with me by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi, I’m Lian Angelino, a certified Career coach passionate about helping women move through their careers and daily lives with more ease and meaning.
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.
If you would like help in searching for your next role, finding clarity around a career challenge, or are looking for a structured way to approach your job search, learn more about my services here
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