The most successful leaders share a single, defining characteristic that, once embraced, usually defined a turning point in their success.
Once they embraced their natural gifts and reveled in their true identity, their business takes off.
For some, this meant they had to come to terms with long-lost passions and decide pursuing them was more fulfilling than playing it safe.
Some had to untangle tightly-woven relationships and let go of people they’ve collected over the years – people who no longer enhanced their lives, or who created drama, turmoil, and chaos.
But in every case, once they aligned their identity, image, actions, and values – who they are, how they appear, and how they behave – they achieved greatness.
So what is Authenticity?
Authenticity is the willingness to be seen. And oh if it were only easy to achieve.
Most of us have spent a lifetime developing armor to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows of our critics. Some of us became “people pleasers” who chide themselves every time they hesitate, wait for permission, and believe being accepted by a group – any group – is better than being alone.
“If only I had the guts to say what I really think, and do what I really want.”
“I just wish I didn’t care so much about what everyone thought.”
Authenticity doesn’t mean you have no standards – it’s not about “letting it all hang out,” showing your worst self, or being crude, crass, impolite, vulgar, or unpolished.
It means being true to what you value and showing up as your best self, appropriate for the occasion.
For example, I live in southern California and we wear flip-flops. A lot. Even if I’m walking the dog wearing a jacket, I’ll probably still have on flip-flops. But I’m not going to wear them to a business meeting. Not because I’m being inauthentic, but because it’s just not appropriate to the occasion.
To be authentic, you must be willing to be vulnerable.
And man oh man, for a lot of us, that’s scarier than almost anything else.
But it’s also the way you’ll create some of your most powerful connections.
Contrary to what you may believe about vulnerability, it is the birthplace of your greatest strength. It is not weakness – it is emotional risk, and a form of courage.
Risking exposure of our true identity means we allow ourselves to be seen. And in so doing, we give others a means of relating to and connecting with us; of knowing they are not alone. It allows you to stop trying to impress someone and start to connect.
- What is the most inauthentic thing about you or your business right now?
- If instead, that aspect of your life or business was congruent with what you truly value, what would improve?
- Why be yourself?
When you embrace who you really are, you will find a new sense of freedom, boundless energy, and the opportunity to maximize your potential.
But the most important reason to release your attachment to pleasing others is that not being “true to you” holds you back from fulfilling your destiny. It keeps you stifled, causes you to play small, and prevents you from soaring.
But It’s Risky To Be Authentic
Of course, it is – to be authentic, you must deliberately choose to go against the accepted norm. Because of that, it is likely you will be judged, ridiculed, and mocked. You may experience loss, including people you think you value but who are keeping you trapped in a charade.
It is a basic human need to want to “fit in.” But when we try to fit in with the wrong group we become nothing more than a persona – it’s a charade, a trap, and it is exhausting.
Think back to the mean girl cliques in school.
The Right Fit
If you have ever felt like you didn’t fit in, you were probably trying to belong to a group of people who were not like you. To finally feel at home, you must do two things:
1: Gravitate toward those people who already share your true interests and values
2: Define the center of your own group and attract others to it
It’s exhilarating to be with people who value you for who you are. You will know you are with others who value the same things when
- you feel like you can exhale
- you do not have to be on your guard
- your thoughts, opinions, humor, ideas, and interests are applauded and not demeaned.
A Few Reflection Questions
- List the top 5 people you are trying (or still trying!) to please or whose approval you continue to seek.
- What would your life be like if they were no longer in your life?
- What would be different or better?
- What would you change?
- What interests, work, hobbies, or habits would you pursue?
- What would you no longer be afraid to try or to tell people?