Just finished a wonderful book titled The Thing Itself, by Richard Todd, which is an examination of the American pursuit for authenticity from a variety of perspectives. Lots of pages in this book are dog-eared, but one of my favorite passages is in the forward.
“The word is “authenticity.” I will not become ensnared here in an effort at definition but let it be heard itself as we go along. (It is tempting to paraphrase the Supreme Court justice on pornography: I may not know what it is, but I know when I don’t see it.)” emphasis mine
Our overly simplistic definition of authenticity here is knowing who you are and acting accordingly. One of the many reasons this definition is too simplistic is that none of us are a single, static thing…we are a bunch of different things and we show up differently in different relationships and in different situations. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but many of these decisions are made quickly, even unconsciously, making it easy for us to not realize the form or extent of our compromise. We say that we treat everyone the same, for example, but there is a common tendency to walk a little bit differently and talk a little bit differently when our boss is in the room or when their boss is in the room than we do when they are not.
A few suggestions for those wanting to pursue greater authenticity in the coming year:
Know What Matters Most
Nearly everyone we talk to believes it is important to have core values or guiding principles of some kind, yet very few of those folks, when asked, actually have identified core values for themselves. We seem to think this aspect of who we are is simply self-evident, or that it comes to us intuitively. Maybe for some it does, though that seems the exception. Most of us have to do some work. What are the most important things to you? Whether you use core values, guiding principles, a personal mission or vision statement, goal-setting or something else, explicitly clarifying what the most important things are in your life makes it a lot easier to think about how those things show up in behavior, in how you make decisions and invest your time and attention. Schedule some time over the holidays to do some reflection, get some clarity on what matters most and think about how to keep that in front of you in the coming year so that you might more often act accordingly.
Manage Your Time
I think that one of the simple and common ways in which we let some of our authenticity slip away shows up in how we spend our time, especially our unstructured time. We watch a staggering amount of TV in this country, not because we aspire to (most of us do not aspire to at least), but because it is easy. You can watch as much TV as you like, but there is 5 hours / day that could be invested in the things most likely more important to you. Whether it is your family, your faith, your finances, your physical health they deserve and demand a certain amount of your time…or else they eventually go away. Are you spending most of your time on what matters most? The Steven Covey Time Management Grid remains a great tool for considering this question.
Take Some People With You
One of the great gifts that Jason and I have been able to offer each other over nearly 20 years of friendship and collaboration is having each other’s back. We have each at times been in the employ of others and as you might guess those adventures were rarely without “complications.” It has been uniquely valuable, in some critical moments to have another human being simply able to remind us that “we are not the problem.” Do you have a wingman or wingwoman? You are going to need one, so get to work on that. You are also going to need someone who is willing and able to be brutally honest with you, someone to hold you accountable. Think about people that might be able to play these two very different roles in your life and reach out to them with a formal ask. Even this small support system will make a big difference.
Be good. Or be good at it.