Does Being Authentic Mean Never Compromising Who You Are?
For nearly a decade now, Joe and I have been running around preaching the power of finding authenticity in your personal and professional life. It’s not a hard sell. It seems that most people are longing to find a way to be more true to the person they are meant to be. They are longing for authenticity.
So, when we show them a process for how to become more authentic, they are eager to go on that journey. We warn them, however, that when you put that freak flag in the air, resistance will come. There will also be those who’d prefer you assimilate, to fit in and play along more quietly.
Authenticity means knowing who you are and acting accordingly. It means being the outlier or the weirdo sometimes. It means that you need to get comfortable with not being everyone’s cup of tea.
One of the hardest parts about authenticity is recognizing that we are constantly evolving and changing. Who we are evolves over time. What we value changes. So too do our goals and aspirations. So, what it means to be authentic is also constantly changing.
This is why deep self-awareness and self- acceptance form the foundation of authenticity.
The hard work of authenticity is when you are confronted with resistance and asked to make compromise in order to get what you want. This forces you to face questions like, “What is up for compromise and what isn’t?” and “At what cost will I willingly change or sacrifice something that I view as important to who I am?”
These aren’t easy questions to answer.
I’ve wrestled with these trade-offs throughout my career. As a speaker, there have been some very clear compromises I have faced. When I first started speaking at conferences and events, I would intentionally work in a swear word or two to my presentations. As someone who had rebellious ideas, I thought the swearing made sense to add some edge to my content.
And, frankly, I swear quite a lot in my daily conversations. I’m good at it. So, it’s very authentic for me to swear on stage. It’s not an act. It’s how I talk frequently.
But, what I learned quickly was that swearing is polarizing. Some people loved it and would give me high fives for being edgy. Others, however, would torch me in evaluations for swearing. It offended them. And, what I came to understand is that when people get offended, they stop listening. They just tune you out. You’re offensive.
So, I had a decision to make.
Do I fly my freak flag and swear or do I make a change?
As I reflected on it, the decision was pretty easy. It was far more important to me that my audience hear me than I swear on stage. So, I stopped cold turkey. And, I never felt bad about it because while swearing is authentically part of who I am, my drive to be a world-class speaker is too.
I’ve had to make the same kind of decision about my image when I speak. When I’m not speaking or training onsite with a client, I’m in a t-shirt and jeans, rocking a few days of stubble. That’s how I feel most myself. When I speak, I “suit up.” My my face is cleanly shaved. I look very “professional.”
I don’t like wearing a suit. And, I’ve flirted with changing my speaking wardrobe over the years, but I realized something. When I step out on stage all buffed and polished in my snazzy suit, people assume I am a pro worth listening to. My professional image is an advantage for the impact I want to have.
Would it be more authentic for me to be out speaking in a jeans and tshirt? Some might argue that I’m sacrificing some authenticity in pursuit of my goals. But my goals are very much a part of who I am as well. So, again, it is simply a matter of deciding which is more important. For me, the suit isn’t ideal, but it’s worth it.
I think we are confronted with these tradeoffs every day.
It happens in our personal relationships where your partner wants you to change some part of who you are for them. They want you to be a cat lover and you don’t care about animals.
Or at work where you have to choose between what you’d ideally do or how you would otherwise behave and how you have to show up to have the opportunity you desire. Are you willing to cover up that tattoo in order to get promoted?
Authenticity isn’t about which option you choose. Sometimes it’s about the occasional trade off. But more frequently it’s about knowing yourself well enough to make an informed and intentional decision about what is truly most important to you. Once you realize this, then acting with a clear conscience and a full heart becomes an easier task that never feels like compromise.