I have a lot of interests. A lot of directions I could go in personally and a lot of directions I could take my business, a lot of things could make me money or be great options for how to spend my working time, and there are a lot of high paying gigs that are in need of skills that I could learn or provide. So how do I choose what to do with my time, with my business, with my career?
To hep answer this question, earlier this year I created a short list of people I most admire for their professional work and then looked at what it is about them that most inspires me. And the answer turned out to be not that they are performers, or wealthy AF, or hustle hardcore, or have a bazillion followers and best selling books, the answer is authenticity. The people I most admire for the work they do show up as completely themselves and bring what they genuinely care about to their work, despite what other people think or want them to become. So my commitment in my business and my career this year is to be more authentic, to be more genuinely real, to show up as me in all that I do, and use that as what sets me apart in the work that I do. Gary Vaynerchuk, a marketing guru for entrepreneurs, is big on this (I'm reading Crushing It right now), so it's not just my own idea, but it is the key to career success as well as success in being a great entrepreneur.
Now you'll have some objections to doing this yourself, I know. Authenticity is scary and fluffy and sounds a lot like a hippie dippie nonsense ticket to a life of goat farming and utilikilts. But I'm here to work through those objections with you and crack this authenticity thing so you can apply it to your corporate gig, college major, or goat farm if that suits you.
So let's dive in. What is keeping you from being more authentic in your work?
What I Am Is Not What People Want.
Let me tell you a story. My doctor, who I absolutely adore and is amazing at what she does, told me in one of our first meetings, "I am not a nice person. But I do have a ton of experience and I'll tell you what you need to know." She has lived true to her word - she speaks directly, doesn't sugarcoat, doesn't try to please me, but she does bring all of her knowledge to bear to solve my health problems because she genuinely cares about me as a patient, and she believes in doing high quality and incredibly thorough medical work. She is authentic, and serves me in a way that is true to herself but also gives me exceptional care. Now. Her style won't work for everyone, and that's ok because there are lots of other doctors out there, but what makes her a great doctor is that she has a baseline commitment to providing great care. Her style is what delivers her version of great care. So rather than focus on whether your authentic self is nice enough or likeable or interesting enough, or is too direct or too boring, Instead of focusing on pleasing people, tap into and communicate your underlying motivation and what you really care about. That's the part of the authentic you to embrace.
Then, let the way in which you show up in the world be true to what you really care about, and act in a way that serves that purpose. So if you're a software developer, what about your work is important to you, and what do you want to achieve with your work? What is high quality to you? On top of that, it may be that you "tell it like it is", or that you're gentle and kind, or that you write up a storm or like to be ridiculous on YouTube. If that style enables you to do your best work and serve what is genuinely important to you, then go all in. Why do you do the work you do? Communicate that to yourself and others, and that will channel authenticity that is based in service, and will keep you out of jerk territory.
Most of us think we're at least a little bit boring. But yet almost all of us have friends, people who love us, and manage to get along with at least a few other people on the planet. And, what's boring to you may be fascinating or attractive or super useful to someone else. Just because you feel boring does not mean you actually are. And just because you haven't done something you would label as interesting yet doesn't mean you have a good measure of what's interesting. Most of us are way harder on ourselves than others are on us. And even if you are truly boring now, doesn't mean you won't do something more interesting next if you just release that label and pressure on yourself. What would you do, how would you be, if you believed instead that you are not boring?
I'm Not Sure Who the Authentic Me Is.
This is kind of the secret to life here, I have to be honest. Looking for and noticing yourself and discovering who and what that is is a constantly evolving process that can feel really elusive, especially if you're a person who lives for others - if you're a people-pleaser or box-checker or perfectionist or are super competitive. But there are some good ways to get at who you are and what makes you unique.
First of all, get feedback. Simply ask friends, colleagues, your partner, your teachers, boss, parents - what do you think I'm "known for"? What makes me unique? What am I good at?
Secondly, look for your superpowers. What comes easily to you? What do you do in half the time it takes others to do? What is the special sauce that you bring to a group when you join a team or get together with friends? What are you just good at?
Third, look for the hidden you. What characteristics of yourself are you afraid to let others see? Or are you afraid that you might be judged for? There could be a secret authentic you hidden underneath what you are afraid of others discovering about you.
Leading your career from a place of authenticity will bring on much more success and satisfaction than trying to be what you think others want, and this is how you will be able to do your best work. Bringing out more authenticity will help you differentiate from others, and you'll find and be a much better fit for the work and workplace you go into next if you pretend or hide less and show up a little more.
As always, I'm here to help. Nothing would bring me greater satisfaction than helping you figure out what makes up your authenticity, and bringing that out to forge a path forward in your career. Get in touch if you want support.