I am often asked by my students and business colleagues for career advice and while I could probably ramble on for hours about this topic, more often than not I revert to the basics.
This can be a turbulent time, transitioning from college to career or from career to career, and it can be easy to lose track of your sense of self. The small compromises you make to get started can lead to bigger compromises. You can go from wearing a tie every day to laughing at the boss’s jokes to going along with decisions that you don’t agree with. Along the way you slowly break down an innate power and that vital connection between the things you believe and the way that you act.
It can be easy to lose track of your sense of self. The small compromises you make to get started can lead to bigger compromises.
The Pressure from Inside
This isn’t just a matter of external pressure, it’s in the way we accept and internalize the expectations of others. As French philosopher Michel Foucault pointed out, the influence of social power does not come directly from what is outside us, but from what changes within. We make obedience to power and to expectations part of our selves, and so are ruled by it.
But to accept this is to lose some of our own power – the power of authenticity.
When I talk about authenticity I mean the connection between what you believe and the way you behave. Showing who you really are and standing by your convictions. It makes the relationships you build with others more real and subsequently, more valuable. It lends power to your voice and your actions. It makes you more comfortable in your own skin, and so able to achieve greater things.
The influence of social power does not come directly from what is outside us, but from what changes within. We make obedience to power and to expectations part of our selves, and so are ruled by it.
The Squirming in your Gut
Think for a moment about your own reaction when you’re dealing with someone who is inauthentic, in whom the things they say and the things they believe clearly don’t match. Maybe it’s a manager who pays lip service to progressive approaches while retaining old-fashioned command and control. Perhaps it’s a colleague who never lives up to their promises. Or maybe it’s a politician – after all, they’re notorious for this.
How do they make you feel? Do you respect them? Do you want to go the extra mile for them, or even that first few yards?
Or do you feel the opposite – pity, annoyance, or distrust? Do you get that squirming feeling in your gut that comes when you know that you just can’t count on someone, can’t believe the things that they say?
Right Back at You
That’s the feeling others will get around you if you aren’t true to yourself. Because you can never entirely hide what is going on. Sooner or later your actions, your voice, your very body language will give you away, even if your words don’t.
And in the meantime you have to live with the discomfort of playing a part, of trying to pay heed to what you think others expect when you knowing that you could do better if you followed your truth.
If you really believe in what you are doing then you will put your heart into it. Your conviction will show and your commitment will win others to your side.
Taking the Power
Authenticity is a powerful thing. If you really believe in what you are doing then you will put your heart into it. Your conviction will show and your commitment will win others to your side. You’ll have the energy to keep on going because you won’t be wasting energy fighting yourself.
For as the poet E.E. Cummings put it so powerfully, “To be nobody but myself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else — means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight.” But that battle, that victory over the forces of fakery and inauthenticity, is worth the struggle. Because it can unlock the real power that lies within you.
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