“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Why is it difficult to have the same persona at work, home, church and with friends? I have observed this problem for years, but lately become more aware of the challenges people have with consistently being “real”. In a few recent discussions with friends, I got blank stares and the feeling of discomfort when I advocated for being the same person no matter where we were and transparent about our lives with others. Why is authenticity so uncomfortable?
I suspect the root cause of this occurred for many of us at a young age. The first time we felt pressure to “fit in” with a particular group in school, we began down the path of conformity that only accelerated as we grew older. In college, we may have heard from professors (or parents) that we need to keep work, faith and our personal lives separate. We may have feared being judged or criticized in those early jobs for sharing anything personal which only hardens into a compartmentalized mindset as we grow in our careers.
Logic should tell us it is inevitably harmful to suppress our true selves for a sustained period of time, yet many people feel there is no other option. Do you love being a parent, but feel awkward about discussing your kids at work? Is expressing your faith important to you, but perceived intolerance among work colleagues and others keeps you from discussing it? Have you ever been faced with a difficult ethical or moral dilemma, but remained silent rather than advocate for doing the right thing and risking criticism? I want to believe that deep down most of us desire to consistently be more authentic, but may not know how to get there.
Obstacles to Authenticity
Let’s address some of the obstacles that may prevent us from being authentic. I am making a base assumption that you agree with me on some level that authenticity is important and that many of us have a desire to be more open, transparent and genuine. I also believe that deep down, most of us want to make a positive impact in the world. In my opinion, here are a few of the obstacles that inhibit our authenticity:
- Lack of self-awareness. Do we even know there’s a problem?
- Fear of people not liking who we truly are. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of being judged. Fear of persecution for our principles and religious beliefs. Fear of being passed over for a promotion because we don’t fit the corporate mold.
- Lack of confidence in our opinions. Lack of faith in our convictions. Lack of courage to defend the truth.
- Attachment to an income level and lifestyle that requires unhealthy compromise
- Conforming to society’s march towards political correctness, universal tolerance and acceptance of things which are in direct conflict with our faith, values and principles.
- Relaxing our moral standards because it easier to go along with the crowd than take a stand.
This list may be as painful for you to acknowledge as it is for me to write, or you may have a different list. The points raised may be unsettling, but confronting them is necessary if we are to pursue and embrace a more authentic life.
Embracing the REAL You
If we stop and reflect for a few minutes on the world in which we live, we will surely see disturbing trends that have been years in the making. Our political system is dysfunctional and our economy is in distress. Families are under constant attack and our children are being bombarded with bad influences. Discussions about God and faith are strongly discouraged in the public square. The line between right and wrong is blurred in the name of an “everything goes” mentality and speaking up in defense of our values often labels us intolerant. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Have you ever replayed in your head pivotal moments in your life and regretted your actions or words? Ever feel a twinge when your mouth said one thing and your heart felt another? Perhaps your conscience is trying to get your attention. Maybe it is time to consistently let our true selves be seen by others. Is there an upside to having the courage to embrace who we really are? The answer is a simple yes. Some of the fruits of authenticity include:
- We can achieve a sense of peace when we are not at war with ourselves and live out the values and faith we learned as children in a more transparent way.
- Our relationships become deeper and more meaningful when we allow others to see the real us.
- We can provide inspiration for others to speak/act up in a way consistent with how they really feel.
- We can turn back the cultural tsunami that threatens to swamp us by publicly standing up for our deep felt convictions and values.
- The world can be transformed when the authentic and courageous acts of a few positively influence the actions of many.
We have to challenge the fear that somehow being real is a bad thing. It may be uncomfortable and create some opposition in the short term from individuals not used to it. However, practicing transparency, engaging in honest and open dialogue, and always placing your principles and ethics before advancing your career will bring you greater success in every aspect of your life.
I am writing this article from my perspective as a father, husband, Catholic and conservative business person who is very involved in the community. You may have different perspectives and views, but I believe anyone can find value in what I am sharing. Much of the responsibility for what is off track in the workplace, our schools, our communities and the government is placed on our shoulders—we have been complacent and silent. Our faith, principles, voices, determination, commitment and votes can make a real and lasting difference in the world if we have the courage to stand up for what we believe. Like the image of a pebble dropped in a calm pond, our individual efforts have a ripple effect and can make an enormous difference.
After you read this article, please consider if you are being authentic to those around you. Let’s set a good example for others by being unafraid to be our true selves. What is required of us is not easy, but necessary if we want change. Our acts of courage and authenticity, no matter how small, can join together with others to make a real difference.
With confidence and a sense of purpose, let’s all try to be a little more authentic today.
Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications. ”The Catholic Briefcase” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble online and your local Catholic bookstore.