I believe that we are happier, stronger, and feel more fulfilled when we are willing to show up as our most authentic selves, both where we play and where we work. We cannot, and should not, separate the two.
So why does this matter to me?
Just writing the word makes me wince. My face scrunches up and my heart flutters just a little. (I should probably get that checked.)
For much of my life, I convinced myself that I “didn’t belong” in some of my favorite places. I was the poor kid at the rich kids’ school. My friends had close friends since the toddler age, but not me. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, when everyone else seemed to have direction. I felt like the non-programmer in a tech job, and I felt like the tech nerd around everybody else.
In most environments, I felt out of place.
All of these feelings were self-inflicted. I had close friends growing up. I knew many people who struggled to find purpose. As far as feeling like the non-programmer, after a couple of years at my job I was known as “the encyclopedia” because I was a great source for answers. Then later I became QA because I was great at understanding how our system worked. Then I was a manager there for 7 years. I was not a “non-programmer in a tech job,” but it’s how I felt.
At the same time, I was great at “fitting in.” I developed a strong sense of empathy by focusing intently on others. I picked up mannerisms and behaviors that suited the people I was with. And it was FUN. I took pride in my ability to shift to a new situation, and it felt good to be so adaptable.
But it was the exact reason I felt alone.
It turns out, “fitting in” doesn’t do us any good. When you aren’t true to your authentic self, when you go into situations and do what you think others expect of you, you make it very hard to feel like you really belong anywhere – how could you? The real “you” hasn’t actually been seen yet. (If you want more on this topic, check out Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.) So my inauthentic self left my authentic self feeling cold and alone and ashamed.
But here’s the cool part. I haven’t been 100% inauthentic, either.
I ask why.
I love to question how things work, why people make the choices that they do, and what new directions might be available. When I’m really invested in a situation, my authentic questioner shines through like a Minecraft beacon. So much so that I’m not afraid to challenge decisions, investigate blockers, or ask a room full of people if we are on the right path. In fact I’m so comfortable with this, that most people are surprised when they find out I felt any sense of loneliness or lack of belonging – I seemed so comfortable and confident! That comfort and confidence was very real in some situations, and non-existent in others.
So I tackled the “why” of myself. Why I do the things I do. What about my history brought me to where I am now. I became clear on this tension I had created with belonging.
As I have come to understand my history with belonging, authenticity has taken center stage. I’ve let myself be more emotionally vulnerable with my friends and family. I’ve become more comfortable with admitting what I enjoy and what I’d rather avoid. I’ve embraced that questioner personality, and I’m taking aim society, the workplace, our values and our beliefs.
I question our society (or possibly, our nature?) that values the authenticity of some, and shames others.
I question why we have driven community out of our workplaces.
I question why it’s not acceptable to talk about our home lives with our coworkers.
I question our need for endless piles of data.
I question the rules we live and work by.
When we break down these walls, magic happens. Teams who create a sense of community and purpose can do amazing things together. Their companies soar. And they love their work.
Let’s love what we do. Let’s be excited to wake up in the morning. Let’s be authentic, and feel like we really belong where we are.
It is possible.
It starts with you.
I can help. Let’s chat.
A Bit of the Fun Stuff …
Other things that are authentically me:
- I love the color gray. I spent most of my life being told that’s not a color and doesn’t count, but look at me throwing caution to the authenticity wind.
- Right now my games of choice are Hearthstone and Minecraft (creative mode). I built a dome and a castle.
- I enjoy reading about leadership, personal development, self-improvement. For fun.
- I love sci-fi movies and TV. I cried when Star Trek NG ended. I didn’t have time to cry when Firefly ended, it was over before it started.
- I’ve dabbled in photography over the years but I left it as a profession when clients started asking for hand-hearts. You know what I mean.
- My face gets really, really red because of all reasons. Not just embarrassment, but happiness, anger, exhaustion, a warm light, and feta cheese.
- If I think I can use a spreadsheet on a project, I will.
- I love to walk.
- I hate to run.
- There’s a game called Eleminis that I think every parent should own.
- I wanted to be Madonna when I was a kid. Or Picard. Maybe both at the same time? Haven’t thought about that before. Some streams just shouldn’t be crossed.
If you’re interested in working together, or just want to talk about what working together could look like, I’d love to talk to you. Send me a note.