“If I brought my authentic self to work, I’d be fired.” This was the most authentic thing I said in the 2.5 hour long discussion my employer held on the new corporate values. My authentic self is quick-tempered, opinionated, potty-mouthed, and arrogant. These are not highly prized attributes for an underling and certainly, during a corporate group-think values session, I was not about to expose my true self.
Cynicism is my default mode and, in all probability, is an acquired defense mechanism. I doubt I was a cynical four year old. It is a bosom buddy of bitterness, too, though I don’t think I’m quite there – yet.
Years ago a friend described me as “cynically naïve”.
It is utterly true that I often expect things to be easier than they are and I mostly think people are honest and kind. However, I also think that honesty and kindness reflect self-interest. Or, put another way, I suspect the motives of kind people and doubt their sincerity, although I will allow myself to be persuaded otherwise, based on evidence. Thus, I am cynically naïve.
I don’t expect work to make me happy. Is that cynical? Maybe. As my friend used to say, “They don’t call it play.” Work has enjoyable moments. Work can be satisfying. Work occasionally makes me laugh.
Work should also be easy since I have an admirable attendance record and I consistently deliver on my deliverables (forgive me that horrible corporate-speak). I’m lauded for staying on task, being reliable and agreeable. It is in my self-interest to contribute to my employer in this way, and I expect others, including my supervisors, to reciprocate. That’s the naïve part. But it’s not easy, and so I become cynical. That’s when I lose authenticity.
I’ve worked in offices for nearly 40 years. I was fired from my first job working for a member of parliament because I shared information – naively – with an opposition MP who also happened to be my former grade nine social studies teacher. (A story for another day.) I was 22. It’s okay to be naïve when you’re 22 but it looks like toilet paper stuck to your shoe when you’re 61.
Still, when my bosses ask my opinion in private I give it, thinking naively, but sincerely, they really want to hear the truth as I see it. “Thank you for your honesty, Susanne.” After all, I’ve been enjoined to be authentic. In one recent instance, when asked to answer a question I found offensive, I said so. Authentically. The comment netted me an “uncooperative” retort on that year’s performance appraisal. Up went my cynically naïve wall.
So much for authenticity at work.
I admire authentic people, people who dare to show their vulnerability, their warts and callouses, varicose veins and bald spots to the world without shame or fear. I can’t do it in person, but I’m better on paper. Why it is easier to talk to you freely, someone I may not have met, than someone I’ve known for 15 years, is a conundrum. It could be because of my quickness to anger (though concealed, it simmers beneath my eyeballs and at the corners of my mouth), and opinions which keep me from engaging for fear of revealing the less appealing side of my nature. Best be reserved. Best keep quiet. Best not offend.
Authentic people are genuinely attractive. Most bloggers I regularly read engage their readers with personal stories imbued with their humanity. They share that which touches them and exposes their true feelings. They share the bland and happy, the horrific and harrowing details of their lives. They read like real people on the screen because they are real people.
Years ago, John Dofflemyer, an award-winning poet and blogger, graciously agreed to share his writing process in response to a blogger challenge I was participating in. In his poetry, he said, he tries to be human. At the time I glossed over that phrase as one of those mild, forgivable clichés (my cynical side, again). Now I think, of course his poetry is human. That’s what poetry is – finely distilled humanity, the alchemy of reason, emotion and perception mixed with carefully chosen, though imperfect, words. Displaying your humanity through the imperfect vehicle of language is risky business and subject to misinterpretation. But that willingness to try, the difficulty of it, makes his work authentic – and brave.
I doubt I can be 100% authentic at work. I’m not brave enough – or high enough on the corporate ladder to get away with it. (Cynical again.) I can, however, strive for it in everything I post here and everything I write. Authenticity – which originated from the word “authentes”, one acting on one’s own authority” – seems doable in writing more than at work and even more than in personal relations.
When time permits, do visit these authentic bloggers and enjoy their authentic voices. I hope you like them as much as I do.
Happy New Year to you. May your creative tank be full all year long. I look forward to reading your stories in 2019 and beyond.