Fear of Authenticity

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Christmas morning – Authentic dog and snow

“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”.

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.

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When time permits, do visit these authentic bloggers and enjoy their authentic voices. I hope you like them as much as I do.

Stop Dragging the Panda
Red’s Wrap
Dry Crik Journal
Folklore and Literacy

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.

Sincerely,

Susanne

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40 thoughts on “Fear of Authenticity

  1. Love this! Creating my blog + being my authentic self has been one of the most liberating things I’ve done. I’ve found that people are drawn to vulnerability and authenticity, it’s the only way to truly connect. No one feels closer to you after you tell them how perfect you are. (Trust me, I’ve tried) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Susanne, for being forthright. Is this close to authentic? I think so. Happy new year! I’m saving this post in case, for when I need even more bloggers to follow. I really don’t but I trust your judgement and am curious since the names don’t ring any bells.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy New Year, Susanne! I was reading along and thinking about how I would like to comment and then I get to the end and find that you have recommended my blog for its authentic voice….!(My mouth is agape!) Thank you so very very much! 😘And I look forward to reading the other blogs you have listed.
    Now, on to my comment. You say that your “authentic self is quick-tempered, opinionated, potty-mouthed, and arrogant.” – but, that’s only the part of your authentic self that you feel would be less enthusiastically received. I could say that my authentic self INCLUDES being “judgmental, snobbish, and impatient” because I definitely have to temper these qualities in myself in order for my sweeter authentic qualities to shine through. I think that a desire to put our best foot forward (without pretending to be who we are not) is an authentic desire. I like what you wrote later about “situational authenticity.”
    What you share on your blog is very authentic: I love your honesty and sense of humor and your choice to express in an artful and thoughtful way. I DO try to share authentically on my blog. And I think that what we are often doing in this space is being authentic in a way that our day-to-day life doesn’t always invite us to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Leslie, I appreciate how you’ve refined authenticity. You’re absolutely right that the attributes I mentioned are only part of my authentic self. After I wrote the rant I thought to myself that I didn’t accurately represent all of me. Its not so easy being authentic!

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  4. This was fun to read, and a little painful! Of course, it got me thinking about my own workplace experiences and my own inauthenticity there, even though it’s been eight years now since I retired. As associate dean, my job was to be supportive of (and possibly subservient to) students and faculty . . . which was sometimes quite satisfying and sometimes impossible for one who does not suffer fools gladly. It’s good we have our blogs as outlets (although I am quite sure I’m not fully authentic here either!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe another way to look at authenticity is being authentic to the environment we live/work in. Is there such a thing as situational authenticity? Or as someone else commented, we can only be as authentic as required to survive. Oh dear. This is sounding more and more like moral relativism.

      Like all social media, WordPress allows the screen to mask us and that can be liberating. I do have a few friends and family who read my posts and who occasionally challenge me when they think my BS meter is off the charts but mostly I think the buffer of the screen gives a certain freedom to be “real”. Unfortunately, it also makes it possible to be a jerk and say things you wouldn’t normally say in person.

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  5. Very honest, authentic, well written piece, Suzanne…particularly liked your description of your work place experiences (resonates with me!)…and thank you for mentioning my blog…much appreciated…JIM

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jim,
      I feel a little like a rock star dropped by my blog and left a comment. Thanks for reading my authentic rant about authenticity! I truly am a big fan of your poetry. It reminds me a little of Pino Coluccio whose chapbook “Class Clown” lives in my purse. Have you read any of his work?

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  6. I liked Sue’s comment about matching our words with our actions. It’s really hard to do in a work environment. It reminds me of that definition for stress – “the confusion caused when one’s mind overrides the body’s natural desire to choke the living shit out of some asshole that desperately needs it”.

    It’s easier when you retire and can finally put distance between yourself and the corporate politics and artificial ‘niceties’ required to keep the office from deteriorating into civil chaos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As always, I appreciate your frank comments, Joanne. There is a lot of cognitive dissonance in the workplace as we all muster the necessary attitudes to cope, survive, and maybe even thrive. Thanks for that excellent quote! If I was brave, I’d print that out and post it in my work cubicle.

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  7. Interesting comment, Donna – hiding behind sarcastic jokes. That’s one of my tactics, too, usually when I feel uncomfortable. Good for you for taking stock and recognizing those moments that you hide rather than being “real”. I think it depends on context, too. I can’t always be 100% genuine unless I trust people.

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  8. Authenticity is a toughie. I was accused of being inauthentic once from someone I didn’t even know. I was incensed at first, me? She who is an open book? But then when I took an honest look at myself, I recognized times when I wasn’t, like pretending to have heard of some famous author, or being polite because it was the thing to do, hiding behind sarcastic jokes, stuff like that. So, I’m a work in progress, as we all are, right? Be well, Susanne and Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wonderful post! If you were here I’d mix you a stiff Irish Coffee drink and toast you with it! It’s been a perennial ambition of mine to have my words and my actions match (be authentic) as much as it is humanly possible. I too find that it’s much easier as I get older…

    Liked by 1 person

      • Always there is hope! I think authenticity is like the ocean which is filled with water one raindrop at a time. Authenticity is built up over the years from each moment that our words and actions match-up. And it’s always in flux; a dissipative structure like oceans, rivers or candles – or trees which can lose leaves but are still “trees”. Anyway, it’s time for lunch. 😉

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  10. I can be authentic with my bosses and colleagues. We are all very real, except maybe the lady who hugs everyone on Friday, or, the day before holidays, I dunno what’s up with that. I don’t like to be hugged in offices, apparently. Anyway, in the course of our work, none of us can be authentic because we would lose 90% of our clients and garner formal complaints. For our work, we must gravely omit, choose our words carefully, and employ euphemisms at every turn. (Which I am good at, cause teacher first.) But the behind-the-scenes discussions are wonderfully entertaining. Man, I love my job.
    Now, my husband, he works in corporate finance, and it’s basically crushing his very soul. We need the health insurance corporation positions offer, which is very American and hard for you to grasp, I’m sure, but the very thing that kills him is what keeps us out of medical debt. Twisted irony.
    It’s wonderful to talk to strangers. I love talking to strangers. Briefly, and real.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It sounds like you have a healthy work environment with decent coworkers. This makes for a happy worker-bee. I’m not an office hugger, either, feeling that I like physical boundaries but there are many in my workplace who are. I guess they’re just being their authentic selves.

      I do follow US news closely and know the difficulties of health insurance and the horrors of medical debt. I feel for your husband and your shared conundrum. I’m not sure what it is about universal health care that scare politicians and people so much.

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  11. I can so relate to this. I can’t help but be authentic, which is why I’m happier working freelance (although poorer in financial terms). In my former job in the corporate world, we did a ‘team building’ training involving a colour wheel that identified our key personality traits (mine were red for leadership and blue for information, although I have no desire to lead anyone but myself. 😂). It was interesting although most of the team detested the exercise, as I did see that those with whom I had the biggest issues were on the exact opposite site of the wheel (high yellow for social and green for harmony). Like you, I am naïvely optimistic, expecting far too much of people, then retreating into cynicism, aka ‘artificial harmony’ in corporate speak, when it is revealed that reality falls far from this expectation. We have to remain true to ourselves while playing the game, so I suppose occasionally glimpses of your true self are the best anybody can hope for. It’s survival…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh lord almighty, don’t get me started on team building activities. I break out in sweaty hives at the mere mention. It is kind of sad that employers so want authenticity but the irony is that to survive in a highly politicized corporate environment one must conceal a lot of oneself.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I loved this because so much of it fit the me I used to be. Now that I am the oldest friend I have, I value honesty and wisdom above all virtues. During one of those horrible meetings with my manager, I found myself saying very earnestly, “Oh, well, what’s the good of a bad attitude if you can’t use it?”

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  13. I never thought much about authenticness when I was mired in the rat race. I was, however, impacted by the tide of office politics which swirled non-stop around me for the 25 years I spent earning a living in the corporate world. I did my best to avoid it but spoke my mind on a few occasions. Such contributions did not fall on welcome ears. Leaving that world was a happy, happy event. I hope you’ll be emancipated soon, too. [smile]

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems to be a “thing” in large corporate bodies to do this corporate soul searching to find our collective values. This is different than defining a “mission statement” which is deemed such a high falutin’ task that only the most senior and elevated of the mucky-mucks participate in this important job. Values, which when I was but a young sprout, were something you just arrived at work with, like a pair of panty hose and pumps, and got on with and did your job. Now, we must put our heads together and work it out and agree on those values (which may or may not align with our personal values). Its all enough to give a sensitive soul like me acute tummy turbulence. Anyway. I felt the need to give my thoughts an airing on this the eve of another work year.

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  14. Susanne, this is a good combing through the tricky hairs of authenticity. No to at work, but a big YES for writers. I’m also finding that people I find impossible to resist show themselves warts and beauty marks right up front. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU and thanks for the blog tips! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I loved this one, Susanne…I do try to be authentic in both words and actions…I stopped worrying about what other people thought when I was about 40, which tends to make being authentic a little easier. Best wishes for an authentic 2019!

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  16. It’s hard to be authentic at work or just about anywhere in our patriarchal society. And I think you probably have good reason to be quick-tempered. Someone smarter than me (forget who) said: “Scratch a woman, find a rage.” I think about that all the time, and about how true it is.
    Another thing I think is: who deserves to see my authentic self? As I get older, I’m a big believer of NOT casting my pearls before swine. Also: I don’t have time for this shit anymore.
    So I zip it and bide my time till the day I am not accountable to anyone. It’s coming. Watch out!
    Wishing you all the best in 2019…Deb

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re so right about who gets to see our real selves. I like your advice to “zip it” because we aren’t obliged to share our inner thoughts to further someone else’s imposed values.

      And I also think whoever that wise person was who said “Scratch a woman, find a rage” was absolutely right! We suppress it in order not to offend or to keep the peace – but we suffer the consequences.

      thanks so much for your authentic comment, Deb!

      Liked by 2 people

"The river flows both ways." (Margaret Laurence)

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