Authenticity and Job Satisfaction
The theme of authenticity has been coming up for me more and more recently. It seems to be one of those virtues that is foundational to living a balanced, healthy and happy life. I’ve been reading a very interesting book called Scary Close by Don Miller that makes the case that in order to have healthy relationships one must stop trying to impress and instead just be honest about who they are. In other words authenticity rather than prestige is what matters if one is interested in happy partnerships.
I would argue that the same can be said of one’s work life. It all has to do with one’s motivations. In your career are you striving to get to a position where people will be impressed by you or are you striving to get to a place where you can authentically express who you are as a person? Which of those motivations would you say is more likely to lead to a place of greater contentment and satisfaction? Which would you say is more likely to lead one to a place of disillusionment and grief?
Playing it Safe
Nearly all of us make compromises along the way to choosing a career. However, few of us are actually aware of it. Without much guidance and support during those critical times in our lives when we are choosing our direction we tend to default to what everyone else is doing. I wanted to be involved in coaching when I graduated from college but I was too scared to try something so far outside of the norm. At the time all of my friends from college were choosing the tried and true career paths in finance, law, medicine and the corporate world.
Rather than buck the trend I followed suit and got a job working for a large drug company. My older brother graduated a year before me and already landed a good job in the automotive industry. My younger brother was going to be graduating a couple of years later and with a business degree was likely to also get a job that paid him well in the corporate world.
The Consequences of Compromise
At the time I remembered thinking that I didn’t want to be the broke and ‘unsuccessful’ one by choosing a path that might not pay well right out of college so I compromised. I spent my senior year of college contemplating what kind of a work environment I wanted for myself and here’s what I came up with: I didn’t want to work in a cubicle, I didn’t want to have a boss who nagged me all the time, I did want to indulge my interests in psychology and personal development and I definitely did not want to work for a large corporation that didn’t align with my values.
Well, so strong was my desire for status and prestige that I conceded on every area that I had considered important to me. Yup, there I was working in a dimly lit cubicle on the sprawling campus of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in Collegeville Pennsylvania. My boss was a nightmare and my job consisted of the most menial tasks you could imagine. The worst part of it all though was that my work did nothing to advance the causes that I cared about. I was slaving away each day so that one of the world’s biggest drug companies could get FDA approval on yet another antidepressant.
The Value of Authenticity
But hey that was my life. Sadly, as a 22 year old kid, I had not yet learned of the value of authenticity or the power behind being true to oneself. This was something that I wouldn’t learn until years later after making a trip to rock bottom. If only I could’ve known back then what I know now so much agony and despair could have been avoided. This is life though. Oftentimes it isn’t until we’ve learned the hard way that we learn these important lessons.
It’s been somewhat comforting to learn that this dilemma is not something that was unique to me. This is the kind of story that I hear all the time from the people that I work with. During those formative years they had all of these wonderful hopes and dreams that were never given the time of day. Most of the time it was because they just never seemed practical.
Authenticity and Self-Discovery
I had a client of mine who aspired to be a writer. He had been a gifted student of english literature and had a way with words and abstract concepts. It was clear that this creative person had a passion for writing but to him it just didn’t seem practical to pursue it. Instead he looked for opportunities to get a job in the corporate world where writing might be a component. He ended up in advertising and, despite being quite good at his job, found himself a few years down the road feeling very unfulfilled.
This was about the time that Tom and I started working together. Tom was frustrated because he knew that he wasn’t able to show up as his authentic self to work and it was killing him. This just wasn’t the life he’d ever envisioned for himself and yet here he was. Stressed out, overwhelmed, confused and unhappy. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t see a way out. So we got to work. I began asking Tom some questions designed to get to the heart of who he is as a person.
Understanding Who You Are
It wasn’t long before I discovered his passion for writing. Tom had always fantasized about being a travel writer. Tom was an avid skier and he loved to travel. His dream job was to write articles for outdoor adventure magazines about the amazing experiences he was having skiing mountains all around the world.
What I found most interesting from our conversations was the dramatic shift in energy that Tom displayed when he began talking about writing, traveling and skiing. It’s like he became a whole different person. His eyes lit up, the tone in his voice brightened and his demeanor was enthusiastic and upbeat. What was going on here? I wondered. Tom was one of my first clients and I was just beginning to learn about the magic and power of tapping into someone’s passions. Good things were happening when we focused the conversation on these topics. Writing was of particular interest to Tom because he knew it was connected to something that he’d always been good at. Ever since he was young he knew that he had a gift for connecting abstract concepts.
A Recipe for Success
Most of my clients have at least another thirty years to go until they can start to think about retirement. A question I often ask them is how are you going to make the most of those years? How successful do you want to be? When you’re working in a line of work where your heart isn’t in it sooner or later you’re going to hit a ceiling. You can only go so far within an organization, profession or an industry when you lack the power of enthusiasm that comes when your work becomes an authentic expression of who you are.
Expressing Your True Self
So what does this mean for you? Do you feel like you’re hiding your true personality at work? A recent survey of 3,000 people reported that 61% couldn’t show up as their true selves in the office. If you happen to be one of these people how could this impact your future success let alone your current level of job satisfaction? What kind of a difference would it make to have a better understanding of what you’re all about and what type of work would best suit you? If you’re interested in finding out then shoot me a note and we can begin the process over the course of a free strategy session.