“Just Be yourself” is terrible advice.
Although authenticity has become a buzzword in workplace culture, this concept is almost always misunderstood and even used as an excuse for bad behavior. To quote the great Dread Pirate Roberts*: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Here’s Why It Matters
Psychologist Tasha Eurich wrote in her book Insight that over 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% truly are.😮 This leads to the important question: if most of us are unaware of who we really are authentic, how can we “just be ourselves,” especially in stressful situations?
To address this, let’s look at what authenticity is NOT:
Authenticity is not comfort. Too often, people erroneously think that to be authentic means to be comfortable. By that rationale, we would never dress professionally, listen patiently, or attend meetings or conferences.
But being uncomfortable doesn’t mean you are not being authentic. In fact, discomfort is a sign of how you are actually feeling.
Authenticity is not anarchy. Daniel Pink discusses this in his book “The Power of Regret.” We tend to think that authenticity is living with no regrets. But regrets are actually a driving point to discovering our authentic selves. Sometimes we don’t know we want something until it is unavailable.
Living your life with no regrets would be dangerous, not just to you but to others around you. Yes, you might feel “authentic,” but you would be burning many bridges along the way.
Authenticity is not an excuse. Let’s face it, sometimes, we are jerks. We say what we shouldn’t say when we shouldn’t say it. Once the cat is out of the bag, we tend to use authenticity as a reason for our behavior. Let me know if these sound familiar:
I just needed to speak my truth.
I need to be authentic in how I feel.
I am just expressing my authentic self.
Yes, we should be able to express our thoughts and feelings authentically. But we don’t always need to do it in the way that our instincts (often misunderstood for authenticity) tell us to. Just because you shift your emotions to match the context of a message does not mean you are being inauthentic.
When we are stressed out, we are in fight, flight, or freeze mode. All of our “danger” alarms are going off, and our “authentic” self is usually the one who is going to go to extremes to survive the situation. “Just being yourself” in these situations is not only poor advice, but it can also lead to some really damaging conversations with others for the sake of authenticity.
To view my full personal take on this concept (and to what my authentic self is like at Costco), check out this video.