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Week 44: Be Authentic

In week 32 I shared a little about my dad and the recent break down in our relationship. While I was genuinely not expecting something as extreme as a full separation, I can’t really say the unfortunate event was totally out of the blue. The truth is, I spent the majority of my adolescent life walking on eggshells around him, constantly worrying about how he could potentially react to something I was saying or doing. I can vividly recall sitting at the dinner table one night and my dad yelling at me for crying; for the life of me I can’t remember what I was crying about, but I do know that for years after I couldn’t cry because I'd convinced myself it was a sign of weakness.

When you grow up in an environment like that, you can easily loose sight of who you are and what you want to be. Trying to make my dad happy became such an integral component of who I was, it started to define how I was making decisions and living my life. Even now, years after, I still find myself reverting back to that old behavior in order to keep the people around me happy; transforming myself into the person I think they want me to be.

I bet you're all wondering why I'm sharing this now and how any of it could possibly be linked to the concept of self-care? Well, after reading Sara Blakely’s interview with Salesforce, I realized that not only is it ok to be yourself, that sometimes being yourself might be better than constantly altering who you are based on what others believe to be best for you. A quote from the interview that really grabbed my attention was when Sarah said, “You can find and be yourself in your industry and your business while still remaining valuable as a resource and a team player - you don’t have to act serious to be taken seriously.”

Earlier this week, my boss and I delivered a major presentation that we'd been working on for weeks; I'd worked really hard and once we'd finished I was eager for feedback on what had been well received, as well as if any constructive criticism had been given. Overall, she was extremely positive, but did say she was concerned that others may have found me too informal. The funny thing is, she was probably right. I'm often informal and this specific conversation was no different because over the years I've found I'm usually at my best when I'm relaxed and engaged in open conversation that doesn't disregard, but certainly blurs the lines between rank and role that can so often preclude transparency.

Normally I would've taken that feedback very seriously and immediately started to search for ways I could change, but this time I decided to stay focused on the things that did go well as opposed to overly stressing about those that did not. Please don't think I completely disregarded the feedback because I've certainly made a mental note to modify my demeanor the next time I meet with that specific audience, but I thought it was important that my initial outlook was a positive one. We're sometimes guilty of getting hyper-focused on proving ourselves to senior management that we find ourselves adjusting to their feedback without first taking a step back to analyze if the feedback aligns with who we are and where we want to go.

I'm certainly not suggesting that feedback is bad and we should dismiss what our managers are telling us, but it's certainly ok to be true to who you are and strong enough to recognize when there are roles or personas we're not willing to play; this is where the true value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace comes from. We are not all the same and what works for one might not work for someone else.

Try this exercise the next time you're given feedback: Go ahead and give yourself time to process, but before defaulting to immediate change, ask yourself if it's the right thing for you and where you see yourself in five years.

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