How to Be Authentic in Your Career—And Why It’s Important
October 13, 2017 by Jessica Thiefels
Do you represent two versions of yourself? The you at work and the you at home? If you hide parts of who you are at work, you’re not alone. Based on a survey of more than 3,000 participants, 61 percent of respondents admitted to covering part of their identity at work.
Despite this being a significant commonality among workers, being less than authentic with yourself in your career and with co-workers in the office can actually be problematic. You may think you’re blending in or letting your career “organically” find you, but being inauthentic can actually lead to burnout and unhappiness at work—and that’s not all. Here are three important reasons to be authentic in your career and a few tips for how to find that part of yourself.
You’re More Likely to Find Meaningful Work
The average human spends more than 90 thousand hours of his or her life working. As a result, many people search for meaningful, fulfilling jobs or careers. If you’re inauthentic in your work and disconnected from what makes you happy, however, you may end up staying in a job you dislike. Why? You’ll miss all the signs that it’s time to leave, like the fact the you’re unhappy or not enjoying the projects you’ve been working on.
It takes work, self-exploration and soul searching to figure out the best career path, but it’s worth it to feel happy and fulfilled in your career. To do so, Gail Goodman, a licensed therapist and career counselor, suggests: “Challenge yourself to be authentic; explore your passions and desires and look for work that helps you share your unique gifts with the world.”
Leaders: You’re a Role Model for Authenticity
Authenticity is especially important for leaders and managers, who must model what they want to see in their employees: “When leaders model authenticity, in the way in which they handle themselves in the workplace, they notice a culture that produces high-quality results with confident, motivated employees,” writes Ann Gatty from All Business.
Still, your confidence and authenticity must be believable to be effective: “If staff members can trust that what they are seeing is the true personalities of their leaders, they are more likely to display similar authentic behavior. Hidden agendas and unspoken tactics will dissipate,” says Gatty.
Give yourself and your employees permission to be more authentic in their careers and office interactions. When they see you share ideas that don’t hit the mark or struggle with a project, for example, they’ll feel they can do the same. This is part of who we are, so don’t hide it at work and your employees won’t either.
Authenticity Helps Build Long-Term Relationships
Building long-term, valuable relationships is critical to being successful in business, whether you’re looking to further your career or start a business. Those relationships won’t stick if you’re not representing your true self:
“Authenticity—both in business and in networking—is important for establishing reciprocal relationships with others. Long-term, rewarding professional partnerships don’t begin with a selfish attitude,” says Ted Rollins, veteran global entrepreneur.
When you’re honest about who you are, where you’re at in your career, and more, you’ll also find more doors opening right in front of you. You never know who has the perfect job or a great connection that will allow you to finally take the next step in your career. When you accurately represent who you are, these opportunities seem to come “out of nowhere.”
Be More Authentic in the Workplace
You know why authenticity is important, but do you know how to let your truest self shine? Here are a few tips for letting it show in the workplace.
Share Who You Are
As an employee, your title or role at work isn’t what truly defines you. What are your hobbies, interests and passions? What’s interesting or unique about you? “Authenticity begins with self awareness: knowing who you are—your values, emotions, and competencies—and how you’re perceived by others,” according to Lisa Rosh and Lynn Offeman from Harvard Business Review.
As a leader, it’s your job to make sure employees are authentic: “The success of your company, your team and you depends on every employee, including yourself, being authentic,” says Laurie Erdman from Inpower Coaching.
Role model this authenticity by sharing about yourself and encourage employees to speak their mind as well. This empowers everyone to be their own selves because they feel like they can.
Sharing who you are comes with a caveat: understand what’s appropriate and be respectful in the workplace. Oversharing makes coworkers uncomfortable, so instead of sharing anything and everything, think about how the things you share can benefit your team or help everyone work together. “I really enjoy writing, if anyone doesn’t want to write their templates, I can do it for you!”
This also may provide you with new opportunities at work—“Oh, Sherry loves doing design work at home. She may be interested in applying for our open designer position.”
Finally, when co-workers share about themselves, or pitch a big idea, be respectful of them. Don’t judge or make fun, and instead, focus on creating a comfortable workplace where you and your co-workers can thrive.
Tell the Truth Even When it’s Hard
Part of being authentic is being honest. If you mess up at work or miss a deadline, own up to it; don’t make excuses or blame others. Your team will respect you for being honest and know they can trust you. Be honest about your skillset and your knowledge, as well; if you don’t know how to do something, ask for help. This type of honesty is especially important for leaders:
“The best leaders are able to identify gaps in their own knowledge, and admit them, so that they can hire others to fill in where they’re lacking,” according to Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin from Business Insider. “Why? Because feigning expertise is a sure-fire way to end up with blind spots in your business.”
Let Your Authenticity Shine
Practice being authentic in every area of your career, from the lunchroom at work to networking events with local clubs. Encourage others to do the same, making everyone comfortable, welcoming new ideas, and sharing about yourself when it seems valuable and important. Authenticity may be just what you need to move up in your career—take a look at where you’re at, where you want to go and how you can be yourself every step of the way.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and went through five jobs in five years before finding self-employment, full-time writing and consulting. She’s shared her business insights with Forbes and Business Insider and has written for Glassdoor, Salesforce, Lifehack and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 and connect LinkedIn.
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