Be Who You Are

One of my most favorite childhood stories was The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco – the story of a stuffed rabbit who wants to become real. Many lessons are in this nearly 100-year old classic, and the lesson here is being your authentic self.

Many leaders today are under great pressure to succeed, and as a result, sometimes create a false persona and accept a pseudo self. This contrived version of them hides the warts and magnifies their best traits. Unfortunately, those who know us best and even those who simply work with us every day see right through this phoney veneer. Your people recognize your true self and know you’re not embracing who you truly are. We won’t reach our full potential by investing energy into creating false versions of ourselves.

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”  – C.G. Jung

You may be clueless you’re even tip-toeing into dangerous territory. Here are some best practices to cultivate the essential leadership trait of authenticity:

Demonstrate self-awareness. Before you can become your true self you have to recognize your true self. Too many people refuse to accept and even name their weaknesses, struggles, and pitfalls. As a result, we accept a version of ourselves we believe others will like better. Understand who you really are.

Question yourself. I encourage leaders to evaluate their self-acceptance with honest questions: Whose attention do you crave? Are you chasing the approval of friends, colleagues, and customers? What is it you don’t like about yourself, and how can your shortcoming also be a strength? Self-diagnosis can lead to self-discovery, which is the only path to authenticity.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”- Brene Brown

Move from self-promotion to storytelling. I appreciate the effort made by individuals in the public eye to shape their personal brands. I also worry about the effects this can have on living an authentic life. If you want to be a changemaker, begin to see public outlets as places for sharing your personal story. You can’t be one person with two personas – ‘work Dave’ and ‘home Dave.’

You’re not digital. Refuse to hide behind a website or Facebook page. Instead, adopt this mindset, “Social media is not just about being connected. It’s about being transparent, intimate, and honest.”

“You’ll learn, as you get older, rules are made to be broken. Be bold enough to live life on your terms, and never, ever apologize for it. Go against the grain, refuse to conform, take the road less traveled instead of the well-beaten path. Laugh in the face of adversity, and leap before you look. Dance as though EVERYBODY is watching. March to the beat of your own drummer. And stubbornly refuse to fit in.” – Mandy Hale, author The Single Woman: Life, Love and a Dash of Sass

Laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be comfortable enough with who you are to laugh and laugh often. When you are able to accept and even chuckle at your blunders and mess-ups, others will too. And this common experience will help you bond with them.

Link Up. Build a support network. Beware of the temptation to surround yourself with flatterers who only tell you what you want to hear. Keep honest people in your life that can help you stay grounded and keep from thinking you’ve arrived.

Choose interested over interesting. Be more concerned with listening instead of talking. Focus on others, not yourself.

…an excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit story:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. 

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ 

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ 

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Can you be who you are? Are you willing to be true to you and thus others, also?

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