Building a culture that allows everyone to be themselves
Being true to ourselves
We could start this report by discussing how being authentic in different situations benefits all areas of our lives, but if we’re really going to dive into these issues, assuming that we are authentic is perhaps the wrong place to start.
On the contrary, understanding that there is something about us that is not – or was not – completely authentic within a group of friends, colleagues, partners or family is, surely, the best indication that we are really trying to be ourselves. To understand that there is a “self” that is not so real or true with some people, it is necessary to do our homework and ask ourselves -consciously or unconsciously- the undoubtedly uncomfortable question, who am I?
Maybe that’s why we often answer this question on autopilot. If someone asks who you are, you probably have an automatic response or, at least, have identified a couple of personal traits that you can use to answer. It would be very impractical to carry out an autobiographical review to find out who you are each time this question is asked.
First of all, we want to start by putting a fork in the road of self-knowledge and personal authenticity.
Your true self or true to yourself?
There are those who think that we have a set of characteristics that make us behave in a certain way, these characteristics are unchangeable and define us as people.
- What makes me me, and not someone else?
- Is there any fundamental and permanent truth about me that sets me apart from the rest?
- Is there a real version of me that I should be authentic to?
On the other hand, there is the other side of the coin that suggests that our personality is something that is being built day by day according to our environment and experiences.
- Are we being honest about who we are today?
- Are we aware of the changes in terms of preferences/tastes/ways of thinking that have taken place over time?
Too much to process? Perfect, we need a little bit of philosophy. We believe that both approaches can help us in different aspects of our journey to self-knowledge.
Searching for fundamental truths about who we are and being able to see that there are patterns and personal characteristics that tend to repeat in different circles (whether we are impatient, curious or always empathetic with others) can help us to project ourselves better within society and although a stable identity helps us to understand who we are, it may also suffocate and condemn us to be that person forever.
The philosopher, teacher and essayist Darío Sztajnszrajber often looks at the work of several philosophers to explore the theme of identity in his talks and essays. Based on the work of various thinkers, the question “What happens if identity does not exist and is in fact a construction of what we do? What if instead of defining it as something fixed, we look at it as a quest? What if Instead of asking “who am I?”, we ask ourselves “who am I being?” So where does this leave us standing with authenticity? If identity is a constant search for who we are, being authentic would require reflecting that constant change.
In fact, resisting being the same person you were in the past or not recognizing the contradictions that your identity might have, could mean “not being so authentic” with yourself.
The dilemma of knowing who we are is an introspective work which will accompany us throughout our lives, since we can always go deeper. Perhaps the first conclusion is that it is impossible to maintain a “self” that does not change. To replace “I am” with “I am right now” we have to abandon the comfort of believing that we are unchangeable beings and ask ourselves: Who am I now? To be authentic to others, we must first be authentic to ourselves.
Aligning beliefs & actions
It is important to make the most out of these two ways of seeing our personality and to be able to align the conscious with our actions and how we project them.
Here are some lines of thought that may be helpful for this personal retrospective.
The stand-up comedian Hannah Gadbsy mentions in Nanette (Netflix) the importance of telling our story properly, since the personal narrative that we show others and the part of our story that we focus on becomes our reality. This ends up being what we communicate consciously or unconsciously with our personality traits and daily behaviors.
Her show is brilliant in the way in which it describes the process of her identity, where her process of self-definition and communication, became more relevant than her process of self-knowledge. She prioritizes exteriorizing her personality in the correct way. In her words “I need to tell my story properly”.
Embellishing machine-like attributes
Another aspect that has diminished the importance of authenticity is that personal and unique distinctions of human beings such as expressing emotions doesn’t hold much importance in modern capitalism where we the scale of values and admirable characteristics of humans is more and more focused on behaviors of machines.
By automating processes and industries we have reached levels of productivity we’ve never seen before, unfortunately, we’ve begun to appropriate these attributes associated with productivity by subtracting and canceling the natural behaviors of human beings.
If you ever had to work late and felt disappointed that coffee did not have the necessary effect to keep you working without feeling sleepy or tired, you understand what we are trying to portray. Working long uninterrupted labor journeys, knowing how to work – under pressure – keeping calm, being professional (referring to not involving personal emotions), aspiring to not make many mistakes and trying to be perfect.
They are all traits and characteristics of machines, not humans. Giving value to these attributes makes human characteristics less important.
Wearing masks at work
No vulnerability, no creativity
No tolerance for diversity, no innovation.
Covering = conforming
In a work environment where personal attributes are not relevant because they apparently do not add productive value, people are more likely to start putting on a professional mask, this means hiding or leaving everything that makes them themselves at home, this phenomenon is called Covering.
This causes an effect of standardization of behaviors in which everyone tends to act in a “similar” way without connecting on a deep level, this creates 3 risks in the workplace:
- Lack of social sensitivity. When people connect on a personal level at work (exchanging places to buy clothes for their pets or books about personal and delicate subjects that can help them), they create stronger bonds and synergies that are more resistant in times of crisis or high stake situations.
- Vulnerability, false positive. If people always pretend to be fine (without showing stress, anxiety, nerves or sadness) they may hide it and this impacts productivity directly. If people can share how they are feeling openly with their colleagues, the stress or anxiety won’t disappear, but they are likely to decrease as the pressure to hide them is removed.
- No diversity, no innovation. Finally, when there is no room for personal opinions, or space to express them authentically, the collective creativity of teams is reduced. A team that does not encourage diversity of thought will have limited innovation in their decision-making and solutions.
To Fit vs. To Belong
Understanding this difference is relevant, to building organizational cultures, groups, or work teams.
The author, academic, and researcher Brené Brown, who has a long history of studying shame, vulnerability, and authenticity, makes a clear distinction between belonging and fitting in.
Fitting in is a continuous evaluation of ourselves, we’re constantly thinking “should I say this, should I avoid saying that, what should I wear, how should I look.”
Instead, belonging is the opposite, it is the possibility of telling your truth, telling your story, not betraying yourself for other people. Belonging does require you to change who you are, but to be who you are. These words can be found in “The Call To Courage” (Netflix).
(A mandatory recommendation to accompany this month’s content from the Failure Institute!).
Belonging to a culture, a team, an institution, a social movement, means seeing yourself reflected in the image, characteristics, ideas or values of their own. Belonging to a social group can even help us understand or awaken facets of ourselves that we did not know. Instead, fitting in means getting external validation and approval and giving the power to be told who we are to others.
Being able to separate which places we belong vs. in which we feel compelled to display attitudes that do not represent us is key to changing them (or running away from them whenever possible) but the best thing we can do is from our side of the fence begin to change behaviors, we never know who we might inspire 🙂