6 Ways to Be Real At Work
Six Secrets to being the real you at work
Being your authentic self at work can feel risky. The world has conditioned us to believe that professionalism is more about outside presentation than performing our job duties. We spend so much time worrying about fitting in with company culture that we leave work exhausted and frustrated by pretending to be someone we are not for eight-plus hours.
But there is power in being real. Authenticity makes room for the diversity we can see and the invisible diversity we can’t. And as we all know, diversity makes for better services and work teams. We shouldn’t have to hide who we are to be liked and be accepted by our team members. The image we present to others should be honest and genuine. So how do we take off the mask we’ve been wearing and start to show up at work as the real us?
1. Review your company policies
The first way to be real about who you are is to assess whether or not it is you or something outside of you preventing you from being authentic. Sometimes, our companies have policies that prevent us from showing up authentically. For example, your company may have a policy against facial hair, but it’s a part of your spiritual beliefs to have facial hair. Or perhaps they have a policy against natural hair, or hell even dyed hair or piercings. These are examples of policies that can deter you from showing up as your authentic self.
If this is the case, you have two choices. The first option is to talk to someone in HR or an authority position about the policies and make an effort to educate them on the value of authenticity and diversity in the workplace. Ensure that the person understands that these policies are more harmful and exclusive to employees and team cohesion versus helpful. The second option is to begin seeking employment from a company that is serious about diversity & inclusion and allows its employees to show up as their authentic selves.
Either way, you will be making a difference in your own life and having the company re-evaluate its culture.
2. Examine your belief systems
If you review your company policies and don’t identify anything exclusive, you have to examine if YOU are getting in your way of being authentic.
If you are, you must look at why. Think back to episodes in your childhood, episodes that led you to stop being your real self and instead adopt some other way of existing in this world. Did it come from your Biasphere? Your Biasphere are the circles of influence that shaped your perspective of yourself and others. Your circles’ influence includes your family, friends, teachers, religion, media, etc. My biasphere taught me that I had to change my voice to sound more white to gain business opportunities and that I couldn’t use the correct pronouns when discussing my same-sex romantic partner. To find the real me, I had to re-examine where these thoughts and behaviors originated.
By examining where your perceptions of what’s lovable and acceptable come from, you can begin the work of unpacking unhelpful narratives and start to restore your true self, the real you.
3. Observe yourself
Learn to observe how the version of yourself that you show the world is different from the version you show to people who make you feel safe. Does the way you speak change? Do you use the correct pronouns or share your spiritual beliefs when discussing your same-sex partner?
Practice noticing which versions of you feel real and which ones feel inauthentic. By identifying which responses are just “for show” vs. authentic, you can begin to notice the falseness and begin to show the real you that’s underneath.
4. Embrace yourself
When exploring the real you, you may feel afraid to embrace your true self. You may question whether it’s even possible for you and others to love and accept what your biasphere deeply ingrained as unlovable or unacceptable.
Practice this in small moments. After I realized that I was changing who I was due to my Biasphere, I started breaking it down by radically accepting myself. In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, I became willing to lose everything to gain myself. I started using she and her pronouns when talking about my romantic partner. I started using my regular voice on business calls, and I chose to be me, the real me.
5. Face your fears
We tend to be most comfortable with what is familiar. For many of us, being the real us can feel scary. It feels unfamiliar to be ourselves, so it’s often challenging, at least at first.
The real you often has a lot of fear, sadness, and anger to overcome. So as slowly as you need to, courageously show your colleagues and the world the real you. You will find that your bravery and vulnerability will encourage others to show up as their authentic selves.
6. Embrace your colleagues
If you want others to accept you for who you truly are, it only makes sense to accept them. Have you ever heard that people who are hard on others are often hardest on themselves? It’s the same for love and acceptance. When you love and accept yourself, you realize what a gift doing so is, and you want to share that gift with others. Acceptance has a ripple effect. It starts with you and spreads to your friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers. When I started loving and accepting my blackness and bisexuality, I wanted to spread that love to other people, no matter their diversity. I made it my life’s work and legacy. Each of us can leave a legacy of love and acceptance if we choose to do so.
The more each of us does our part to love and accept ourselves and each other, the bigger the ripple. Authenticity, love, and acceptance transform work teams, and transformed teams create a better world. Be the person you needed someone else to be when you struggled to be the real you.