Time and time again I hear people say that being authentic is all about being yourself.
I don’t agree with that.
You see, if you were to be yourself right now you would show up wearing a mask; presenting a censored version of yourself. A version of yourself that you have honed over the years to fit in and be accepted.
I know a lot about masks… I used to wear a mask to work every day. I was a teacher in a Further Education college attempting to hide a secret from my colleagues.
I didn’t want to have that whole awkward ‘I am gay’ conversation in a busy staff room over tea and biscuits.
So, I hid who I really was behind a mask. I would put that mask on when I left my bedroom in the morning and wear it all day.
It reached a point where I became exhausted from ‘delivering a performance’ and pretending to be someone else.
I would feel a heightened sense of stress, panic and anxiety the minute I walked into work. I was terrified of being outed in a few areas: not being good enough at my role, being an ‘imposter’ and being gay in a heterosexual environment. I was forever dodging the humiliation of being ‘outed’ at work.
Stonewall’s research highlights that a quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers are not open to colleagues about their sexual orientation at all.
I have worked first hand with thousands of LGBT+ individuals all around the world since I started my own business 8 years ago. During my sessions with them, 99% of individuals disclosed to me they are not fully ‘out’ at work. AND of these, 96% disclosed they ‘wore a mask’ to hide the real version of themselves.
My transgender and non-binary clients. I can honestly say I have only met a handful that are ‘out at work’. Every single transgender client I have worked with opted to quit working in an organisation so they can transition. They then re-enter the job market after they have transitioned, hoping they will ‘pass’ and not have to ‘out themselves.’ The ones that are ‘out’ at work are the ones that have not been able to ‘pass.’
None of my non-binary clients are ‘out’ at work. They have all stated they don’t want to appear difficult or different or to stand outside of societal norms, instead choosing to not be open about their gender identity.
But listen, you don’t have to identify as LGBT+ to resonate with what I am talking about here.
When I deliver keynote speeches, talks and training to organisations, heterosexual and cis-gendered individuals recognise they are wearing a mask and hiding their real self too.
This mask we all wear is a way to hide who we are because all we really want is to fit in. To be accepted.
You didn’t always have that mask. Take a moment to think back to your childhood. Playing with your friends on a sunny day; laughing, being silly and having fun. You were carefree with no responsibilities, you were happy and peaceful.
Then, we reach a point in our development when we become more conscious and start to question the world around us.
We begin to accumulate labels for ourselves: daughter, son, mother, father, gay, straight, trans, boy, girl, non-binary, creative, unlucky, student, shy – you get the idea. When someone asks what we do we are a health worker, hair technician, teacher.
We become defined by our labels but this simply adds another layer for us to hide behind. Another mask we can wear for the performance we are delivering.
So, if authenticity isn’t about being yourself, what is it?
To be authentic is to know who you really are and to express yourself fully in any given moment.
To be authentic is to bring ALL of who you are to work.
You spend the majority of your waking hours at work.
It has a detrimental effect on you when you don’t bring all of who you are to work and show up as the real you. You may not realise it, but it does.
I know. I have been there.
I experienced a series of hate incidents at work, which included a significant period of bullying whilst employed in a Further Education college as a teacher. This impacted dramatically on my physical health, which in turn affected my performance at work. The stress I felt, as a result of the hate incidents on a daily basis, resulted in me having IBS – irritable bowel syndrome – a situation that led me to not be able to teach classes in the mornings.
A teacher that can’t teach in the morning? Crazy right…?
I experienced daily harassment, bullying, intimidation, online abuse and teasing from my manager. She found out I was gay and insisted on using this knowledge about me to her advantage. Initially, I didn’t report this homophobic bullying as I was too afraid to ‘out’ myself to the leadership team. I didn’t want to have to explain the context of the bullying and show the evidence and I was worried that as soon as I did that – they would know I was gay.
Eventually, I reported it alongside a breadth of evidence which documented a year of incidents, emails, communications and I even had witnesses. But, the woman involved was promoted! I was told to not progress the case any further because it would highlight my sexual orientation to colleagues and peers.
It is safe to say, I know a thing or two about bringing all of who you are to work.
When clients first engage with me to work on bringing all of who they are to work, this is what I notice.
To name a few…
I recognise those things because I was there… I lived through it.
Seriously, the impact of not bringing ALL of who you are to work doesn’t only impact on your work.
It impacts on ALL areas of your life: relationships, family life, hobbies, social life, finances, health, your contribution, leisure time, personal growth.
It is obvious when someone isn’t being authentic and real with you, right?
It is strikingly obvious when someone is holding back and not bringing their whole self to work. You can spot it a mile off. You can’t trust them, you struggle to form a deep connection or relationship with them and you know something is ‘not quite right’.
I have observed people intensely over the years. I guess you could call me a professional people watcher.
I realised there are 10 signs that all inauthentic people display.
You know you are NOT being authentic when you:
Do any of those resonate with you? Have you observed these in those closest to you?
Maybe you display one or more of these signs yourself.
You certainly wouldn’t be alone.
When you bring all of your Self to work you:
When my clients are at the end of our work together on bringing all of who they are to work, here are some specific things I notice.
Which of these do you recognise in others and which do you see in yourself?
Authenticity on the school run? Unheard of. In business – rare. Socially? Maybe after a drink or three. Seriously, I can’t think of anywhere where I don’t see people wearing a mask.
The last thing you want is to look stupid, wrong, like a failure, an imposter or vulnerable in any way. So what do you do? You tweak how you present yourself to protect, to fit in and to be accepted.
You show up wearing different masks for different environments and situations that you find yourself in. Work, in business, relationships, socially, on the school run – you name it, you have a mask for it.
These masks originate from thought. From how we think.
Let me tell you what I know about thinking.
As soon as your conscious awareness identifies with the content of your thoughts, you start actively thinking. Processing. Making stories and attaching to the thoughts. When you start thinking in this way, you have engaged the ego. That thinking might be in the form of a judgement about yourself, the way you want to present yourself, the pattern of thinking that there is something wrong with you or that you are not good enough.
The social conditioning, old belief systems, judgements, the criticisms, labels you carry – all these build up layer upon layer to form your identity. Your identity is a culmination of all the things you have ‘acquired’ over the years that hide who you really are. And now, these layers drive the patterns of thought you have on a day to day basis.
As soon as you identify with thought, you are no longer who you really are and there is a filter of judgement from within. That’s not authentic, it’s not real and all it does is distance you from the real you.
Your thoughts limit you throughout the day and distance you from the real, authentic you that is inside.
When you let go of thought and let it drift off and when you let go of the patterns of your thinking, you reveal who you truly are. Your true personality.
Getting back to the stillness within, that is where the authenticity comes through.
From there you can only communicate truth. There is no possibility for judgement. From there everything is authentic.
When you communicate from this still, profound place (for this is who you truly are) your whole life and experience of life will change.
I have noticed over the years that truly authentic people have it all together in terms of their thinking. They are aware of their thinking patterns and how to access the stillness inside and they communicate from their authentic, true self.
What is going on in your head that is causing the issue?
To recap the important points here:
All of these have built up, layer upon layer and become ingrained into your subconscious.
Those layers form your identity. Your identity is what people see on the outside.
These layers are built up from childhood conditioning, the beliefs you formed at an early age, the judgements you have received from others, the labels you have ‘collected’ to describe who you are over the years, the masks you wear to protect yourself. AND lots more.
Let’s be clear here. You are NOT your identity.
The authentic you is underneath all of that. The authentic and real you is that peaceful, joyful, creative, loving, passionate soul underneath all of those layers.
Imagine an onion. When you peel it right back and get to the middle – that is where your Soul is. That is your heart, your essence. That is the real and authentic you.
When you drop the masks you wear and let your thoughts drift by (without connecting to them), you access that stillness inside of you.
This is where authenticity lies.
Communicate from this space and you will notice profound differences in all aspects of your life. Trust me.
How do you break down and take off all those masks you wear and show up as the real, authentic you at work?
Over a 10 year period I have developed a strikingly powerful coaching process whilst working with leadership teams, leading global organisations, public figures, celebrities and LGBT+ role models.
During my work with organisations and individuals I take people through the 3 steps that form the basis of my signature coaching programme.
There are 3 steps to bringing all of who you are to work (and breaking down those masks).
STEP 1: RAISE your awareness of how you currently present yourself to the world.
In a nutshell this is the work I take individuals, teams and organisations through in Step 1.
STEP 2: RELEASE all the old beliefs, conditioning, patterns and judgements that you internalised over the years.
To be truly authentic involves stripping back all the layers. One after the other. Peeling them away and releasing them. Uncovering and releasing what no longer serves you. When you strip back the layers, your authentic and true self will shine through.
The work in Step 2 focuses on:
Reflecting on what you are attracting into your life. I’ll let you into a little secret… It tells you everything you need to know about your inner world. What you believe to be true and the stories you tell yourself (and others).
Through this process you will also become more aware of the words you use and the impact those have on you; consciously and subconsciously.
Once you have uncovered the beliefs, generational patterns and conditioning you have experienced over the years, we release all that no longer serves you. I take you through a super powerful releasing ritual to let it all go.
STEP 3: RECONNECT to who you REALLY are, your Authentic and True Self, and what you are here to do.
In Step 3 we:
Triggers: What triggers you to NOT be your authentic self at work? What knocks you off balance and into ‘hiding behind your mask’? When you know what these triggers are, ask yourself “what is REALLY going on here?” This will help you to become aware of your layers and to release the emotion and story you have attached to it.
Boundaries: Set boundaries of what you will and won’t talk about at work.
Presence: Stay present as often as you can – that will naturally mean you are being authentic and real.
If I asked you to be authentic right now, you would show up wearing a mask; a censored version of yourself. A version of yourself that you have honed over the years to fit in and be accepted.
The most liberating moment I have ever experienced is when I remembered I haven’t always worn a mask and I made the decision to take it off. You can make that decision too.
To be authentic is to know who you really are and to express yourself fully in any given moment. To bring ALL of who you are to work, and to your life.
When you take off the masks you wear, you show up as the real and authentic you in all areas of your life.
And that is where the magic happens.
Peace, happiness, connection – it is all there waiting for you. Trust me.