Am I Showing Too Much Skin?
Being yourself can be scary as hell. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to make sure my hair was perfectly average, my clothes let me go unnoticed, and my decisions made everyone else around me comfortable. That’s for a lot of reasons, but there’s one big one: safety. I feared that if people saw who I truly was, they wouldn’t like me as much or (gasp), that they might not like me at all.
Please don’t take my spot.
I thought I’d made a lot of progress over the last couple of years with my messy mop, skull t-shirts and motorcycle boots, until I heard Kelli McMullen, an amazing spirit and yoga instructor at Bent Yoga in Brighton, Michigan, implore me to give more of myself to the world. I still remember the exact words she said in class that day, “Let yourself show outside your skin.”
Her perspective was breathtaking, and it was much deeper than I’d gone before in my journey to embrace authenticity.
Breathe through it.
If you’re wondering what being authentic feels like, in her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown describes vulnerability as sounding like truth and feeling like courage. “Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable but they’re never weakness.” She suggests that showing up every day in our truth is the most direct path to courage, engagement and meaningful connection. I hope you recognize these words as clearly as I do. These are the words of employee surveys, my friends.
My new yoga friend Kelli put it this way, "We have to ask ourselves, do we want live a life of quality or do we want to wear a mask? If it’s a life of masks, be ready to make a trip to one of those Halloween stores, because you’ll need a different one depending on who you’re around.” Oh yes! Put another way, if we’re consumed with making everyone else around us comfortable, we are seemingly giving up the very best parts of ourselves.
I know there are some of you out there rolling your eyes, thinking this is some weird hippie shit. But, authenticity is serious stuff. If your employees are pushing themselves to be more vulnerable, to push beyond what’s easy or comfortable, they’ll connect in more meaningful ways, build trust, take greater risks, and deliver their best work. This is when innovation happens and that translates into organizational success.
But it’s tough for employees to feel safe enough to let more of themselves show. As Kelli said, “Speaking your truth can be at the risk of disappointing someone else.”
I mean, it’s great in yoga class, but it’s easy to see why it’s safer to just stick to the same tired ideas. Fewer concerns, fewer judgements, fewer explanations. And, then, welcome to the safety net of groupthink.
Not everyone is special.
Unfortunately, when authenticity and conflict are resented or squashed, it costs the best thinking of those you employ, and therefore, the future of your company. If businesses are to succeed and carve out their own space in the world, leaders have to do to more than accept diversity of thought and of being. They have to promote it, not only because it creates greater freedom and satisfaction in their employees’ personal lives, because it enriches the organization as well.
See, it isn’t just about being authentic, it’s about translating authenticity into competitive advantage. But, the advantage starts with leaders, and it can end there, too. If you’re ready to emerge in business and in your personal life, ask yourself if you’re showing enough skin. Have you shown others how you’re different. Because only then, can your organization be too. Translation: your company can’t be special if you aren’t.
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