One of the most consistent themes in recent years has been the search for authenticity – the rejection of fake values and identities in both business and as ourselves as people. Rather than copycat our role models, we aim to recognise we are different people to start with while using their achievements for inspiration. We aim to celebrate our uniqueness, as it is that authenticity that can sell in business and, we are learning, carries with it a greater hope of happiness.
While being our true authentic selves sounds wonderful, life has a way of zapping the authenticity out of us. And that applies in business too. We might still be able to conjure up a unique business idea, and act out a unique business persona but in the end, but overtime the maintenance of this falseness grinds us down till we lose our way.
Authenticity is not to be confused with complete consistency. We will re-act in different ways in different situations. There will be people we allow to see our vulnerable sides, and others we present a more external part of ourselves. Nor is being authentic ever an excuse for inappropriate behaviour.
We hold many more roles in today’s more fluid society, holding different jobs, living in different cultures. We are no longer fixed as Mr Brown, the Bank Manager, father of two and Captain of the cricket club. Throughout the different roles, our principles should be true to our core values to retain authenticity.
It is harder than it sounds. Searching for it too hard can lead to confusion and overwhelm. Author and stress specialist, Mark Newey describes authenticity as “ being you and is the only way not only to be happy but to become Self Empowered to lead your own life as you want and to easily and effortlessly influence those around you.” He offers seminars to help, and believes that we should regularly assess our core values, whittling them down to just three and then doing a health check to see if we are living each part of our lives in line with these core values. For example, someone who is passionate about the planet is hardly going to find happiness selling plastic bottled water.
Another popular test is to go back to your childhood and remind yourself of your dreams and ambitions before various things in life threw you off course. See if those dreams still stir your blood and if they are worth reviving. Also try listing out moments in your life when you have been so totally engrossed in what you are doing as to be oblivious to everything around you. That is the state of F.L.O.W, which produces both happiness and peak performance.
Neil Pasricha of the Institute of Global Happiness, argues that just being our authentic selves is the greatest achievement we can attain and feels this changes throughout our lives. Instead, we should look at what we do on a free Saturday morning because it is when we are given that freedom, that our true passions emerge, be it playing football, playing music, or something more extreme. He argues that our true selves will be drawn to these without the pressures of anything else going on around us, and therefore it is these things that we should optimise and do more of, to add more happiness to our daily grind.
Pasricha calls his second test the bench test. He says that we are intent on asking questions to mentally match ourselves to groups of people or colleges or work places, by a tick box selection of questions and answers. Instead, we should try and organise an opportunity to just be in that place and listen to what is going on around us. Those conversations will tell us if we fit with the culture or not. The test is derived from a real life friend of his who did exactly this, sitting on a bench in several college campuses listening to the other students, to assess where he naturally fitted in. He didn’t allow the college prospectuses, or the experts or anyone else’s ideas to interfere with his gut reaction. An office tour, Pasricha argues, should tell you more about the place than your interviewer from simply observing the people, the walls, the conversations and interactions. From there, you learn your gut reaction to see if you feel you can be your natural self there.
His third test is based on the company of the people you keep. He references scientific proof that we reflect the people we spend time with, to the point that if they gain weight so do we. In the same way, if we spend time with happy people, we become happier. We are, as author James Altucher argued, The Power of Five – the average of the five people closest to you. So if you look at the five people closest to you and assess what their averages are, on happiness, on leadership, on positivity, on personal resilience, you will get a picture of your authentic self. Perhaps this is why our closest five tend to change a little as we go through life, depending on the degrees to which we ourselves are achieving our authenticity.
Remember Oscar Wilde ? “Be yourself” he said “Everyone else is taken”.