Why does the term “live authentically” seem like it’s been popping up everywhere these days?
In fact, if you just Google it, only 2.47 Million results appear ( if you can’t tell, I’m dripping with sarcasm).
But, why do we all have this urge to “live an authentic life” in the first place?
Well first, let’s take a step back. What does “living authentically” actually mean? According to a quick Google search:
Even more simply put, living authentically:
“…IS ABOUT BEING WHO YOU ACTUALLY ARE”
While that sounds nice (and can make for a fancy facebook post–I know you’ve seen them) it’s actually a lot harder to achieve in real life than one might think. And, it turns out that if we thought it was difficult to be ourselves around our friends and family, it feels near impossible to do be our real, authentic selves in our careers.
Especially in the beginning. I mean, why do you think that a whole style of “behavioral style interviewing” has popped up so that companies feel like they need to extract the truth from us…just to find out if we’re a “fit” or not? Worse yet, why do we feel like we need to play the part of a different person just to get that job in the first place?
Then, when we finally get hired, we’re surprised–and now expected to be this person that we were during the interview process (hint: definitely not “living authentically”).
Talk about a recipe for unhappiness!
SO, WHY IS IT SO DAMN HARD TO BE OUR TRUE SELVES AT ALL TIMES?
Well ultimately, it comes down to fear.
Since most of us feel like we have to behave like one person when we’re at work, and a difference person when we’re, that in itself creates a social expectation. if you want to be yourself at all times, you’re bucking the trend.
Because, in our world today it’s not “normal” to be get paid be who you are, using your true strengths instead of just the skills you’ve picked up in various roles along the way.
But, you want to know the weirdest part? By resisting being your most authentic self at all times because of fear, we are ensuring that we stay unhappy by default.
JENNY’S STORY: FINDING A ROLE THAT USES HER GIFTS–NOT JUST FULFILLS EXPECTATIONS
It’s been on my new year’s wish list for about three years to find a new job. It’s taken a while. I’ll be transitioning into a new role helping to develop a science and sustainability program at a university near where I live.Jenny
Jenny has had no shortage of accomplishments in her life. With a Stanford BA, a science PhD, and a successful track record in several different fields, Jenny is a highly intelligent, rapid learner (not to mention an amazing mother of 2 kids!) and basically, an all around a rockstar. But, three years ago Jenny came to the conclusion that her role as a research scientist wasn’t a great fit. She knew something had to change.
She started slowly (very slowly) on a journey that would ultimately completely change her life–and in the end align her career with who she was as a person.
There was only one problem: During the first 18 months of Jenny’s job search, she found that she was moving so slowly, she was actually stuck.
That’s because Jenny was making her decisions based on fear and what other people might think, instead of what she knew was right for her.
You can listen to Jenny’s entire story, and hear exactly how she began to believe she really could create a new career identity for herself based on the things she couldn’t stop doing.
I didn’t want to let down my family, which is full of scientists and academics, my advisor, my professors, my peers, other women in science, particularly I felt like I needed to live up to the expectations to fulfill the investment I and they have made in this research track.
It was in that exact moment of considering the many people involved in her current career path that Jenny realized she wasn’t going to make the change she need to make alone. In Jenny’s search, she stumbled upon the Happen to Your Career podcast, ultimately enrolling in our Career Change Bootcamp program.
When we first started to work with Jenny, we helped her to identify what her “gifts” were. Essentially, Jenny had to figure out what were the areas she naturally gravitated to, but maybe didn’t value or couldn’t use fully in her current role.
During that process, Jenny realized that the “people” side of the equation (i.e. how she related to others, built relationships with others or worked through the complexities that people bring) was where she flourished. But, this was the exact opposite side of the table from where she spent most of her time at work. Science roles really do often fit the stereotype of solitary data crunching, analyzing, and writing.
This was a huge insight for me, in my science role in my home agency I was not rewarded in the metrics of contributing to complex problem solving efforts. I’m rewarded for the number of scientific papers I publish in journals on scientific results. The more I got involved in the people side of the equation and the relationships and collaboration the less time I was investing in completing and writing up and publishing results.
This insight led Jenny to realize that her ideal role would be somewhere that allowed her to use her love of science and experience in the field, but at an organization that specifically valued and highlighted her ability to work with well with a wide variety of people and problems.
BUT, HOW COULD JENNY TRANSLATE HER GIFTS INTO A CAREER THAT FIT HER VALUES?
The good news: Since Jenny hadn’t been getting rewarded for her strengths in her day job, she had been searching for other ways to fulfill her passions.
So, Jenny began volunteering occasionally for organizations and events such as the local museums, schools, and universities’ children’s science programs. Through that process, she identified that places that had the intersection of people AND science could be a fit for her.
She began to strategically put herself out there in small but genuine ways, using her natural gifts – getting reinforcement and positive feedback.
This allowed Jenny to prove to herself that her strengths really could be useful in a different role –rather than somewhat of a liability as she had been led to believe in past roles. Also, her volunteering experience allowed her get to know people in key positions within several organizations she was interested in.
As she began having success connecting with people who had the authority to hire her (or even create a position for her!), Jenny ran into an issue. She began to worry about her supervisor and coworkers finding out from someone else that she was looking. And questioning or outright criticizing her desire to transition from an excellent research job that she “should” appreciate and perform well in.
Since Jenny was unwilling to allow this to happen, this new fear nearly brought her journey to a standstill once again.
WHAT IF YOUR BOSS COULD SUPPORT YOU DURING YOUR CAREER CHANGE?
The first time I pitched her the idea that her boss could help her through this process, instead of prevent it Jenny flat out told me, it wasn’t going to happen. She was terrified!
Eventually though, she warmed up to the idea–especially when a role opened up that she thought might be an amazing fit…and she felt like she had no other options than to be clear about her goals.
So, we coached her through the process of exactly how to have a conversation with her boss so that he would not just understand her situation, but actively be willing to support her in making this change.
This courageous and genuine discussion with her supervisor ultimately enabled her to get his endorsement on changing jobs outside the organization–even if it was almost 9 months before it actually happened.
With another barrier lifted, it became easier for her to put more energy and effort into finding a career that matched her gifts and values.
JUST WHEN YOU START TO GAIN MOMENTUM…THAT’S WHERE IT REALLY GETS HARD
Now that Jenny was much more confident in what she wanted for her career, she knew what she needed to do in order to pursue the role that she wanted. This ultimately made it possible to recognize a great opportunity for her when she saw it,…but she wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Jenny did amazing work connecting with colleagues whose roles in science outreach and education intrigued her, at a University she was interested in. Eventually she secured an interview for a position that sounded like it would play to many of her strengths. But, Jenny decided that didn’t want to go through the entire interview process only to accept a job that still might not be a great fit.
This realization meant that Jenny had to get hired for who she was, not someone she thought she “should be” during the interview process.
She began working with Lisa Lewis, a coach on our team, to practice interviewing authentically. It was important for Jenny to show potential employers exactly who she really was as a person AND cause them to want her even more. With Lisa’s encouragement, Jenny finally gained the confidence that highlighting her true personality and values during interviews would be more effective than trying to present herself as an ideal, but not fully “real”, candidate.
Jenny ended up getting the job offer.
It wasn’t a perfect offer though.
HOW TO MODIFY YOUR JOB OFFER TO REFLECT WHAT YOU REALLY WANT
Most people don’t realize that it’s not just about having the perfect negotiation conversation and “saying the right things” at the right time to get the offer you really want.
Instead, it was all of the work Jenny had done clarifying what she truly wanted, building authentic relationships, and preparing for the interview in an honest way that enabled her to be in a prime position to ask for something quite a bit different than what the initial offer.
By the way: I’ve had many people tell me that when you work at a University there’s no room for negotiation or it’s “impossible” to get exceptions made for you. We’ve found that’s not the case–instead those people just don’t know how to do it any differently and end up accepting that reality for themselves.
As you know, Jenny didn’t accept their offer at face value. Even though it was outside her comfort zone, she pushed herself to have multiple conversations to ensure she was getting what was most important to her. Again, she was amazed at how right HTYC turned out to be: asking for what you want and need can lead to actually getting it!
In the end, Jenny happily accepted a revised offer with greater flexibility in the schedule,increased compensation, and a start date delayed by 2 months to allow a smooth transition from her previous job and also a very important family vacation overseas!
After what was nearly a 3 year journey, Jenny had some advice for you if you’re getting ready to make a career change:
Trust your own instincts on what feels like a good fit for you and try not to stay too attached to that investment and identity that doesn’t feel like a good fit any longer. People do change and evolve and I keep reminding myself that new phases of our identities is what keeps life interesting.We can make a bigger difference in the world for the better if we allow those changes to happen rather than fighting them.
Ready for Career Happiness?
What Career Fits You?
Finally figure out what you should be doing for work
Join our 8-day “Mini-Course” to figure it out. It’s free!
April 17, 2017
174: Add Value, Grow Your Career with Michael Bigelow
IT’S ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT THE LIKABILITY AND CONNECTION CERTAINLY DO HELP. BUT IT’S ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT I REALLY DO FEEL THAT IT’S BOTH WHO YOU KNOW AND HOW YOU’RE CONNECTED TO THEM, AS WELL AS WHAT YOU KNOW. MICHAEL BIGELOW Whether you’re looking to make a lateral job transition to a […]
January 21, 2019
267: 3 Creative and Strategic Ways to Show Your Strengths to Interviewers
Everywhere you look these days, you can find articles sharing why focusing on your strengths is more valuable than improving your weaknesses. Using your signature strengths in your role means you can be energized instead of drained, engaged instead of bored, and successful instead of struggling. When it comes down to it, working in your […]