Icehouse coach Paul King provides a fascinating insight into the psychology of authenticity in our work and why we should be more relaxed about it. This article first appeared on Paul’s LinkedIn page.
The famous Mexican folk hero and revolutionary Pancho Villa is reported to have died saying, “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something”.
There are two points in this that strike me:
1. That if you want to be ‘someone’ you need to manage the PR of your legacy
2. No matter how much of a ‘someone’ you are, you’ll still be on a list of ‘someones’
We are all aware of our existential anxiety, in its most basic form it is a fear of death but and not having mattered ‘enough’. Even if we try to convince ourselves that death is not such a big deal then our dealings in the world reveal that ‘mattering’ is. For most the toil is ‘for family’ and in others it’s work and success. For some it is fame.
Much has been made of ‘Authenticity’ in recent years. Indeed, there are courses and retreats and coaches and workshops and even manuals of corporate values that will tell you how to be authentic. Almost all of it is hogwash. Yet, in authenticity we can find a salve for the anxiety of our existence. The thing is to understand what authenticity ‘is’.
We are born into a history and live in society and traditions; our entanglement in them is inevitable and inescapable. No-one is born in a neutral place and then goes on to make choices as to what makes them, them. Our individuality is bound up in centuries of history, even millennia. Individuality, independence, and ‘freedom’ are constructs which occur within the situation in which we ‘are’. No matter how much the effort is put into our individuality, there are limits. We wear clothes even when it’s hot. The Hare Krishna devotee travels on the same bus as the businessperson and uses the same GPS as the US military that owns it. We own things, even priests.
So, what of all this and what am I suggesting?
I have written previously about anxiety being creative when handled correctly and here again I suggest that listening to our anxiety and acting upon it is a good and healthy way in which we can become happier and live a more authentic life.
OK, this sounds odd but by anxiety I mean that healthy middle ground between the damaging extremes of complacency and panic. Anxiety tells us something needs attention and until it has some kind of attention, the anxiety persists. Ignoring it is about as effective as hiding under the covers and trying to sleep when we ‘hear something’ in the night.
A large part of our existential anxiety is resisting authenticity.
Recognising the pull of authenticity and being comfortable with it, being able to extent that into our experience of others doing likewise is difficult but is explained in understanding that it’s actually little things and certainly nothing to do with corporate or family imperatives.
For instance, lunch breaks. There may be a kitchen or a canteen or somewhere ‘to go’, maybe a corner of a park or something. Maybe you feel (an anxiety) that you should conform to having your lunch there because it would look odd if you didn’t. Perhaps you’re pulled toward going and looking at some flowers, or the sea or not going anywhere much; maybe you just want to sit somewhere on your own. There is authenticity – do that and decide to be comfortable with it. Do it or something different again when you feel likewise.
The sky won’t fall in and your head won’t fall off. If it’s going off into the park and looking at the flowers, great – you don’t have to go rolling around in them naked to assert your individuality – that stretches the limits of our place in the world in which we are entangled, too far. Paying attention to our small impulses that we do or don’t want to be or behave in a certain way and increasingly to act on them while decreasingly worry about ‘how it might look’ is the road to authentic life, not grandiose gestures or statements of difference which will cause greater anxiety in wondering if it’s actually ‘OK’.
The most important part of all this is understanding that it’s fine to accept one’s situation now, to want it to be better - whatever that means, and to move toward a better place while allowing for the snakes and ladders that life is. In doing so, allowing for our situation, listening for our impulses (so long as they’re not damaging) and allowing them as far as feels comfortable is where authenticity is found. Trying to live up to a badge or label might be part of the strife of the improvement we would like, but allow the small bit of give to yourself, for yourself. Don’t live life too much in the mode of what’s expected or what might impress. Also, allow others doing likewise to do likewise.
We might feel that we are willing to make great sacrifices and strive to win at all costs. might want to burn all around us and be triumphant. We might think that wealth and fame is all and everything. OK… but just remember that if you do become a millionaire or win a world championship, you will be on a list of other millionaires and world champions and every day that list is getting longer, and your exploits are getting diluted.
Whatever you decide, don’t be like Pancho Villa and be famous for not having said something.
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