Archive for May 2013

The Power of Authenticity

Stock pictures of a rulerMay 30, 2013

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

I was recently talking to my counselor Eleanor, asking her for some guidance on both an important meeting I had coming up and on the approach I was taking in some writing I was planning.  She said to me, “Mike, get out of your head and into your heart.  Remember, the truth can’t be rehearsed.”

Her feedback was spot on and had me pause and reflect more deeply on my own relationship to the truth.   Authenticity, as you may know, is something that’s very important to me both personally and professionally.  Even though I’m comfortable admitting that authenticity is something I find challenging at times, which is one of the reasons why I chose to write a book about it and enjoy speaking about it (I’m a big believer in the principle of “we teach best what we most need to learn,”) as I started to look at this more honestly in my own life, I realized that it’s one thing for me to talk and write about authenticity, and it’s a whole other thing for me to actually be authentic in the moment with myself, the people around me, and in the most important situations in my life.

I often ask the question, “What does it actually mean to be authentic?”  The answer to this question varies quite a bit depending on who I’m talking to and continues to evolve for me personally.  In the past few months I’ve had some deeper insight into what authenticity truly means.  I now see it on a continuum.  I spoke about this specifically and shared some personal stories in the recent TEDx talk that I gave on The Power of Authenticity (click here to view the video of this talk).

The three main elements on this continuum are: phony, honest, and authentic.

Phony

On one side of the continuum is what I’ll call “phony.”  We all know what this is like and we all have experience in life being phony (i.e. being inauthentic).   Most of the time it’s not malicious; we’re not trying to deceive people or lie in an overt or harmful way (although sometimes we are).  It usually has to do with withholding or massaging the truth, spinning things in a certain way, or doing or saying what we think we’re “supposed” to in order to look good, get what we what, or simply not cause a problem.   While this can sometimes be benign, operating from this place of phoniness is stressful, it’s not conducive to building trust with others, and it isn’t sustainable or healthy for us on many levels.

Honest

As we move along the continuum, we get to the midpoint which is what I’ll call “honest.”  Honest is much better than phony as we’ve been told from the time we were kids.  “Honesty is the best policy,” as the saying goes.  However, as we’ve each learned, there are some cases in which honesty is NOT the best policy – at least not in terms of feeling good, avoiding conflict, and getting what we want.  Honesty can be a little tricky because we’ve all had experiences in life when we’ve been honest, but in doing so, we’ve created a problem, hurt someone’s feelings, or made a bigger issue out of something than needed to be made.  We’ve been honest at times and it’s been bad for us, made us look bad, it’s been controversial, and more.  Due to these negative experiences and consequences we’ve had in the past, we sometimes shy away from honesty.

Another challenging aspect of honesty is that oftentimes we say we’re just “being honest” when really we’re being right and/or judgmental.   It’s our righteousness and judgments that create separation between us and other people, not the actual honesty.  We justify our righteousness with “honesty,” which is often a smokescreen for making other people wrong and/or feeling as though we’re superior to them.

Due to the complexities and difficulties with honesty, we spend a lot of time in life oscillating between phony and honest – wanting to mostly be honest, but to do so in a politically correct way, or at least in a way that’s not too offensive, problematic, doesn’t create problems for us or other people, and gets us what we want.  However, there’s not a lot of freedom in these two aspects of this continuum.  The true freedom lies beyond honesty.

Authentic

Authenticity is on the opposite side of the continuum from phony.  It’s absolutely honest, but minus the righteousness and plus vulnerability.  It’s the vulnerability aspect of authenticity that’s both liberating and challenging.  It’s scary for a lot of us, myself included, to be vulnerable – especially at certain times, with specific people, and in particular situations.  We’ve been taught and trained not to make ourselves vulnerable.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be vulnerable in the past and people have hurt our feelings, they’ve manipulated us, and they’ve used things against us.  Based on these types of experiences (and our fears of these or other “bad” things happening), we have a tendency to protect ourselves from vulnerability.

It’s our ability to embrace vulnerability which allows us to experience true authenticity, and thus true freedom and power in life.  I’m a big fan of the work of Brene Brown, author of the best-selling book Daring Greatly and professor at the University of Houston.  She has given a few very successful TED talks on vulnerability which you may have seen.  Brene is a behavioral psychology researcher who has studied vulnerability, shame, and fear for over a decade.   What she has found in her research is that vulnerability liberates us from our erroneous and insatiable obsession with perfection – thinking we have to be perfect and can’t make mistakes, have flaws, or be human.  In other words, being vulnerable allows us to let go of the pressure-filled, stress-inducing, perfection demands we place on ourselves.  Vulnerability is also the fundamental element of building trust and connection with other human beings.  Our ability (or inability) to be vulnerable is directly connected with our ability (or inability) to be authentic.

Authenticity is what gives us freedom to be ourselves and be comfortable with who we are, and it’s also what gives us access to connecting with other people in a meaningful and genuine way.  This is true power of authenticity and when we embrace it, even though it can be uncomfortable and scary at times, we give ourselves and those around us one of the most important gifts of all – the real us.  There is no destination called authentic.  Authenticity is a courageous process and a way of being, not a possession or an accomplishment.  As the famous saying goes, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”  The same could be said about authenticity.

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Are You Threatened By Other People’s Success?

Business Team LeaderMay 16, 2013

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

How do you feel when you see or hear about the success of others?  While it may depend on who it is, what they’ve accomplished, and how you’re feeling about your own life at the time – if you’re anything like me, you may have some mixed emotions.  I often find myself excited and inspired by the success of others, especially the people closest to me.  However, at the same time, I sometimes notice it can bring up feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and inferiority as well – especially when someone accomplishes or experiences something I personally want and/or worry that I can’t or won’t.

While this isn’t a new phenomenon or awareness for me and it’s not something I’m all that proud of, I’ve recently been taking a deeper and more honest look at it; seeing how it negatively impacts my life, my work, and my relationships.  It’s definitely something I’m ready to change, although I find it difficult to work through at the same time.

Growing up as a competitive athlete, I got lots of early experience and training about how to compete against others and try to beat them.  This wasn’t just about the other team, often the biggest and most intense competition was internal – with my friends and fellow teammates.  Whether it was in baseball, in school, or other areas of life, I often found myself directly or indirectly competing in a pretty intense way with those around me.

Although I’ve outgrown certain aspects of my childhood and adolescent comparison tendencies and it’s been over fifteen years since I played baseball competitively, I still find myself threatened by the success of others at times – as if we’re competing against one another or that their success takes something away from me, which in just about every case, it doesn’t.

Increased cultural obsession with comparison

While our cultural obsession with comparison and competition isn’t something new, it seems to have intensified in the past few years with the explosion of social media and how we share photos, highlights, achievements, adventures, milestones, and more with one another in such a public and prominent way.  I personally enjoy being able to celebrate in the exciting stuff happening in other people’s lives online and being able to share some of my own “good stuff” with others as well. At the same time, it can be a bit of a double edged sword, as depending on how I’m feeling about myself, my work, my body, my appearance, my relationships, my family, my future, my health, or anything else important at any given time, I can get easily “triggered” by the success of other people and end up feeling bad about myself and my life in relation to them.

On the flip side, I’ve also noticed at times when something goes really well in my life, while it may seem as though I’m simply excited about and grateful for the success, which I usually am, I also have a tendency, especially with certain people, to brag about it or to feel a sense of superiority, as if I’m somehow “better than” them.  This one is even harder to admit and confront.  And while it may seem like the opposite of insecurity, it’s actually just the opposite side of the same coin.  Heads we feel superior (better than) tails we feel inferior (less than).  Both sides of this coin are detrimental to our growth, our success, and ultimately our sense of peace, fulfillment, and joy in life.  This is a negative ego trap – and there are no true “winners” in this game.

Stopping the comparison game

What if we stopped the comparison game all together?  What if the success of others had nothing to do with us and our own success had nothing to do with anyone else?  What if we didn’t spend and waste so much of our precious time competing with the people around us (overtly or covertly) and focusing on how we “measure up” to them?

I’ve had glimpses of this in my own life at various times – although not as often as I’d like.  My own default position and a lot of the cultural training and reinforcement we get falls into the paradigm of competition/comparison.

Here are a few things to think about and practice, to step off this negative game board, and step more into your own authentic power:

1) Remember that it’s okay to feel jealous – Jealousy is one of a number of emotions we consider to be “bad.”  It’s not usually all that fun to feel or admit – it’s not sexy, cool, or exciting in the way that some other emotions are – like joy, gratitude, and love.  However, feeling jealous is part of the human experience.  There’s nothing wrong with us for feeling jealous at times, which we all do.  The biggest issue with jealousy, like with most “negative” emotions, is our denial of it.  When we pretend we don’t feel jealous (even though we actually do) it can have a negative impact on us in many ways.  As Carl Jung famously said, “What you resist persists.”  So the more we deny our feelings of jealousy, the more they end up running us.  When you notice yourself feeling jealous, admit it, feel it, and express it in some healthy and authentic way – in your journal, with a close friend, in a mediation or prayer, or just simply to yourself.  Your ability to honestly notice, feel, and express your own jealousy (or any emotion) is what gives you the power to move through it and transform its potentially negative impact, into a positive experience.

2) Look for the deeper message – When we get threatened by the success of others, there is usually a deeper message (or a number of messages) coming through that experience.  We tend to get focused on the person or accomplishment, and/or ourselves in relationship to them or it.  We tell stories in our head like, “Look at her, she always gets what she wants and it seems so easy for her – I’ll never be like that.”  Or, “Well, I know he makes a lot more money than I do, but he works so hard he’s never around for his kids.”  These types of “stories” (which are usually just damaging judgments of others or of ourselves), don’t serve us in any positive way and in fact keep us away from the deeper truth of what’s happening.  What if we looked beyond our reaction and beneath our judgment, and asked ourselves some deeper questions like, “What is it about this person’s success that has me feeling threatened?”  Or, “How can I learn from what I see in them or in what they’ve accomplished?”  Or, “What can I do to let go of my inferior (or superior) reaction to this, and more deeply trust and believe in myself and my own process?”  Asking deeper questions like this and looking for the deeper messages in our reactions to the success of others can lead us down a more real path of growth, discovery, and fulfillment.

3) Celebrate their success – A coach of mine recently said to me, “Mike, be careful about how harshly you judge other people and their paths to success.  The more judgmental you are about them and how they create their success, the more difficult you’ll make it for you to create the success you want, out of your own fear of being judged.”  Man, she hit the nail on the head with this feedback for me.  We tend to judge the success of others (and/or their process of creating success) as a smokescreen for not dealing with our own feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and/or inferiority.  What if instead of doing that (or anything else in a similarly negative, critical, or arrogant vain) we simply celebrated their success and rejoiced in it.  We often take personal offense to stuff that has nothing to do with us.  If we want something in life and someone close to us gets it, we could celebrate for them (knowing how exciting it can be when something good happens).  We could also rejoice in the fact that by being so close to people who are creating success in their lives (maybe even the same success we want) might actually be a positive sign and influence for us.  I know with certain things and certain people, this can be more challenging than others.  However, at the deepest level, when we live from a place of abundance (with the faith that there is more than enough to go around), we free ourselves from the constant stress, worry, fear, and pressure associated with living from that place of scarcity (as if their success somehow diminishes us).

Like most things in life, this is a choice.  How do you want to live?

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