Be True to You
It’s easy to feel like you need to create a fake work persona — a contrived professional version of yourself. Not so. While letting your guard down can feel terrifying, it can help propel your career. When you feel comfortable in your own skin, you make stronger choices — choices your “professional” self might be afraid to make.
The secret to success is simple: Be yourself (the very same advice your mama gave you). Here’s a six-step timeline to unleashing your authentic self at work. Bold moves ahead.
Right Now: Invite a Coworker Out for Coffee
Go on, send an email to the new hire or even the colleague you envy. When you dare to put yourself out there with those you don’t know well, you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
You might make a new alliance at work. Or a new friend. And if it’s someone you tend to compare yourself to, getting to know that person may put an end to the jealousy, says Paula Coogan, life coach and author of The Secret to Quarter Life Happiness. Learning more about a person we’re fascinated by often erases the envy because we get to see her up close, warts and all. And if you’re a bit shy or an introvert? Have a trusted friend join you on the coffee date so you have support.
This Afternoon: Say What’s on Your Mind
Think the tone of that email your boss drafted to your client is too formal when you feel a more casual approach will better resonate? When staying mum could risk losing that customer for your company, it’s time to speak up.
Dare to speak up and spill what’s on your mind just once today. You’re probably saying something smart and risky that’s been on colleagues’ minds too. “Share your own emotions, wants, and needs,” says Asha Goldstein, LCSW. “Authenticity has a lot to do with making ‘I-statements,’ acknowledging core emotions like sadness, fear, and anger, and taking the risk of asking for what you want while being willing to hear no.”
Today: Steer Clear of the Gossip Mill
Joining in on water cooler chatter is about as far away from being authentic to yourself as you get. That’s because gossip mongering isn’t about bonding with coworkers. It’s actually a way to subvert your individuality — and hold you back from rising above the crowd. A recent University of Amsterdam study found that “gossip is a powerful tool to control self-serving behavior in groups. Indeed, the grapevine keeps group members in line.”
While researchers found that gossip’s role of keeping a group intact could be a positive one, it could also hurt your career. When you want that promotion, being just another member of the pack isn’t where you want to be.
This Month: Suck Up to Higher-Ups
When you’re more authentic on the job, you’ll find you no longer feel ashamed for doing things you may have avoided in the past because you feared judgment. Like defending your bosses, for example, instead of complaining about them with peers. According to Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and the author of Daring Greatly!, “brownnosing” often gets a bad rap, like acting engaged with your managers “is almost seen as uncool.”
Ignore what others think and dare to go all in with your superiors. In fact, brag about your accomplishments and don’t hold back.
This Year: Make Yourself Vulnerable
Shake things up on the job by taking a riskier approach to one big project this year. “Your ability to be wildly creative and successful is intricately tied to your willingness to be real and vulnerable,” says Goldstein. When you have the courage to take on a challenge that could result in a less-than-perfect outcome, even the missteps can be good because you’ll learn from them and show higher-ups you’re ambitious.
Not sure you’re ready to try something new or untested on a critical work project? Then initiate one new, surprising (but low-stakes) element to see whether the change is productive. Arrange one meeting a month to take place at a coffee bar (instead of the conference room) to mix things up, for example. You may just find the new environs inspire your staff in ways you hadn’t even imagined.
Whenever: Fall on Your Face and Laugh About It
When was the last time you tried something new? Go sign up for that Bikram yoga class or ice-skating lesson. Bumbling through something new will help you loosen up so you can see slip-ups in a whole new light. Then apply your newfound appreciation of mistakes to your job with a more cavalier attitude toward taking risks.
“Recognize that many positive things can be learned only by making mistakes,” says Coogan. “When you make an error, ask, ‘What can I learn from this experience?’ and don’t get consumed by the fear and anxiety of doing everything perfectly.”