When you have three meetings in a day and in each of them the same word comes up, you take notice.
That word was authenticity.
I like Miriam Webster’s definition of authentic:
true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character
It doesn’t surprise me at all that each of these meetings were with women.
I don’t think being authentic is something men worry about. I could be wrong as I’m not a man, but I know women of my generation were told, subtly or not, that to succeed in the workplace we had to be more like men – dress more like them, don’t be emotional, etc. One of the women I talked to told me she was advised to dye her naturally blonde hair darker to avoid looking like “Barbie”, the implication being no man would take her seriously. Can you imagine? She went darker but now that she owns her own business she proudly displays her beautiful blonde mane.
In her book Leaning In, Sheryl Sandberg, points out that success in the traditional workplace was often contingent upon a woman not speaking out but fitting in. We often compromised our goals for our spouses and children, sometimes willingly to be a stay-at-home mom, other times to avoid conflict because, as Sandberg notes,women are discouraged from advocating for themselves.
The point is many women my age have been socialized to play a role because being ourselves wasn’t good enough. When you get to the mid-century mark though, have raised your kids and accumulated enough life experience and time is closing in on you, you get real. Suddenly, you have no patience for all the bull, the drama or squandering time working towards someone else’s dream while yours withers. I think that is why so many women (of my generation) are building their own businesses, because we’ve been told (subtly and not-so-subtly) that to succeed we can’t be ourselves. I spent decades thinking something was wrong with me so I tried to “fix” myself. Denying my true nature made for some very difficult, unhappy, unfulfilling years. Once I accepted myself, aligned with my strengths and values, a peaceful calm took over me. As a business owner I get to be who I want to be.
For me, being authentic has been a discovery process. I made certain assumptions about myself. Since I started my entrepreneurial adventure and realized the only person’s expectations I had to live up to were my own, I’ve surprised myself. Having suppressed or tried to change my true nature for so long , I’ve learned that I’m not exactly who I thought I was. This was inevitable but it’s been eye-opening.
For instance, I learned that I’m a lot more social than I thought. And I have a deep desire to take what I’ve learned and help others achieve their dreams. Of course there were hints here and there but I was too worried about getting approval and trying to “fit” in or do things the way the “experts” instructed that these gifts didn’t have the space to shine. Now that I’ve come to accept and, dare I say love and honor, my unique qualities, they’re bubbling up to the surface.
Building a business is tough. There is a lot to learn, challenges to overcome and fears to face but the reward for your perseverance is your own little universe where you write the rules according to your values and get to express your talents.
That, my friend, is living an authentic life.