Being authentic in a world of conformity.

When in new situations with people; such as a new job, meeting a significant other’s family, or joining a sports team, we tend to put effort into fitting in and being liked. Conformity can feel safe, easy, and harmonious so we confuse it with a sense of belonging. When we hide who we truly are, we deny the world of our unique contributions. Some people think of it as selfish for not sharing our personal gifts. And conformity plays a number on our own confidence and esteem. True belonging means we can wholly be ourselves, and feel accepted for it. We have a basic human need to be authentic, so that we can be understood. And not only is it important to be truthful to ourselves, it’s also beneficial to cultivate it in the relationships we have, and the groups we are part of. Only then can we make genuine connections. A healthy skepticism toward how a group performs together, can help identify who is going along with “the way we’ve always done things,” and may not be sharing their unique strengths. Try shaking things up and experiment with ‘who’ contributes ‘what’. For instance, if one friend always makes the plans for the group, we could ask to plan the next one, or ask to take turns, and do something different. Or, if we have trouble expressing who we are in a group, we could set up a situation for one-on-one conversation, where it may feel safer for each person to be authentic. Some adaptation and compromise may be required, but if the group is not receptive to allowing real contribution from everyone, then it’s time to rethink the group.

Take action: It can be easier to catch yourself being inauthentic than recognize being real. Take note if you go along with things you don’t believe in. Do you say you’re fine when you’re not? Do you stand up for others who are being treated unfairly because of who they truly are? Once you’re aware, you can start to make a difference.

Inspired by G. Shawn Hunter’s book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact.

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