Authentic vs. Acting

Bronnie Ware, an Australian hospice nurse, has released her report from discussions with patients at the end of their lives, regarding what regrets they have or things they would like to have done differently in their lives. In the past, the #1 response has been, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” We’ve all heard that, and now that powerful answer is the #2 response.

This year the #1 response was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, and not the life expected of me by others.”

Authenticity is being true to ourselves. It is making sure our actions genuinely reflect and honor both our values and our life goals. Bosses, teammates and others may be telling us what we should do. We value authenticity, and we are being asked to ‘act’ a certain way, oftentimes for their benefit. We are encouraged to mask feelings, smile through it, grin and bear it, and not let them see us sweat. Have we ever heard (or said) one of these phrases?

“Oh, get over it.”

“Fake it till you make it.”

“Just tell the boss what he wants to hear.”

“I have to do this.”

“I was told I’m being too direct.”

“Pretend you like the customer more than you do.”

“Spin it this way.”

“Look, my boss says I need to be more direct.”

“I don’t know! I was just told to be more friendly.”

“So, I am supposed to act like everything is ok?”

“I guess I’m supposed to get a better attitude!”

“Oh, I’m fine!”

“Just get along with them, they are important to us.”

These comments cause conflict within us. Why can’t we be honest? Authentic? Truthful? We are being told to act in non-authentic ways by those who may benefit from our acting statements. We hear – “Act enthusiastic with a client” and yet we don’t feel passionate – perhaps it has been a miserable day. We don’t feel enthusiastic, and yet if we don’t “act” a certain way, we won’t get promoted, or that raise we want. We won’t get that big sale, receive special favors, make the big bonus, or my boss won’t like me.

With all this ‘acting,’ are we still authentic?
I have struggled with ‘authenticity vs. acting’ over the years, as I sensed at times I was being challenged to act a certain way, and it went against my values. It was difficult for me to speak up, or to make sales calls on people I didn’t think trustworthy. People with authority sometimes directed me act or manipulate information in a certain way.

The Preacher Man

Several years ago, I interviewed numerous leaders for my book The CORE of Leadership ® and I posed this authenticity vs. acting question to a senior pastor of a very large, rapidly growing, successful church. His response gave me the perspective I needed to respond to this dilemma. He said, “Jim, there are many times I stand in front of a congregation, who are all looking for my message of grace, love, and hope. And frankly at times, I have so many things going on my life that I don’t feel any of those things. Sometimes my inner feelings are of anger and hurt. Or I have feelings of being manipulated, disrespected and embarrassed – the feelings we all have at times. As I look at people’s faces on Sunday morning, I know I can act a certain way about my inner feelings, but that would be selfish – focused on me and my problems, my pain and my perspectives. That isn’t what I signed up for. I lean into my values of authenticity to be more responsible to something greater than me – my faith. Then I am being authentic to a higher purpose; a purpose to assist me through my problems, and those issues are best solved through helping others with their problems. My problems and inner feelings don’t always go away, but I choose to act according to my authentically higher purpose.”

If we have a bad conversation with our boss before seeing our favorite customer, we can crawl into the gutter and choose to gossip and complain. In thinking we are buddies, we let them know our feelings of what a jerk our boss and organization are and tell everyone we know – “I’ve been done wrong!” Or we can communicate with enthusiasm for our product and service, because we are being authentic to our company, teammates, and family goals.

We can communicate through our higher purpose of recognizing patient care needs, supporting the research department in building new patient care products, and taking higher purpose authentic actions through supporting HR and legal teams making us safe to conduct future business appropriately.

We can be honest and act directly, rude or more pleasant than we feel, and that is both authentic to ourselves and it’s also being selfish. Sometimes we just play hurt – for a greater purpose than ourselves. Getting past our own concerns of ‘acting’ and being ‘authentic’ to a higher purpose, that’s not selfish, that’s self-less.

Ego Down; Success and Happiness Up!


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