Be True To You

Fifteen years ago, I interviewed for a job with the director of communications for a major company. One whole wall of his office was windows, looking out over the sprawling, perfectly-manicured corporate campus. The place was intimidating, swarming with serious people who small-talked about where they got their MBAs.

Mr. Director asked me a bunch of questions about my background in radio, about how I’d handle certain aspects of the job, about my work habits. I remember telling him I’d love to spend some of my thinking and writing time out on that sprawling lawn. He said I certainly could. Then he asked me what book I was in the middle of reading. My answer? James Van Praagh’s Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death.

He paused, his eyebrows furrowed as he stared at me, and then the corners of his mouth slowly upturned into a smile. Not sure if he thought my answer was good or totally ridiculous, I added, “I know most people probably tell you they’re reading a business book – but the answer I gave is the truth and it’s something I’m interested in.”

I got the job.

Mr. Director later told me he hired me because I didn’t have an MBA – but rather, because I had real world and real media perspective – and wasn’t afraid to be myself. And I wasn’t – for a while.

But over the next decade, I struggled to maintain that sense of self. A lot of days, it just felt easier to blend in with the crowd. By the time I left, my closet was full of black pantsuits (so not me). I had never once worked outside on the sprawling lawn. And my pastimes and interests had faded into the shadows of my life. It happened so slowly that it took years to notice.

I was good at my job – but allowed it to become my identity. I rarely marveled anymore at synchronicity or beauty or signs from above. All that had been replaced by my drive to be successful and to fit in. The things I thought I wanted didn’t align with my core – and I could feel little earthquakes erupting within. I walked out the doors on good terms and proud of the work I’d done there, but all I wanted was to find that precocious, authentic girl who had walked through those doors nearly a decade before.

I know my story is not unique. Authenticity is a buzz word – and yet it’s dying little deaths every day in the workplace. Studies show employees are happiest and most productive when they have instrinsic motivation: the ability to tap into their inner passions + interests  – their sparks, if you will – in order to do their jobs well.

Yes, management can play a huge role in providing opportunities, encouraging positive self-expression and identifying great matches of employees’ inner sparks and their jobs. But individually, we must each make it our job to not let our jobs swallow us up. Whether self-employed or one in a cast of thousands, we must fiercely protect that which makes us uniquely talented and intrinsically motivated.

When I was younger, I didn’t have the wisdom or the guts to hang on for dear life to my true SELF – even though it’s what got me that job in the first place. Today, I know better. I am frequently gut-checking on the choices I make, the content I create, and the projects I dedicate myself to. Because I now know that the best parts of me – my interests, my intuition, my ideas – are central to the best parts of my work. And I’m willing to bet the same is true for you.


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