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Greg Kyte 2We’re supposed to be authentic, right?

I thought I was being authentic at the New Year’s Eve party, but the next day, my wife told me that I was being a prick. Not in those words. She said something like “you were really on one last night” which I think means “you were being a prick.”

When I say that I was being my authentic self, I don’t mean that I was being my alcoholic self. I had one glass of champagne at midnight, but that was it.

The issue revolved around Josh. He knows I’m a CPA and a comedian, and as a result, every time he sees me, he uses “MACRS” in a pun. Like, “Hey, Greg, you MACRS me laugh,” or, “Did you try the meatballs? I MACRS’d them.”

A couple days before the party, I wanted him to understand that he was working with a professional, so I posted the following tweet:

Now that’s how you craft a quality MACRS pun.¹

For most of the party I was busting his chops about how bad his jokes suck. At one point during the party he made a pizza run, and upon his return he instructed his son to tell me that I couldn’t have any pizza. I instructed his son to never repeat any of his dad’s horrible jokes.

And pause. Right there. That’s where I was a prick.

Was I being authentic, or did I just not have a filter that night? Is there a difference?

And therein lies the primary problem: What does it mean to be authentic anyway? The implied promise of authenticity is that people will actually like the real you. And that’s the tertiary problem: Maybe the real you is a real prick.

In her TED talks, Brene Brown says that vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. I always thought it was Akron. In Forbes, Ruth Blatt says, “Authenticity and the maintenance of a sense of true self is a basic need.” Put those together and you see that even men have a basic need to give birth. To innovation.

Here are some highlights from Brene Brown’s TED and TEDx talks:

  • As humans, we need belonging and connection

  • Shame is the fear of disconnection

  • Connected people have the courage to be imperfect

  • Vulnerability is the courage to expose your imperfections

  • To be vulnerable is to take emotional/interpersonal risk

  • Vulnerability is essential for wholehearted living

 

Vulnerability is essential for wholehearted living; ergo, it’s essential for wholehearted working.

Or is it?

Harvard Business Review recently published the article “Be Yourself, But Carefully.” The title seems self contradictory. Like if Cosmo ran an article called “Stay Classy, Stay Gassy.” Also, being careful doesn’t sound very authentic for someone who’s a loose cannon.

The authors of the HBR article indicate that authenticity starts with two things: (1) knowing who you really are, and (2) knowing how you’re perceived by others.

Only then can you know what to reveal and when. … Make an effort to investigate organizational norms about sharing so that you’ll know when it’s best to keep quiet.

So let’s say you’re a hardcore brony. It’s never not best to keep quiet. So it’s never okay to be authentic. So it’s never okay to pass your true self through your innovation canal.

I’m fickle. That’s authentic. There are days when I’m a grouch. Those days are the exception, but they exist. I want the freedom at work to be grouchy every now and then. But I don’t think that a workplace that’s conducive to authenticity is a workplace that’s free from consequences of being an a–hole.

Authenticity in the workplace is one of those things that you need to feel your way through, not think your way through. Brene Brown is right. Vulnerability and authenticity are essential for wholehearted working. If you can’t be your true self at work, it’s probably an indication that you’ve screwed up.

  • Maybe you settled for a job even though you knew it wasn’t a great fit.

  • Maybe you’re too scared to leave a job that isn’t a great fit.

  • Maybe you didn’t vet your clients properly.

  • Maybe you’re a brony.

¹If you wanted me to write, “Now that’s how you MACRS a pun,” you’re a bad person and I want to punch you in the throat.

Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.

Category:
Personal Growth
Comments:
4
  • On 01-13-2014 at 2:32 am, Melinda Guillemette said:

    Greg -

    Concepts like authenticity or vulnerability are difficult to decipher. I admire you for taking a whack at it.

    When I think about these things, it’s in the context of how to be my “highest” self as often as I can. It has nothing to do with what other people think of me. Ever.

    All of us can be grouchy, we can be jackasses, we can be our low, crappy selves at times. It’s just a matter of how much we want to indulge those behaviors versus behaviors that are ultimately more rewarding on a human level: kindness, empathy, presence.

    I also know from experience that traits like kindness, empathy, and being present create deeper relationships with clients and colleagues (not to mention the rest of the world). And, for me, that has proven to be a good business decision.

    Working from a place of authenticity and vulnerability allows us to drop all the baggage that goes with pretending we are something we aren’t. But it ain’t easy, because it requires discipline and self-awareness — all the damn time. Totally worth it, though.

    Thanks for making my brain work on a Sunday night.

    Reply
  • On 01-13-2014 at 2:54 am, Michael Wall said:

    +1 to what Melinda wrote, I think your summary of Brene Brown’s TED talk was pretty spot on.

    One of the bigger internal conflicts I see in many workplaces (including inside CPA firms) is this need to act like a ‘professional’ at all times. While our work is mostly technical in nature, our customers expect to interface with us as human beings not just automations that spit out financial information and talk debit/credits. Sometimes the need to just ‘be a professional’ keeps us from really deepening our relationships with clients and feeling comfortable interfacing with them as fellow human beings.

    And if there’s anything that our world truly needs from it’s professionals these is a certain level of being intentional, attentive and compassionate.

    Thanks for making me read the definition of brony, now not only is my brain working on a Sunday night, but I’m more than a little creeped out that I have this knowledge…..

    Reply
  • On 01-13-2014 at 3:34 am, Greg "The Real Deal" Kyte said:

    People know when they’re unable to be authentic at work, and people can tell when they’re able to be more authentic, and we can all experiment with the emotional/interpersonal risk of vulnerability.

    Authenticity is an art. Brene Brown specifically says that you don’t wait to be vulnerable until after you’re perfect. However you also can’t just let it all hang out. You can’t get better at art without ruining a few canvasses.

    Reply
  • On 01-13-2014 at 7:55 pm, Kevin said:

    Piggybacking on what Melinda and Michael said, I’ve heard more than once when prospects call me out of the blue after a Google search the reason they decided to call me instead of CPA Firm Inc. down the street is that I seemed “like a real person” or “they got the sense a human was writing what appears on the site”.

    Just last week I did a short interview with a freelance writer and he commented that he like the “What I’m reading” and “What I’m listening to” section of my site. This has nothing to do with being a good accountant, but it gives people a sense of who I am.

    I think being authentic means speaking in your voice to your audience. On my website I’m not terribly concerned with “sounding professional” or saying how great I am or how many services I provide. I try to be myself, imperfections and all (which for a perfectionist like myself is sometimes difficult).

    Reply

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