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.