It’s advice we’ve all heard before: If you want to succeed, just be…yourself.
Sounds simple, right? But staying true to yourself is easier said than done—especially at work, where the pressure to fit in and the formality of a professional environment drives most of us to cover up some part of our identity.
This is an understandable response, but pretending to be someone or something you’re not is stressful and draining. “It makes us feel exhausted when we have to cover up our true feelings,” says Ronald Riggio, Ph.D. a Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.
On the other hand, those who feel like they can be themselves at work perform better and have greater job satisfaction, according to research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. In fact, an additional study from the University of Iowa shows that feeling accepted for who you are in the workplace is even more motivating than financial incentives.
So, how can you let your true self shine in the workplace? Here are four things to try:
1. Set Your Own Standards
Envy—the desire to have a quality, possession, or other attribute belonging to someone else—is the enemy of authenticity, because it means you’re defining your goals and values based on someone else’s definition of success. To be truly authentic, you have to set and live by your own standards.
You can accomplish this by framing envy as a clue about what it is you really want and using your feelings to define exactly what that ‘something’ is. The next time you feel a tug of jealousy from someone else’s display of progress, achievement, or success, take a minute to check in with yourself. Is this really what you want? If so, it’s a good push to keep working towards it. If not, move on.
2. Get Comfortable with Conflict
If you’re averse to conflict, you’re not alone. One famous psychological experiment found that 75 percent of people avoided speaking up against objectively incorrect ideas when they were not in the majority. This struggle stems from our fear of rejection, which is driven by a fundamental need to belong—but this now-outdated survival instinct stifles growth.
To get more comfortable speaking up when others may not agree, you have to get comfortable with rejection. The key? Stop your embarrassment radar—your way of scanning the world with the fear of being judged by others or losing standing in their eyes—from getting in your way. Next time you feel like you’re being judged, stop for a moment and check if your thinking is accurate (“Will this person really think less of me if I ask for/say this?”). Nine times out of ten, it won’t be.
3. Share Your Ideas
Censoring yourself is a self-fulfilling prophecy—the less you contribute, the less you’ll feel you have to contribute. Keep in mind that your ideas are valuable and don’t be afraid to start small: Working towards something you can actually achieve will take the pressure off, helping you perform better as a result. For example, make it your goal to contribute one additional point per meeting than you currently do.
4. Embrace Honesty
When you do speak up, don’t fudge facts or exaggerate details. Just be honest—even about the stuff you aren’t great at. As author and researcher Brene Brown, Ph.D., says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
For example, if someone asks you to do a job you don’t know how to do, don’t try to fake your way through it. Instead, say something like “I don’t know how to do this yet, but I’m happy to learn if someone can teach me.”
One disclaimer: There is such a thing as too honest. “Honesty at work is indeed the best policy,” Riggio says, “but you don’t have to answer every question or share every feeling and emotion with others. You can—and should—choose to keep some things private.”
Authenticity isn’t always convenient or easy, but when you can show compassion and acceptance to yourself and others, you help create an office environment where everyone feels safe enough to be themselves.
Polly Campbell is Portland-based author and speaker specializing in psychology, resilience, and wellness topics. She is the author of three books: How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well. Do Good. Be Happy; Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People; and How to Reach Enlightenment. Tweet her @PLCampbell.