Do you remember the Jennifer Lopez song from the early 00’s entitled ‘Jenny from the Block’ where said Jenny declared, possibly 100 times during the song, we’re not to ‘be fooled by the rocks (diamonds I’d imagine) that she’s got’, that she just ‘can’t forget to stay real’ and, of course, she’s still very much ‘from the Block’ (which is the Bronx in this case).
I remember at the time of hearing this all those years ago, something not sitting right. I couldn’t help feeling Jenny was very keen to tell us how real, or authentic, she remained despite all her success, fame, and diamonds. Maybe it was just me, but my Authentometer (just made that up now btw) was not registering.
When was the last time you listened to a leader, a politician, a celebrity, or even a co-worker exclaim that they’re, like Jenny, authentic and that ‘telling it like it is’ is just how they roll?
Did you believe them? Was your gut screaming saying, ‘yeah right! you’re not fooling me’. When you hear such statements declaring just how ‘real’ people are, do you instantly feel irritated, angry, or even jealous? Do they seem to be telling you what you think they wanted you to hear?
Taking it a bit closer to home, is it something you say about how you live your own life? Are you living an authentic life or working towards that? Is it something you’re striving for but don’t know what it really means for you? Maybe this post will help.
I always like to look at how words are defined. All too often, we skip this part and have a fuzzy idea from the outset as a result.
To be authentic is ‘of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.’ And as it relates to a person, ‘representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.’
If you’re anything like me, on a lot of occasions, when I hear declarations of authenticity, it can bring up different emotions and feelings. It’s very easy to say it, but quite difficult to buy into it, for myself or for others.
Creating the illusion of authenticity and being eager to tell others just how in touch with who you are is one thing. Actually, doing the work on yourself to discover what that truly means, figuring out who the real person behind the mask is, can be more difficult in practice.
This is a question I’ve been working on answering for myself for a long while. For most of my Twenties, and some of my Thirties, I found myself saying ‘being authentic’ was very important to me. Not only important to me, but important how others thought about me too. The persona I wanted to outwardly portray was critical. I may have even done a decent job at making others believe me. Looking back, I only had a vague sense of what it meant. My heart was in the right place, but my authenticity compass was not pointed in the right direction. After a while, this can be draining and life’s too short putting on an act. So, I decided to do the work needed on myself.
Through a combination of self-coaching and being coached by others, I’ve come to realise that the route is one that’s not still fully planned out and I’ll possibly be finding my way forever. I do believe I’ve found some fundamental markers along the way that have been key in helping me discover what my own ‘block’ looks like. Let me share these and see if they resonate with you.
Authenticity is about allowing yourself to be witnessed—purely, and simply, as you. The first step forward was accepting who I was, instead of who I was trying to be. Only I know my own truth fully. The good, bad, and the ugly. Over the years, fighting against mistakes that I’ve made, things I’ve done, and said, and wanting them to change only made them worse.
Once I began to accept these, learn from them and improve as a result, I became more comfortable in my own skin. It’s very difficult to be authentic when you’re not a peace with your past, present, and future. Accept what is. As a colleague of mine used to say to me, ‘It is what it is’. How do you get there? I’ve found journaling helpful. Writing down my thoughts, regularly.
2. Self-Awareness & Self-Management
One morning, about 5 years ago, I remember waking up a little late for work and instantly getting myself into a panic.
As soon as that blissful second or two where your mind is empty and still just after waking up passed, the reality of the day ahead surged into my mind. Realising that I had something like 14 x 30 minute meetings scheduled for the day ahead, and a ton of other work to get done, set me into a spiral.
My mind was racing, I was stressed, and I hadn’t even got out of bed yet. I just knew something had to change. This wasn’t living an authentic life, or any type of life worth getting up for. While I was somewhat aware of what was happening, and that a change was needed, I didn’t have the tools or ability to manage it. That’s where Mindfulness came into play.
While I was aware of the reported benefits of the practice from listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos, I just hadn’t given the regular practice a proper go. I made excuses that I was too busy! Ironic or what! I knew I needed to make a change so I committed to a daily practice, initially for a month. Getting up that 20 minutes earlier to make space for it. This was the beginning of a gradual, yet significant change. The beginning of a more self-aware me.
I’ve posted a lot about its benefits over the last couple of years (check out the blogs here) but in short, being more mindful has been a game changer. It’s allowed me to better observe what’s going on inside (the self-awareness piece) and then gave me that space or time to make better choices on how I respond to what’s coming up (self-management). The great thing about it is I can do it anytime and anyplace. It’s always available. Once you’re breathing, which I’m assuming you still are, you can do it!
Developing a greater self-awareness has made me less impulsive, in thought and in action. Before, random thoughts could come in (like the 14 meetings in the day ahead) triggering an emotional response. I’d feel down, negative, stressed, or panic stricken. That would lead to me take actions not in-line with my values, beliefs or principles. I’d end up doing (or saying) something inauthentic. Just to say the right thing or take the easy way out.
Becoming that little bit more aware, gives me that extra moment to make a better choice, take a better option, and ensure it’s one that is part of my truth and in sync of with my values. So, commit to a Mindfulness practice a go for a period of time, not expecting immediate results. Just do it!
3. Being Vulnerable – It’s ok to not be ok!
Think of the great managers and leaders you’ve worked for in your career so far. Or ones that you’ve admired from afar. Would you say they were OK showing vulnerability? Or did it seem that they always had to be right?
In the fast paced tough talking mask filled world of Business and Leadership, showing a vulnerable side could be seen as a weakness.
While accepting yourself (in #1) takes work, taking off your mask can be tough and showing the real you to others is even more scary.
But for me, to get closer to your authentic-self, being vulnerable is key. While never easy, it can be done. For me, doing the work in both #1 and #2 above has made #3 more manageable.
If you’re in a state of acceptance of who you are and are in a good place when it comes to managing your internal emotions, then stepping outside of the mask can be possible.
Nobody has got it all figured out and being vulnerable can have a positive effect on how you’re viewed as a leader, if you’re doing it in an authentic way.
Jim Breen, a leader I admire here in Ireland, and hugely successful entrepreneur, and a guest on my podcast last year, has been championing vulnerability for a number of years. Not just for leaders but for everyone. Saying ‘It’s ok not to feel ok, and it’s ok to ask for help’ springs to mind. Being ok to show your vulnerable side in a genuine way has an instant relaxing effect for me. It’s another key part of unmasking.
4. Do the (self) work & enjoy the process
If you’re reading this far, great. It probably means you’re committed to figuring yourself out and discovering a more real version of you! Now, while you might not agree with my first three points above, that’s ok. Your attributes, values or actions to get there may be different. But this fourth and final point, in my view, is one that’s essential for everyone.
I’m not a huge fan of clichés and try to use them sparingly. For me, figuring out my authentic self has been (and probably right to say still is) a journey. I discovered that the more work I do at getting better (in whatever area of my life I’m focused on), the more I realise that the real growth, learning and progress comes as you commit to and follow the path towards whatever that goal is.
I’ve posted about my Dry18 journey, my Podcasting journey, and others. It’s the same with the work done to get to a more authentic self. If you’re keen to figure out what that means to you, then you’re likely going to figure out a whole lot more along the way.
Now while that path is not likely to be linear, expect many twists and turns along the way, it’s 100% worth doing. You’re going to challenge yourself, your beliefs, and assumptions. But you’re working to answer a question that really matters and can have a significant impact on how you live your life into the future.
As you put the effort in, you’ll be exposed to new perspectives, learn new tools, develop new practices, and start to see yourself (and others) in a different light. Doesn’t that sound like a journey worth taking?
A final truth!
Before I finish, I’ll share one another truth. In the spirit of my own authenticity. When I sat down to write this, I was far from clear on what authenticity was to me. For the last few years, I’ve been undertaking all the work outlined in the 4 steps above, but not in a very focused and targeted way. I didn’t have a SMART goal stating, ‘Reach Your Authentic Self by February 2019 through practicing Steps 1,2 & 3 and enjoy the process as outlined in 4’. I knew I had a strong sense of what authenticity meant, and means, to me but hadn’t taken the time to reflect and summarise it in words. That made me a little uneasy but also excited by what I’d come up with.
This step along the process, probably not the last, has been very rewarding. I have a developed my own definition of authenticity for me. Being able to verbalise how it feels has brought it to life even more.
Maybe I was being too hard on Jenny (from the Block) after all. My approach was to write an article/blog post to figure out what it is for me, Jenny put it down in lyrics to a song. Whatever works best I guess to get you to the desired result. There are many paths that can lead you to the outcome. We just took different ones. Unlike Jenny, the only ‘rocks that I got’ are the ones in my back garden. For Real!
What does authenticity mean to you?
Are you on your own journey to dropping an inauthentic mask to be more real?
Did this post help?
Like any work worth doing, it takes time and effort. Whatever your own definition is for authenticity, I feel it’s better to have one than to not.
If you’d like to chat more about how coaching could work in helping you in your search for authenticity, or other personal or professional development goals you have, get in touch. Details below.
Core Values Reminder
One of the most worthwhile pieces of work you can do on yourself is to identify your core values. Authenticity might be one of these. I posted an approach I used to identify my own and I use in coaching others. You can read that process here.
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach (ACC with ICF) and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics, like this one! Rob recently published an eBook on giving up alcohol for 2018 called ‘Dry18’ and can be downloaded for free here.
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7 steps to define & make your core values stick!
If I asked you what are your Core Values, how would you answer? Do you get a little confused when you think of the word ‘value’ as it applies to you? Is it something you’ve been meaning to do for years but haven’t got around to it, yet? These are the questions I faced myself before starting this exercise a few years back. I always had an instinctual sense that it was a piece of work I needed to do. That there was something missing in me by not having these clear in my own head, and in my gut.
Last Summer, I had the opportunity present at a work event. The presentation was to a local group and it was also broadcast to other sites in our European offices. It was part of a 3-day event celebrating the importance of people at work. Without people, at least for the next few years, while we wait for AI and rise of the Bots to take over (joking, maybe, maybe not), companies couldn’t exist, survive, or thrive. So, I decided to focus the presentation around personal values, hoping to highlight the importance of being clear on your own core set of values, virtues, or principles.
In truth, this is a subject I’m fascinated by and have been for the last few years. During this time, I’ve gone through the process of discovering my own, and now use them as a guiding light when it comes to making important decisions. Identifying these has been pretty transformative and wanted to take this opportunity to share my story and give some examples of how others could identify their own. So, as I was preparing the content, I did a little bit of googling on the topic. Just to get some ‘facts’ to start out with. Here are just a few that I found:
· Personal values are formed at a very young age and are done so largely unconsciously.
· Most evidence shows that your core values don’t change much from late teens/early twenties.
· In a recent survey of employees in the workplace, approximately only 50% have view of what their core values are/were.
To test out the last one, when starting my presentation, I asked the audience in the room if they knew their own core value set. While some mightn’t have been bothered putting up their hand, those that did verified the survey result. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. The core value conundrum is tough. Similar to most things around self-development and improvement, there has to be a genuine WANT in the person to figure them out. I found, going through the process myself, and also through learnings and work done in my executive coaching practice, there can be confusion around what a core value is. This leads to a mental block when trying to identify them. So, I’ve reflected back through my own work and put together a set of steps that worked for me. Here goes!
Step #1 – Seek first to understand!
When trying to get a better understanding of a word, it’s meaning and context, I love to do a bit of digging around its origin. Itsetymology. (As an aside, I think we absorb so many words all the time and start using them in our day-to-day speech without having a real sense of what they mean. We just go with it. It’s interesting and probably risky. I’m guilty of it myself and can be a bit embarrassing when I use a word in the incorrect context. I wonder if there is a word for that?)The origin for value is from the Latin ‘valere’, which means to be ‘of worth’.
So, when thinking of your core values, keep in mind what is ‘of worth’ to you! Sounds simple? Sometimes we make things more difficult than they need to be.
Step #2– Start with the list!
Back to my own value discovery adventure. Being honest, this wasn’t something on my radar in my twenties. I remember attending a manager training course about ten years ago and the topic of core values came up. We were given a handout which was a single page that had well over one hundred words on it, all considered as values. We were then tasked with reviewing it as homework and asked to identify which of these resonated most. I remember looking over it a few times over the next week and managed to whittle the 100+ down to about 50! To be fair, not a great filtering exercise. I continued to refine it, iteratively, finally getting to 12-15 words. I remember losing interest though. It wasn’t sticking for me. I wasn’t really engaging fully into it. I think I saw it as something I HAD to do rather than WANTED to do! Upon reflection, and knowing what I know now, I wasn’t ready to do the exercise seriously. The desire to do the reflection, soul searching and the digging in that it required to really identify get clear on my 5 or 6 were just wasn’t there. Sound familiar?
Value Turning Point
I can’t pinpoint the exactly when in my thirties when desire started figure this out began. A few memories jump out. One memory that comes up is having to face some fears around presentations and the anxiety that I had about public speaking. I discovered the book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’by Susan Jeffers. It was/is a simple yet great read, the first self-help book I’d ever read, and helped me put things into perspective. It indirectly kick-started some further self-improvement. Another big moment is liked to Emotional Intelligence, or EQ. I read Daniel Goleman’sbook on this subject and it hit home. I was spending more time on self-reflection and had a desire to confront some of the less productive habits or behaviours that I had in my life. Ones that were holding me back. I was going through a period of change, it was uncomfortable, the voice within was draining and I felt like I was not really clear on who I was and what I stood for. The more self-reflecting and ‘work’ I was doing on myself, the more I felt my own sense of purpose start to emerge.
Return of the List!
Fast forward a few years. A little more mature, a distance further down the road of figuring myself out, a whole-lot better at silencing the negative self-talk and reducing the self-sabotage that was common place, the personal or core value set question came back into focus. It arrived at a time when I was working with an Executive Coach, who was guiding me through a more structured coaching process to help me identify and work on some opportunities to grow and develop. Coincidentally, this work happened around the same time as I was developing my meditation practice (beginning to develop means not giving up after a few days when nothing was happening).
I mentioned to the coach that the core value question was something I had struggled with defining in the past. Probably not surprisingly, he said ‘it’s not an easy one to figure out.’ It is a common challenge, especially when people are at a point where they’re searching for meaning or more purpose in their lives. Thankfully though, he had an approach that I could try. It started with a familiar page with over a hundred words was produced. I remember the sense of déjà vu. Return of the list! There are many examples online of the value list and I recommend you find a couple. An example of one I use is here.
Step #3– Intuitively select & Iterate!
This time around I was in a different place, so was open to trying it again. On the coach’s advice, I reviewed the list, identified a set, left it for a few days, came back, changed a few, narrowed a few, and continued to iterate on it over the next few weeks, until our next session. Before, I was doing this as part of manager training I wasn’t fully invested in. Now, I was doing it for me. Out of a real want. Combine that with the extra few weeks I had to do the work, I was able to narrow it down to a set that were much more meaningful. Homework, it was not.
#4 – Phone a Friend.
In full disclosure, this wasn’t a step I used during my own process, but I 100% would have knowing how useful it now is. I’m including it as it’s been a real eye-opener for coachees’ I’ve worked with in the last couple of year. I remember suggesting it to a coachee a while back when they were stuck defining their own value set.
‘What would your wife say your values are?’ I asked.
The look on the client’s face said it all. They hadn’t thought of asking the person that was closest to them. That knew them best. It opened up a door. And the values came in. The subsequent conversation helped shine a light on a blind spot the coachee had, and also helped reaffirm some of the ones they already had picked. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Step #5 – Decide, Chose & Share!
While it’s important to take time with this exercise, like anything, without a deadline or some pressure, you might never decide on anything. Get your left brain working on a date and make it know you’re going to share these with others at that time. This puts some pressure on you. I was struggling to narrow my own set down to the final 5 or 6. Thanks to my coach, some pressure, and my fear of drowning, it worked!
The Sinking Dingy – Get Strict
When I met with the coach again, my condensed list was roughly ten values. For coaching to be impactful, there needs to be a few key ingredients. One of them was trust, another the ability to be very straightforward and direct. Both were very evident with Pat, my Coach, and continue to be there as we still work together. He was very direct with me, advising that ten was way too many to be ‘core’! What happened next helped me move forward.
Visualisation is an important and powerful tool for coaching. It can be used in many situations however. Pat asked me to visualise a scene. I was out at Sea in a small dingy. The waters were choppy, to say the least. I was in danger! With me, in the life-raft, were my ten values. The words, as I imagined them, were heavy and made from stone. Their weight was causing the boat to sink!
‘You have to off-load a few of these to stay afloat, Rob’, Pat challenged. ‘You can only have 5 or 6 with you. All the others have to go.’
This simple, almost cheesy visualisation, was powerful. I’m not sure why it resonated with me. Maybe because of my own fear of deep water and being a poor swimmer. So maybe my fear of drowning kicked in. Whatever it was, it worked. After a short while, I was able to refine down to my core set of six. I very much went with my intuition on these six. They were the ones that felt right.
Step #6– Know the Why?
When you get close to your final set and find yourself more certain, ask yourself Why? Why are you picking these? Do they have a backstory?
Over the next couple of weeks, after landing on my final 6, I reflected back on each one selected (and still do) to better understand the ‘why’ for each. I was keen to figure out if there was a story behind each one. If I could make sense of them. That reflection and time pondering was very interesting. For the majority of them, I could find a reason, an origin, a meaning behind it that made sense. I found that reassuring. An example I often use is one that focuses on my value of hard-work. I firmly believe that has been something I had instilled in me from my Grandfather. He worked for most of his life in tough manual labour for BordNaMona, working in the Bog lands of Ireland) for 30+ years. A hard slog working on the land. I remember growing up, seeing him leave early and return in the evening, pretty much getting it done to provide for his family. He just got on with it. Didn’t complain. Did the work. That’s just one example. Working through the others, similar memories and ‘stuff’ came up for me that made them feel right.
I’d encourage you do that same. And just because some don’t have a backstory, doesn’t make them wrong. If feel right, stick with it. Time will tell if you need to adjust. But, in most cases, you’re going to be confident with them at this point.
#7– Make them Visible!
Whether that’s on your whiteboard, blackboard (if they still exist), Post-it notes, phone or laptop background or screensaver, or bathroom mirror. Make them front and centre. Have them in eye-shot. Especially until they became part of you. That you can recall them at any time without thinking. A decision comes your way, and, in an instant, you can run it through your value set, to see how it stands up, and make the call.
Since I landed on my six values a few years back, I’ve kept them very close to me. They haven’t changed, but I still regularly revisit them. When I find myself faced with a tough decision or choice, I always try to use my value set to help with the answer. Whatever aligns to most of these generally makes the decision for me. It can save a lot of time too!
Now as a Coach myself, I find that a lot of clients I’ve worked with are also unclear on what their own set of core values are. Using an exercise like the one I’ve described, or a few others that I’ve learned since, can be very powerful in helping the client get clarity and generate learning and progress for them in their own coaching journey. While it’s not always an area a client needs to go, it’s one that can be very transformative if the need arises.
So that’s my story and experience with Core Values. I’ll go back to something I said earlier. It’s iterative. It can take time to get to the right set. But don’t give up, don’t give yourself a hard time during the process. Below I’ve summarised the steps I walked myself and generally use these myself when coaching others. I hope you find this useful and I encourage you to try it yourself. Even if you’re already clear on what yours are, no harm in testing out the below process to validate them.
Hope you enjoyed this piece. The Question of Core Values is one I talk about in many of the conversations I have with guests my podcast – 1% Better. Every time, I get a varied answer, and even a few new approaches to identify them. I love hearing the answer to this question.
Links to some articles used:
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics.
Connect in with Rob on the socials or via email on the links below: