Kharissa Forte is a writer, certified health coach, and columnist for Startland News. Read her “Holistic Hustle” columns for Startland News here. For more of her self-care tips on how to keep your cup full, visit graceandgrind.co.
“Just be yourself.”
Along with putting my best foot forward and always treating others the way I wanted to be treated, one of the key pieces of advice I received for how to be successful was to just be myself. As a woman — a Black woman, at that — being myself wasn’t always that simple. There were several occasions in which I felt the need to downplay my gender or race to be taken seriously and excel. With every raise or promotion I received, it became clear that being myself was the last thing I should do to advance in my career. (Hello, imposter syndrome!)
Thanks to pioneers like Lester A. Lefton who literally made DEI a thing, Arianna Huffington and her dedication to revamp workplace wellness, and Mark Manson who taught us “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*,” more businesses are waking up to the fact that authenticity is a core value. Considering how it has become a buzzword of sorts, learning how to truly be authentic and trust employers who at least seem to welcome the idea can be easier said than done. These three pointers can provide guidance and clarity on how to move in a manner that’s genuine while also helping ensure company goals aren’t ignored.
Consider your intentions
Last fall, I attended a virtual learning experience about social media. Because social media tasks drain me, I was eager to learn the best way to go about it. Is recycling content actually a good idea? Do I need to jump on every new trend Instagram releases? How do I make the most of Pinterest, which is more of a search engine than a social media platform? The facilitator boasted and bragged about the expert, so I was confident these were just a few of the things that would be covered.
Instead, to my dismay, the expert went on and on about pretty intimate details of personal life decisions, all the cool people they knew, and how much money the business was bringing in. The only advice given about social media was to make sure to use no more than 12 hashtags on Instagram and create an account on every single platform.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a prime example of authenticity gone wrong. When the objective of sharing life stories derails from the task at hand, it’s a waste of time. According to Harvard Business Review, it’s important to make sure that your intent behind your authenticity is to foster trust, boost collaboration, and help your team gain understanding behind your reasoning.
They also said that one of the primary reasons why team development efforts fail is because of too much focus on fostering intimacy instead of “task-relevant disclosure and social cohesion.” If you’re more concerned with making friends or self-promotion, then you need to check yourself. Authenticity should always be relevant to work efforts and bettering the organization as a whole.
Resist the urge to code-switch
Code-switching, as defined by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), is when you alter how you naturally speak, appear, or act to fit in. There’s a time and place for everything, so code-switching shouldn’t be confused with things like making sure your speech, appearance, and behavior align with the situation. A good example of code-switching is when I got a head full of extensions in 2018 to make myself more acceptable to co-workers (mostly white women) and clients (mostly old, white men) shortly after getting my hair cut. Anyone who flips through my Facebook profile pictures knows I love a good switch up, but this wasn’t about trying a fun new hair style. It was about making sure I would be perceived as good enough.
According to Talkspace, code-switching significantly impacts people of color who fear being viewed as unprofessional, inappropriate, or unacceptable. This also applies to people whose first language may not be English and try to hide their accents. Another group it affects is the LGBTQ+ community who are concerned with not being seen as masculine or feminine enough.
Authenticity involves understanding that your professionalism is not adjacent to your race, nationality, or sexual orientation. It’s not your job to be the token Black, lesbian Mexican who serves as the resident company spokesperson for all Black, lesbian Mexicans. With that being said, if being yourself in this capacity means making sure you don’t play down who you are, it also means making sure you don’t play it up. Acting “a certain way” (you know what I mean) that reinforces stereotypes is just as dangerous, especially for your mental health.
Speaking of stereotypes, white people, you need to resist the urge to code-switch just like everybody else. If you’re in a situation with predominantly Black women, there’s no need to start rolling your neck, saying, “Yaaasss!” at any opportunity, and calling everybody “sis.” Just. Don’t. Furthermore, if you go to greet a Black man, there’s no need to attempt to perform a grand series of pounds, snaps, and chest bumps. A simple handshake will suffice.
Set and enforce boundaries
The thing about boundaries, as counselor Melissa Coats told Healthline, is that they “protect relationships from becoming unsafe.” It’s just as much for other people as it is for you. The mistake a lot of people make when it comes to authenticity is that they want to keep it real so bad that they often overshare and don’t have a filter. Remember, the people you work with aren’t your friends or family. They’re your co-workers. Can they become friends? Of course! Boundaries are flexible and allow space for growth and vulnerability, but access to that space is to be earned.
Setting boundaries allows you to honor yourself, which is really what authenticity is all about. It allows you to say, “Hey, let’s chat about this once I finish this project,” instead of fake listening or putting off important tasks when your office buddy wants to dish about the Oscars drama. Knowing your limits is another aspect of setting boundaries that also helps you move more authentically. If you’re unsure about the best way to go about an assignment or when you make a mistake, being honest about those shortcomings is one of the realest things you can do. Authenticity opens up your ability to ask for help without feeling bad about it.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between healthy boundaries and overprotective barriers. Per Oprah Daily, Brené Brown said, “Being authentic means saying no when you don’t want to do something. But it also means saying yes and trying new things that appeal to you…” The freedom that comes from setting boundaries is that they help you flourish in your authenticity and make room for everyone else to enjoy the ride with you.
The Big Aha
Authenticity is a mindful act that can only be mastered with consistent self-awareness and practice. There’s layers to this thing and you’re probably not going to get everything right overnight. There are stumbling blocks along this journey. Just because you trip up every now and then doesn’t mean you’re a fake or fraud. It means you’re learning. Give yourself some grace, pick yourself up, and keep going. You’ve got this.
Fueled by her expertise as a writer, certified health coach, and local business owner, Kharissa Forte is passionate about helping entrepreneurs in Kansas City achieve their goals without sacrificing self-care. Check out her personal blog and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
This commentary is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.