In last month’s CEO Corner, I talked about the imposter syndrome: the inability to acknowledge and appreciate one’s accomplishments—and the persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
For me, the imposter syndrome represents a false narrative. If you’re Hispanic (and especially if you’re a Hispanic woman), chances are you’ve earned every bit of what you’ve achieved—whether educationally, professionally or as a servant leader in your community.
Not surprisingly, the post sparked a lot of conversations. And one word that kept coming up was authenticity: how we stay true to ourselves in the face of ever-changing expectations.
Like the imposter syndrome, authenticity is one of those concepts that everyone seems to agree on. Authenticity is a good thing! We should always strive to be our authentic selves—especially at work.
But I think that perspective is a bit misguided. Like, what if you’re an unmitigated jerk, or harbor sexist or racist beliefs? Should you bring *that* authentic self to work? Probably not.
To me, being authentic means more than just the dictionary definition of the term. It means being sincere, genuine and honest. It means following through on what you say you’re going to do. It means having a certain level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence—an ability to “read the room,” no matter where you are. It’s what makes so many successful people successful.
In my opinion, if you approach authenticity with a fixed mindset (i.e., without a growth mindset), you may become entrenched in your own beliefs and worldview. And while we should never sacrifice certain core values—integrity, kindness, honesty and so on—how we interact with others should, I think, be agile.
Cultivating this kind of authenticity can be a challenge, and it’s why having a mentor can be so important in one’s professional growth. Mentors can help you identify and navigate those unwritten rules of engagement, specifically, and more generally, strike that balance between staying true to your values and beliefs while also being open to the appropriate level of enculturation, to be your *best*self, rather than the self you and you alone want to see.
For nearly 50 years, SHPE has been an organization built on this kind of mentorship. SHPE members aren’t just in it for themselves. We take the time to bring you up to speed, point you in the right direction, and support you along your entire career trajectory.
All of this, of course, ties into the concept of transformation, which is the theme of this year’s National Convention in Phoenix. What I mean is this: To transform society in the way we want, as well as ourselves, we need to be authentic while also learning from the people around us: family members, coworkers, bosses, peers, allies (and otherwise) —everyone. We must be open to different approaches and perspectives. That’s how leaders are made: by recognizing and emulating the best qualities of those around them.
Transformation, true transformation, is something that cannot be accomplished by simply being authentic. Transformation is an iterative and collaborative effort, one that can be both humbling and empowering—and sometimes both—but one whose results are always worth the effort.
There’s nothing wrong with striving for authenticity. It’s only when we pursue authenticity at the expense of everything and everyone else that our “authentic selves” become counterproductive—even destructive.
Instead, we should recognize that authenticity—true authenticity—means honoring both your own qualities (and being mindful of the qualities of those folks around you) while also supporting the dynamics of your organization or community. That’s how true transformation takes place: When we tap into the strengths of our authentic selves, while recognizing that our own individual story is actually part of a larger, more powerful collective narrative. Because it’s that kind of authenticity—the kind where everyone is made to feel empowered—that lends itself to true transformation. Of ourselves, our community and our country.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO