“He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.”- Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
I recently grabbed breakfast with a friend and who's working in her first corporate job. She loves the pace of her new world and is largely happy with her experience. However, she is startled to see how some of her colleagues are still "so high school-ish."
Intrigued, I asked her to explain what she specifically meant by "high school-ish." She elaborated...
"Remember in High School how important it was to blend in with your friends - when you dressed in the same types of clothes, listened to the same music, and held the same opinions? The BIGGEST thing in school was being accepted, NOT being real. Work culture is kind of like that. Everyone is still posing and trying to fit in."
I wished I could have waived off her observation and explained how her company in particular or people in general mostly knew how to be authentic, but I don't think that's true. There is no corporate equivalent to the "nursery magic" the Velveteen Rabbit experienced. Nothing in our offices teaches us to become real and accepting of our shabbiness.
And yet, our ability to contribute to an organization is rooted in whether or not we are comfortable in our skin. Our voices are stifled and our creativity is hampered if we constantly look to others for approval. When we bring something other than our authentic selves, we bring something less than ourselves.
How do you stay out of the posing trap and get comfortable with your "shabbiness"? What's the best route to being real? Many paths may get you there, but I focus on two specific steps - one step to "stop doing" and one step to "start doing."
Step One - Stop Comparing
Why does she have a better job title? When am I going to get the same recognition he gets? Why do they get included in the meeting/event/discussion? Who has more responsibility on the project? Why is she craftier than I? How come they have well-behaved kids? Why can't I ever lose those extra pounds the way he has?
Who hasn't thought these (or similar) thoughts? As Mark Twain says, "comparison is the death of joy." Until we destroy the habit of defining a pecking order and paying attention to our place on the list, we invite dissatisfaction. When we compare, inevitably we try to make ourselves into something we're not. When that happens, we don't become MORE real, but less. To be our authentic selves, we've got to stop playing the comparison game.
Step Two - Start Acting As If "Shabbiness" Is OK
If you want to be truly authentic and real, start by "acting as if" you're comfortable regardless of the environment or situation. Have a reckless dedication to being vulnerable and honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Eventually this won't be an act. Ignore the irony of "acting" in order to be "real"; the concepts aren't incompatible. (See any Twelve-step program.) The discipline of being transparent and vulnerable takes practice. Act as if you're ok with yourself until you really ARE OK with yourself, shabbiness and all.
Eventually, we all can really graduate from High School.