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How Much of Your “Authentic Self” Should You Really Bring to Work?

You’ve probably heard this advice before: Bring your “authentic” self to work. It makes sense. Being yourself is the best way to form meaningful relationships, which are integral to career success and growth, no matter what field you work in. Research shows that people with a robust social network have better job performance, feel more fulfilled, and even live longer.

But how do you actually share your “authentic” self in a professional setting, and how can you do it in a smart and sustainable way?

Showing up totally unfiltered and trusting everyone who crosses your path could go downhill quickly. On the other hand, if you keep things surface level and hide your true self, you might miss out on forming the type of relationships that can enrich your life and career.

As a business owner, this is a territory I’ve had to navigate time and again — and I can tell you firsthand that building strong connections with my colleagues and peers is what has fueled my success. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way about how to form these kinds of relationships in ways that feel productive, and not draining.

There is no “work self.”

Do you feel like there’s one version of you that shows up during work meetings and another, more authentic version that shows up with friends? It’s understandable — you don’t choose your colleagues or clients, and most work meetings require a certain degree of professionalism. But if you see networking and work interactions as transactional, you’re likely missing out on an opportunity to form deeper connections, which can only happen when you show up as your full self.

Let me give you an example: I recently joined a business Zoom call where everyone was talking about the weather. Oh, it’s sunny there? It’s so gloomy here! Weather is not a bad topic. It’s something we all experience. But it’s also probably not going to lead to a meaningful conversation. When I joined the call, I related the weather back to something more personal: I am not fond of rainy days because walking is THE thing that has been helping me get through this pandemic. I’ve walked more than 1,200 miles since September.

I shared something specific and vulnerable. I also spoke like a human, as I would in a room of friends. This isn’t something I have to “try” to do — at least not anymore. It’s a skill I’ve developed over the course of my career through regular practice. I learned that people become more comfortable when you show a wee bit more vulnerability. It’s why, today, I don’t have a delineation between work and personal connections: Friends I meet at the gym often turn into clients, and clients turn into friends who come to dinner parties.

I recommend you practice this yourself. Try to see everyone you come across as a human, rather than a work contact.

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