Over the past year, I have rebooted my career and learned a lot more about the professional landscape in which I find myself. Most of what I’ve learned has been the result of connecting with smart, talented and communicative folks who do good work and who can effectively teach and lead others.
Unfortunately, the rest of what I’ve learned has been a process of being disillusioned with facades that don’t match what’s underneath and reputations built on talk more than action.
Even that, however, has been a good reminder to me to be open about my faults and weaknesses, and honest about my own path of learning. In short, I’ve learned the true value of authenticity.
Authenticity takes work in itself. It’s a lot easier to let people assume you know something you don’t, can do something you can’t, are something you aren’t. In some cases, human society and complexity being what it is, misunderstandings are accidental and unavoidable. But if you get away with it, chances are you aren’t really doing yourself any favors in the long run. You’ll just get caught in the trap of pursuing the fraud instead of facing the work to improve. There is the (true, I believe) maxim of, “Fake it until you make it.” Valuable, and useful, advice, but it also contains a trap. Some people get so good at the faking they forget to move on to the next step. In that case, you’ve handed over your self-worth entirely to the gamble of how well you can manipulate the good opinions of others and subsequently feed off of them. It’s not sustainable. Only solidly-based self-confidence is, and that simply isn’t possible without the courage to be authentic.
In my experience, this aspect of the problem of authenticity is far more prevalent than the problem of those who deliberately seek to deceive. Self-deception is much harder to recognize and eradicate. It also has much deeper and wider-reaching repercussions for those who trust and believe in those who substitute authenticity for a fiction they have convinced themselves, and everyone else, is true.
I have a long way to go before I’m anywhere near the skill level I want to, or think I should, be. I’ve learned to be transparent and unashamed about that. I’ve also learned that, despite that, I have other skills, not the least of which is my open willingness to learn more and a positive attitude for doing so. Those I’m learning from have complimented me on that, which in turns builds my confidence for reaching out farther.
I’m not perfect. I’m not even terribly accomplished. But I’m authentic, in all the good and bad that entails, and I’m willing to work. And I think that puts me on a better track than I would be if I had an unearned expert reputation.