This article also appears on A Hopeful Sign with the original title, Authentically Happy.
“She’s different with her direct reports than she is with her peers, which is appropriate,” a co-worker explained to a group of us while describing the behavior of an executive. Recognizing the pressures of corporate leadership, we all nodded knowingly. “Yes, yes, so very appropriate,” our bobbing heads seemed to say.
Only later, hours after I returned home, did I realize that I didn’t at all agree with this sentiment. Had I, in a mere matter of seconds, betrayed years of my own inner work and core beliefs to an unknown standard of appropriateness? Had I sold out my quest to fully be myself, tacitly acknowledging that while a worthy pursuit, it’s simply not realistic, especially if you work for a corporation (or own your own company, or volunteer, or attend family functions, or take care of your kids, or are in a relationship, or out of one, or interact with anyone anywhere…ever)?
This conversation and my own duplicity reminded me that, at its core, being authentic implies a certain consistency. In other words, we are who we are with everyone—minus the baggage and the drama. But while that’s the ideal, actually living this way takes self-awareness and commitment. It’s a process, which I’ll admit sounds only slightly better than calling it a struggle.
Having said that, I can say unequivocally that I’ve had authentic experiences hiking to the tops of mountains, whale watching in Hawaii, roaming the streets of Paris, hanging out in a mountain hideaway, writing, playing with color and art…. And these experiences showed me that even though a dozen heady adjectives could describe my authentic self or the real me, she is best described as happy.
But in the spirit of keeping it real: it’s no great achievement to be happy while lounging on a beach in Hawaii! Big deal. The real “work” lies in bringing that person back with me when I interact with the world.
And nothing has tempted me to ignore my stated commitment to living a happy, centered, creative life like navigating the politics and dysfunction of corporate life. Nothing has enticed me to show up inconsistently. But nothing has stretched and pushed to grow as much either.
To be sure, going to work—and interacting with people—feeling grounded and happy takes focus, and I don’t always pull it off. But when I do, it’s a very cool rush that puts the corporate mayhem into proper perspective.
I am sure that I will occasionally allow my own insecurities and petty frustrations to lure me into choosing the appropriate over the authentic. But the fact that Happy Me does show up in my everyday life feels miraculous. And I suspect that showing up this way in ordinary circumstances will probably make my next Hawaiian vacation even sweeter. So, the moral of this story is that maybe the real world needs real, mostly happy people, who aren’t always as authentic as we want to be, but who are at least thinking about it.