happily real

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.

5 thoughts on “happily real”

  1. Hi Carolyn,

    Being a college student, I already see the struggle students have to make between what is “appropriate” and what is authentic. We’re all competing for the same jobs, internships, recommendations, and scholarships, and everyone is trying to mold them selves to be what they think the corporate world wants. Sometimes it seems as if people completely hid their true selves and thoughts so that they can continue to make gains.

    But I agree that being authentic and sticking to who you truly are is important! It makes me happy when I see authenticity and others, and it builds trust between people.

    As a sidenote, I’m an amateur writer, and I really appreciate the honesty in your blog entries.

    1. Hi Erika ~ Thank you so much. I am very happy to hear that you are discovering this when you are. It took me much longer to figure this stuff out. But the truth is that when we are true to who we are, we are far more powerful, creative, and confident–the very things that tend to lead to the other stuff, like jobs, recommendations, etc. I wish someone had told me to RELAX; would have made things easier and more fun. But I’m enjoying the journey now and hope you do too! I appreciate your comments more than I can say. Thanks for reading. ~ Carolyn

  2. What a great, honest, and, yes, happy post. I talk about the art-committed life as one of being on a road, and I view being happy as the same; it is a state you can achieve in moments (on a Hawaiian beach) but to be a happy person means living your life in a way that feels right. You say it can become a habit; that resonates with me. And yes, our interaction with others–superiors or subordinates–when part of that habit, or process, would require consistency.

    I’m proud of you, Carolyn, for your introspection and your commitment to being happy and thus sharing that happiness with others. You’ve reminded me of one of my favorite books, “What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better.” His thesis is how pursuing happiness means overriding our reptilian brain, which is focused on fight or flight and not self-actualization.

    What makes me happy? Well, when Carolyn has a new post!

    1. Thank you, Patrick! What an incredibly generous thing to say. (And yes, it made me happy). I understand life “on the road” being the same as being happy. For a while, I over-complicated the whole affair, but simple is so much…easier. What makes me happy? Creativity–and when you stop by to visit.

  3. I have found as I age, that being me becomes easier every year. Treating those I meet (in business, leisure, and happenstance) with cheer, compassion and respect leads to happy interactions with those around me. When people communicate with each other, they mimic each other’s moods and non-verbal behaviors. (Try crossing your arms sometimes when you’re talking to someone and see how long it takes her to cross hers. You might be surprised!)

    And as I interact with the same person over time, he can anticipate my cheery mood, can see it coming. These regular acquaintances anticipate a happy conversation and meet me with a smile. Happiness can become a habit — practice it a little, and it’s SUCH an easy way to live.

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