Why I Pledged to Show Up More Authentically at Work (And You Should Too)

After leaving my first professional job, a former colleague of mine wrote a recommendation for me on LinkedIn. In it, she said I was “like a duck: calm on the surface while hustling furiously underneath.”

She meant well, seeing me stay professional while working under tight deadlines and ever-changing parameters. She knew because she experienced these pressures too. But I didn’t publish the recommendation. A part of me really disliked this comment, and this quality about myself.

Modern society has taught us to “fake it till you make it” and “don’t let them see you sweat.” In fact, my boss spoke these two clichés on day 1 of my first job at age 16. This sentiment stuck with me. I became great at putting on appearances…smiling and staying calm under pressure, while secretly freaking out. I worked hard, more than I let on, and I often made others think it was effortless.

On an interview a couple years later, I was asked: “How will we know you’re stressed out?” My response: “First, it will be very difficult for me to tell you. In fact, I’ll probably smile and tell you I’m on top of it. But really…my office will be messy. I’ll be quiet, and probably more serious than normal. I’ll become vigilant about timelines and to-do lists.”

What do you know? I took that job and every time I was really stressed out, my boss could see right through me.

From there, I vowed to be more open, honest, and real at work. To ask for what I needed to be able to do my job to the best of my ability. To let people see the real me and the hard work, sweat, and effort I put in. It was so freeing, and I was finally able to feel really authentic and vulnerable at work while still doing an awesome job. Who knew you could do both?

It wasn’t until I got to Stanford that I learned the term “Duck Syndrome” which is used to describe the cultural trend on campus where everyone appears to be gliding effortlessly across the lake, while below the surface, everyone’s feet are paddling away. Many years after that original LinkedIn recommendation, I finally fully understood the real harm in presenting a cool demeanor while “hustling furiously on the inside.”

When collectively we’re all putting on this effortless front, individually we feel a deep sense of shame when we have to work incredibly hard or hit a snag in the road.

It’s really easy to look at people’s LinkedIn profiles or websites and think they’ve got it all figured out, or think that they got to where they are without any bumps along the way. But when you talk to them, you learn that’s not really the whole story.

Case in point right here! Even as a career coach, I have plenty of days where I wonder what’s next for me. I hit obstacles and limiting beliefs, not always feeling in line with my work. I worry about the career moves I’ve made thus far and if I could’ve/would’ve/should’ve done things differently. I’ve made mistakes at work, been rejected after interviews, and felt the fear of a new job search. Hey, you can’t coach someone if you haven’t been through it!

Point is, most people haven’t gotten where they are without some trials and tribulations along the way…even if it looks like they are gliding effortlessly across a calm lake.

So I challenge you to do 2 things:

1) Ask yourself where you may be putting on a front at work. How can you show up more fully? How will you know when you need to ask for help? And how will doing so help you?

2) Talk to someone you admire to learn their full story and recognize you are most certainly not alone when you’re facing some doubt or feeling stuck.

Let me know how it goes for you!