Achieve Your Potential
News and Notes

Monday, September 21, 2009


Authenticity is the outward projection of your identity. It is what you project to others. It is how you live your life in accordance with your values and your truth. In its purest sense, authenticity means not changing the real you to make someone like you or to be accepted by others.

The opposite of living authentically is assimilation (also referred to as conformity). By definition, assimilation means the state of being assimilated. This definition highlights that conformity takes place when a person or minority group, for example, gradually adopts the customs and attitudes of a prevailing culture. If authenticity is more desirous, let’s explore why people may assimilate instead of remaining true to their identity.

The reasons for assimilation may be twofold. People may choose to conform so that they will be accepted. They may choose a form of assimilation to avoid suffering the potentially negative consequences of being different if their values, beliefs or personal preferences are different from others. This most often happens when the individual’s emotional needs are not met and they rely on external sources for self-definition and acceptance. As stated earlier, excessive conformity leads to a complete detachment from personal identity.

Conformity may also be imposed on people and, therefore, it is coerced, not chosen. A case in point is cultural conformity that is expected by the majority. Religious and racial groups have most often felt the sting of this kind of forced assimilation. Even in America, historically people have been expected to speak English to communicate regardless of their country of origin, which is representative of a cultural undertone of expected assimilation. Total conformity, for the most part, does not exist in our country. The current trend, with our global marketplace, celebrates diversity as we strive to embrace differences and recognize the value of individuals.

However, we all assimilate (or conform), to some degree, at different times in order to be a part of a larger system. In a diverse environment like the United States, assimilation may be necessary in order to preserve economic survival. People may need to adjust language and lifestyle practices in order to secure a job and a safe place to live for their families. As long as core values and beliefs are not sacrificed, assimilation may be necessary for survival and, therefore, acceptable.

In an idealistic world, individuals would always be free to be who they are (consistent with their values and beliefs) without fear of rejection or consequences. There would be no expectation of assimilation or conformity. True diversity would be appreciated, the world would be richer, and human differences would be celebrated and valued. Being authentic would be consistently rewarded, regardless of the presence of divergent viewpoints.

In the real world, complete with political, economic and social pressures, however, people are not always able to sustain the purest form of authenticity at all times. When individuals are not authentic, they may experience negative consequences that impact their health and well-being. So the question remains, how can you hold firm to your authentic self while coexisting in a world with expectations and group pressures? The answer lies somewhere between conformity and compromise.

If conformity means that an individual has to deny his core values and beliefs in order to exist within a group or an organization, then his authenticity is diminished or eradicated. If, however, in order to succeed in a society, community or organization, individuals adjust their behavior to be accepted, while keeping their core values intact, then their authenticity is not sacrificed.

In business today, it is often necessary to conform to organizational norms, beliefs, ideologies and social practices in order to be accepted, be evaluated as “effective” and/or advance to a desired position. Sometimes there is a great deal of pressure to conform, and the consequences for not adhering to expected practices may result in loss of employment. Some feel that conformity is a form of “selling out” because it may involve denouncing one’s preferences (or values) in lieu of the corporate norm, which is akin to “selling your soul.”

There are a few things to consider in relation to authenticity and assimilation if you are working in today’s business community: First, there are modifications that all individuals need to make in order to “fit in” or adjust to different corporate cultures. Usually these changes pertain to behaviors rather than beliefs. The extent to which a person conforms is an individual choice and one that must be made in alignment with his or her core values. These are the choices people make every day in their employment. As long as these choices don’t contradict your core values, then you can still be authentic. You need to always trust your internal truth even in the midst of accepting or participating in alternative behavior.

Also, when you are in a position or in an organization that does not support your authenticity – one that is not aligned with your values, you create the potential for great internal emotional and physical suffering that results from the incongruity between your behavior and your values.

To evaluate your authenticity, ask yourself these questions: “When do I feel most authentic and free to be myself?” “When has it been difficult for me to be authentic?” “How have I balanced the need to assimilate in an organization with the need to be authentic?”

Whenever possible, it is always best to choose an organization that fits your values or one that celebrates diversity (including diversity of cultures, lifestyles and thought) so that you don’t have to compromise to be accepted. Adapting to a new or different culture, while expected, should not require you to compromise your sense of identity or core values. Choosing to be authentic, in some circumstances, can be difficult. Making the choices necessary to achieve your goals and succeed in all of these situations requires self-esteem and confidence. Only when we are completely authentic and true to our self, can we achieve our full potential.

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