In a world changing daily, how do you stay relevant in your work? Start by being authentic and vulnerable! Read more about how you can. First in a series.
Before the current stay-at-home order started in March, I began work on my second manuscript for a new book. I had an idea to focus on ways to help new professionals learn how to navigate office and institutional politics. It was important to focus on first-generation professionals learn how to operate within systems that were novel and exclusionary.
Then our current reality happened. And all of my inspiration for thinking of the future was sapped.
I couldn’t find any relevance in talking about the way things used to. Especially in light of the fact that higher education is going to be impacted for years to come. Would the higher ed landscape even resemble what it looked like before this happened? In what way could I influence or share what I know in a world that moved in a different direction?
I found myself saying this to myself during the last few weeks of the stay-home order.
In the days before the stay home order, I used to leave my house to feel the energy working around others. It was a struggle to stay motivated when my couch called out to me to rest, relax and be still. At least when I left home, I could talk with others and feel the energy in a room. As an extrovert, this energy was important for me to renew my ideas and recharge my batteries.
I have struggled with feeling recharged. In the end, I feel safe at home. But I lack the energy to think past my own safety and the ideas I already feel don’t apply to the current reality.
It has taken me weeks to figure out how to move forward.
Trying to Find Relevancy
I have spent the last three weeks reading social media posts from friends still working in education. Near all of them have expressed concern about trying to figure out how to make things matter in a changing higher ed environment. One of my former students, Jaylyn Jones, now working in higher education, posted the following tweet on her Twitter feed:
Reading this question helped out a great deal. It was an eye-opener! It was a great question, whether the audience is doing student affairs engagement programming or any other type of work that has moved online.
Am I trying to help others have a sense of normalcy or helping myself stay relevant?
Neither of these situations are mutually exclusive. But they are often posed in an either/or argument. If I’m not focusing on the goals of my original job, then am I failing? And if I can’t do the job I’m used to in the way I’m used to, then who am I in my profession? While everything about life is up in the air, is it selfish to want to focus on who I am rather than what I do (or did)?
With so many unanswered questions about the immediate and near future, so many answers are left out there to discover day by day.
As others have expressed their fears about staying relevant, it can feel like trying to describe something nameless and shapeless. How can you pivot to stay ahead the curve when there are no metrics on what success looks like? Will I need to learn even more skills on the fly for some unforeseeable future? Will my current reality change the work I was originally hired to do, and do I want that?
So many questions. So few answers.
Authenticity and Vulnerability are Key
I didn’t have to wait around very long for a reminder about what answers I already had. Facebook Memories showed me a post that I made last year. It felt appropriate, given how I was struggling with relevancy in the current world.
In 2019, I attended the ACPA Annual Conference in Boston. After nearly a year of looking for work, having a little bit of normalcy in my own backyard felt amazing. It was a glimpse into a world that I felt had escaped me. Up until that point, I wrote my blog about generalized topics that were good, but not necessarily getting much notice. In reality, I was only tapping into part of what I knew rather than reveal everything that I was feeling.
And then I wrote about crying at the closing session of the ACPA Conference. And everything changed. I was used to a dozen people reading my posts on a daily basis. This post, on its first day had 300. It dawned on me that staying relevant would mean sharing more about my life. That being authentic held more interest than focusing solely on my life prior to the college closing. I needed to stay in the moment and reflect what was happening to me, rather than what I was hoping would happen to me again.
Being honest and vulnerable about my feelings just felt right to me in the moment. Turns out I am doing my best when I remain open to sharing my feelings with others.
In other words, the more authentic and vulnerable I remained, the better I performed – according the metrics that mattered, which included how I felt about myself continuing to educate others. Since that blog post, I have found that when I am the most vulnerable about my feelings, I have the best audience to share the tools I have gained. I no longer had to operate in an either/or situation. I could remain authentic and still feel relevant to the world I longed to return to.
Tools to Tap Into Your Authenticity
It can be tough ‘just to be yourself’ in the face of changing times. I know this to be true. But I do believe there are some tools you can put into your personal development toolkit to help you tap into the strength of your authentic self at work.
Geoffrey James in Inc.com believes you can achieve authenticity through a “rigorous inventory of your strengths and a systematic mapping of the moments in your life when you’ve been both highly effective and extremely satisfied.” He believes that when we are able to align these moments – being real and maximizing our strengths – we are able to ‘show up’ and make the most of these moments.
When I began to tap into my feelings of loss and isolation after my last college closed, I discovered something. Other people had the same longing for authenticity. They wanted to know they weren’t alone in their feelings of shame, guilt, fear, loss, and grief. Since my strengths include communication and relator, I could use the examination of my emotions and see if others felt the same as me. I could share skills that I learned through this self-examination, helping others begin their own journey of realization. It helped me stay connected with others, though virtually. It was just one way I have used authenticity to stay relevant to the work I used to do.
Practicing Authenticity in Person
Carley Hauck, in Mindful.org, believes that to be authentic is to “feel at home in your body, accepted into a particular group, and to feel true to our sense of values.” Particularly when our lives are rough and tumbled around, it can be healthy to feel like we can better control what is happening inside of our head and heart. In order to better access feelings of authenticity, start with the four questions exercise below.
Exercise: Four Question
From Mindful.org, think of a recent experience with a partner, friend, family member, or co-worker where you wanted to be authentic but weren’t. Imagine pausing at the height of this interaction and asking yourself the following questions:
- What am I afraid would happen if I shared my experience right now with this person?
- How will feel if I don’t share what I’m thinking and feeling?
- If I weren’t afraid, what would I most want to say to this person right now?
- How can I share this with even more vulnerability?
In terms of work, I would encourage you to find ways to share what you have learned about yourself in whatever ways feel comfortable. With a supervisor, a trusted colleague, even the senior leader of your division. As you begin to show up differently, more open, you may find that others share these same emotions and feelings. At best, you can change the work and the environment of the work. At the least, you may find that the work you’re expected to do is misaligned with your values. And when you can, it might mean moving on to work that better aligns with your values and professional goals.
There are benefits to sharing what you’re feeling with others. It can be for you and maybe even for others.
Carley Hauck offers ways to continue to be authentic to yourself and others. The following six resonated with me about my own journey. I believe they may help others.
- Maintain alignment between what you feel and need and what you say and do.
- Make value-based choices while taking into account intuition, research, and the bigger picture.
- Do something each day that reflects your deepest needs, wishes, and values.
- Speak up for yourself and ask for what you want.
- Don’t put up with abuse of any kind.
- State and maintain your boundaries, especially about the level of energy you can handle being around or taking in.
We can focus on ourselves while we focus on others. Self-care as a education professional can be left aside, as we focus our efforts on others. But as we move towards being authentic and vulnerable we must make time for ourselves to process our feelings and thoughts. We need boundaries and the emotional strength to speak up. And above all, we need to make time to align our values with our work, even when that work is changing daily.
Next Post – Leaning Into the Fear
As I have been writing about being authentic and vulnerable, all sorts of competing emotions have been rising to the surface. Some of them are about what I am capable of doing. Some are about what I expect from others. And I recognize that so much of these emotions are based in fear.
Being authentic and vulnerable means recognizing how our emotions drive us to action or inaction. The next post will explore how to lean into your fears about the unknown. I will share some of my own personal journey in moving on with my own professional development while harnessing the fears I hold.
Want to Explore This Topic Further?
I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.
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