Finding Your REAL Voice: Embracing Authenticity

Lately I’ve begun to take a closer look at the this thing called authenticity. So often we hear the phrases “keep it real”, “I’ma do me”, and “I’m on my real ish”. Oh and then there’s the fascination that we have with reality television. America seems to be in love with this concept of realness, and I’m no different. When I think about the people who’ve inspired me the most throughout my life, it’s typically been the people that seemed to be, in the words of Jill Scott, so “beautifully human”. Why? Because when we surround ourselves with people who are themselves and live their lives accordingly, somehow it makes us feel that we now have permission to simply be who we are, even if who we are, isn’t what’s popular.

The issue of authenticity has become so important to me because as a young writer, I think it’s crucial to establish my voice early on. I don’t want to just write about what’s popular and get lost in a sea of other voices competing for attention across the dotcom stratosphere. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll always have an interest in what’s trending, but I’m not comfortable with putting out popular material just for the sake of increasing traffic to my site. I want The Post-It Professional to be a blog that not only provides stories that inspires other young people to become go-getters, but that tells them how to do it from the lens that I see through on a daily basis. This is what makes my writing personal and authentic. I can’t inspire someone based off of what I haven’t lived.

Now you may be reading this saying, “Well I’m not a writer, so this doesn’t apply to me.” I beg to differ because whether you’re a social worker or a stock broker, you make decisions day to day about your career and life in general, which requires you to take an honest look in the mirror.  Don’t you want to feel good about those decisions, knowing that they were made based on who you truly are? So below are just a few tips for discovering and embracing your most authentic self.

Engage in discussion with people who will challenge and sharpen your thinking. 

I was recently reading an excerpt from Michael Eric Dyson’s book Open Mike, a collection of essays that explores his thoughts on various topics that range from philosophy, race, sex, culture, to religion. In his preface, he praised those who have interviewed him in the past, thanking them for “doing their homework” and coming prepared with provocative questions that encouraged him to probe his thoughts more carefully.

“They have come to the interview well prepared, which stoked my own creative fire to blaze new paths in my thinking on philosophy, black identity, gender conflicts…” 

Contrary to popular belief, being authentic isn’t about creating who you are and how you think in a vacuum. It just isn’t possible. We are all shaped by outside influences such as our parents, family members, friends, colleagues, communities, and public figures. There’s nothing wrong with talking with others about your thoughts. Just be prepared to engage with people who may also challenge them, no matter how well you articulate your stance. And in some cases, this can be a great thing because sometimes we operate off of limited knowledge about a particular topic. Gathering all the facts helps you to make informed decisions about your position on issues that you care about. In other words, when someone asks you why you care, or don’t care, about a particular issue, you can articulate more than…..”because I just don’t/do.”

I am the woman that I am today because of conversations that I’ve had with teachers, mentors, and colleagues who I truly respect because they pushed me to do more introspection, even if I didn’t ultimately agree with their perspectives.

Accept when something just isn’t for you.

As you were growing up, I’m sure that someone told you that it was important to become more well-rounded. He probably told you that you needed to experience as much as the world has to offer and to keep your minds open to receive, or something like that. I don’t necessarily disagree with this statement because I do think that to truly discover who you are and how you perceive the world around you, you have to actually experience life. But there’s also a Bible verse that says that not everything that is lawful is good for you. I take this to mean that not everything that we learn of or experience in life is for us. You may not agree with everything that you see happening in the world, even if it is a popular trend, but authenticity comes from assessing the issues and making a decision that YOU can live with, because at the end of the day, the only person that you have to look at in the mirror, is you. 

Here’s just a quick personal story. When I first started blogging, I called my blog The Community College Voice. Why? There were several reasons, but the main one was because I work at a community college and I’m a huge proponent of public education. My thought was that I’d use the blog as a platform to champion the support of these great equalizing institutions. And I did write a few pieces that were well received, but I quickly grew tired of the topic because I discovered that I wasn’t as passionate about that when it came to my writing. I felt that I had limited myself. So I completely made over my blog into what you see now. That was a decision that I had to make for me.

Know your brand. 

Your brand is basically your signature. It’s what immediately comes to mind when people hear your name. A huge part of what has helped me to stay grounded has been knowing what I stand for as a person and as a professional. I make sure that I’m clear on what is acceptable to me and what I want others to perceive when they come in contact with me and whatever projects I put out. The key is to establish those standards and be consistent. My brand has often served as my compass and has been very influential in helping me make certain decisions about my personal life and my career. So things like integrity, courtesy, meaningful preparation, and community service are things that I highly value and strive to incorporate into my day to day activities. If you haven’t already started thinking about this, it’s absolutely a must. Take some time and reflect on what you want to be known for. Over the weekend, I asked one of my mentees in the 20/30 Enterprises Emerging Professionals course to write his own eulogy. It’s a bit depressing yes, but when you think about it, your eulogy is the culmination of your life’s work. When it’s your time, what will people say about you? Most importantly, what would you want them to say about you? Time to get to work!

When it’s your time, what will people say about you? Most importantly, what would you want them to say about you?

Don’t compare. 

Lastly, there’s a reason that every single person on the planet has her own unique strand of DNA. Even in a group of people who are like-minded on a particular issue, how they choose to express its importance to the world is going to be a little different, based on their personality and their unique sets of experiences.  What I had to realize quickly when I began this journey of blogging, was that there were going to be a lot of blogs similar to mine. If I had a dime for every self help, inspirational blog I’ve stumbled across online….well you know the rest. But the most important truth that I had to embrace was that no one can do what I do, the way that I do it. And I think that we would all do well to remember those words.

“No one can do what you do, the way you do it. “

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