Honest about Authenticity

How to speak your truth constructively

Kate Dames
8 min readNov 3, 2018

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It’s the last Friday of the month in Cape Town. That means Creative Mornings! Yeah! Whenever I have the opportunity to join the talk at Creative Mornings I feel as if I’m home. It’s my tribe. A bunch of creatives buzzing with energy, designing anything from beautiful print media to games and even businesses.

This month the talk is something very deer to my heart. The theme for the month is honesty. The speakers for the day two entrepreneurs with a chocolate shop called Honest Chocolate. Their talk resonates. It tells of having an uninspiring day-job, quitting it to follow their passion, pushing through the tough times and always staying true to oneself while having a positive impact. A journey I am also on and can understand on a deeper level than simply being inspired by it.

Honest chocolate, however, is not just about being true to what you want to do and be. It is also about a sustainable footprint throughout the value chain, from bean to bar, in what they call a chain of positivity. It’s about taking responsibility for one thing they are passionate about and influencing, rather than forcing, change — one sweet bite of chocolate at a time.

Inspired, and high on the serotonin and endorphins from the delicious tasters we enjoy while listening to the talk, I walk back to my day-job. I’m struck at the contradiction that faces me as I walk in. The in-authenticity, the disconnect, the suppressed discontent that is felt in the air — thick and dark like the liquid cocoa — but without the sweet high that is triggered by the bitter taste. Because no-one is willing to admit the bitterness.

It reminds me of my ‘work’ and how much I still have to accomplish. My ultimate goal to create more happy workplaces, facilitating teal and digital transformations. Helping organizations face the dark side so to speak to discover the sweetness that follows.

Don’t be afraid of the dark

Any true chocolate connoisseur knows and agrees that dark chocolate is better than white. Disclaimer — I will never say no to any chocolate, but I do prefer dark.

The darker, the higher the amount of cocoa. The higher the amount of cocoa, the more serotonin and endorphins are released when you eat it. The more serotonin, the happier, more stress free you end up feeling.

It’s science.

Enough about chocolate though. Back to authenticity and honesty.

The dark chocolate, talk on honesty and subsequent contrast at the office triggers within me a call for being true to myself.

A brief history about everything.

Rewind 5 years. I’m working at a ‘normal’ company, having a ‘normal’ day-job as most people do. Why it is called normal I don’t quite get. Not 5 years ago. Not now.

I’m surrounded with people wearing a mask. They are professional at work, while having a secret life outside office hours very different to who they are in the work environment. They literally leave their soul at the door each morning and for the next 5–10 hours become someone other than who they really are.

On the surface, it looks productive, as if everyone is hard at work. You can hear a needle fall. No-one speaks. It feels clinical. Dysfunctional.

It is.

But one day, finally, I win the trust of a developer and is invited to the underground world that exists beyond the surface. I tap into countless skype chats where music is shared, jokes fly around, and people show their true selves and is unafraid to express their opinions. It feels human. It also gets more work done. It reminds me of the many holocaust movies where Jews are secretly hidden and good people are living double lives, pretending to support the movement to rid the world of Jews on the outside.

The managers are unaware of this secret undergound layer. There’s an unwritten rule that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It’s safe to express in this virtual reality. Expressing it in the ‘real’ world would mean being penalized at your next performance appraisal.

I find that out the hard way. A year later and for the first time I’m confronted with undesirable behavior that I don’t even remember. But even though I know the judgement was far from fair, it’s already written in stone. The performance appraisal meeting is merely a formality to tell me what has been decided about me and my future. There’s no discussion. There’s no inclusion.

It hurts inside. Having to hide who I truly am. Having to live a double life. I feel like a fraud. But it pays the bills. It’s what everyone does. So it must be right, right?

However, each day the dysfunction becomes more unbearable. Being a job description rather than a person. Doing what the person before you did, replacing a spoke in the wheel rather than doing what you can do. Want to do. The truth is, you don’t matter.

I’m desperate. I love working. I hate being treated like a robot, being held back from doing what I am good at as it isn’t part of my job description. I don’t know what to do.

One average, unexpected morning, I walk into the office and hear an argument behind closed doors. A stranger’s voice. His words give me hope. He’s challenging the empty promises made by management. The senseless rules and rigid policies. I turn to him for help. I show him what I see. I show him what I can and want to be.

But he turns his back on me. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do much.”

Realizing how futile my attempts to be me within the work environment is, I make the most difficult decision of my life. I quit my job and walk away from corporate life. I choose to be true to myself, hoping that someone will catch me.

An honest look at authenticity

Today, looking back, that was the best decision of my life. It was the day I chose dark chocolate. The day I was willing to taste the bitterness and keep it in my mouth for long enough to feel the sweetness that the bitter darkness brings.

Today, I value integrity and authenticity more than anything else. I do what I am good at. I do what I love doing. I break the rules everywhere I go. I don’t give a shit what people say. I speak my truth openly. I call out dysfunction when I see it.

I do things my way.

Beyond my wildest expectations, I’m respected and promoted rather than reprimanded or fired. For the first time in my life I understand what it means to be free.

Recipe for success

Authenticity is, however, not simply speaking your mind and giving your opinion regardless of what other people think. In fact, it requires you not to do so.

It’s not about not caring what people think or say behind your back. It’s about knowing what you are saying or doing is taking the best interest of the organization as a whole into consideration. It’s as little about me as it is about anyone else. It’s about the impact of decisions or actions on the vision and ability to achieve it. Here’s how I do it.

Step 1. Get clear on your values and your vision.

The vision is bigger than one person. The CEO, the board of directors, the management are the people steering the ship, but the vision is ultimately what is important, not the people.

Your values, on the other hand, are the road signs to help you get closer to your vision. It helps you make decisions. What is more important? Integrity? Or short term gains? Transparency? Or hiding a mistake hoping no-one will see?

To me, integrity, transparency, open communication and respect are most important. Whenever I face a difficult decision, I turn to these values, asking whether I’m living in integrity, being transparent, communicating openly and respecting the people around me.

Step 2. Honor your emotions.

Emotions guide me. It tells me when I’m not living in integrity or when I’m not treating people with enough respect. When I feel a bad emotion looming, whether it is anger, hurt, jealousy or shame, I pay attention.

Emotions, like a baby, screams when it’s uncomfortable. When there is an unmet need. When you meet the need, the baby stops crying. When you ignore it, the screams get louder.

When something makes you unhappy, spend time figuring out what it is you are unhappy about. As a personal example, I recently felt unheard and angry because my boss never seems to be happy with the results. There’s always a change, an error, a but. It’s not that he says it’s not good enough or doesn’t say thank you, it’s the but that comes with the thank you.

The discomfort and anger grows and with each new work item the lens of discontent gets bigger, blurring out all the good things that makes him an awesome person and CEO.

Finally, I decide to honor my emotions and try to understand why I’m so angry. I discover that I don’t feel valued. I discover that I feel excluded.

Step 3. Flip it.

It’s easy to complain. To criticize. However, solutions can only be found when you are clear on what you want, not what you don’t want.

Knowing that I don’t feel valued and included, I search for the opposite. What do I really want? And what does that mean to me? I make a list.

I want to be included and valued.

I want to be asked for my input before a decision is made. It doesn’t mean my input needs to be included, but at least ask what I think. I want to be part of the conversation.

I want to be asked what I want, not only always what the employer wants. I want to be asked what I need. And I want it to be given to me. I want to showcase my work in the best possible format I can, not as fast and cheap as possible. I want to use the best tools that will help me deliver, not the cheapest second hand options that’s lying around.

Most of all, I want attention. Just spend more than 2 minutes listening to what I have to say. Just give me time to finish my sentence before you jump in with your opinions and ideas. Just show that my opinion matters.

Step 4. Voice it.

Finally, I feel ready to confront my boss. I call a meeting with my boss and I quietly, and with due respect, tell him how I feel and give concrete examples of what he has done to make me feel this way. I don’t judge. I don’t blame. I just present the facts to support how I feel.

My goal is for him to understand my perspective. Not to make it right or wrong. Not to win. Not to apologise. To find an intersection between our needs.

To find equilibrium.

To be true to myself.

Conclusion

Authenticity is about being true to who you are. It requires you to speak our truth, honestly, openly. Most people, however, don’t feel safe to express when they’re unhappy. Most people try to avoid conflict as much as possible. When you avoid speaking your truth, you end up being a one-man band. Alone in your journey. The opposite of being a team.

Speaking your truth however is like eating a bit of dark chocolate. It requires you to keep the bitterness in your mouth for a while, not immediately spitting it out. Truth can only be heard once the emotional charge is removed from the message.

Stay a while with the bad feeling. Find what is on the other side. And then speak your truth.

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Kate Dames

A cup of fresh ideas for old problems. Integrating technology, agile, gamification & lean to make workplaces more human, productive & fun. www.funficient.com