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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Free to Be?

For the last week or so, I've been struggling with how to tackle this particular topic - AUTHENTICITY. How many of us truly live authentic lives? Are our professional lives separate from our authentic lives? Do they blend nicely or is there a Mason Dixon line present?

I felt it was time to write this blog because it just seemed as though I was being presented with hint after hint to write this blog. First it was a conversation, then it was something I witnessed at work, then it was an article I read, then another conversation. Today was the tipping point when the topic on Oprah was being who you were meant to be - living authentically without fear. This episode featured Ellen Burstyn, Sheryl Crow, and Dana Buchman as well as many other prominent women in entertainment talking about how they have finally been able to be the person they feel they were meant to be.

I like to think that I live pretty authentically at work and in my personal life. Granted, there are things that are too personal to talk about at work - everyone need not know ALL of your business! However, I think there's merit to being "YOU" 24/7 as much as possible. Choosing to do things because you want to not because you feel obligated. To feel comfortable in sharing your opinions and standing your ground with your beliefs. Being able to share who you are with the students you work with confidently, without feeling like you'd be judged by them OR your supervisor - I mean.. we DO try to teach civility and acceptance, right?

I read an article today to research this topic. I knew what it feels like to live authentically but I couldn't articulate it. However, this article does it really well.

"Truly being your Self in any given situation means you are: at peace with your Self, in love with your Self, into your Self or at one with your Self. When you're being your Authentic Self you feel empowered, powerful, confident, capable, strong and One with All That Is."
(Excerpt from The Freedom of Being Authentic By Melissa Van Rossum)

I know for a fact that I hadn't been authentic until I made the move to Las Vegas. In undergrad I wasn't being myself. I joined a fraternity and did a half-ass job of being myself. The fraternity gave me a lot of my personality for 5 years - and honestly, I needed one badly because I was so afraid of knowing who I was so that was something that defined me. Then there was grad school - and I was still undefined. Beginning my first student affairs professional gig - I was on the cusp of living authentically.

A journey of authenticity - scary, huh? Yeah it is scary. The first year I decided to be me 24/7 I began by putting a rainbow sticker on my car in 2003. I wanted students to be able to identify an ally and a member of a specific community. It's a part of who I am just as being black is. In doing that, I was officially stating my orientation to EVERYONE at the university and community. It was scary and liberating - it was also a way to say it without me actually "saying it". Still a bit cowardly. Four years have passed and I now sport Marshall University paraphernalia on my new car rather than rainbow anything. I've gotten to the point where it's easier to talk about with students, staff, and friends. Living an authentic life on and off campus. I've empowered myself and now I'm able to help empower others.

Feeling empowered, confident, capable and strong is important for anyone in any field - the only difference for those in our career is that while we're pushing to be all those things while we're tryin' to help others to arrive there too. Do we ever make ourselves vulnerable to our students? To our colleagues? Are we being "too real" too often and where do you stop being real and being professional? Is it based on your own comfort level? If it is your comfort level, then we're back to square one - are you comfortable with who you are and what you represent? Shouldn't we be role models?

Let's talk about role modeling briefly. What is a good role model? Someone who appears to have arrived to where they are without mistakes or struggles? Or is a role model someone who will share their trials and errors, their successes and offer guidance on how to become successful? One of my biggest pet peeves in our field are professionals that act as though they've NEVER done anything wrong and chastise students who do make mistakes.

There's a quote that I began to say 4 years ago and I can't remember who said it but it goes like this... "It's much easier to live one life than to live two lives and just as easy to be yourself than to be the somebody someone else created." At the end of the day you only have to answer to one person.. and that's you. Your friends, your colleagues and your students will respect you more for your honesty. Express who you are more regularly and you'll begin to feel stronger, more capable, more empowered because of your honesty. And because of your honesty you'll live a freer more authentic life.

As the school year begins - think of how different it might be if you were more authentic in your work. Consider blurring those lines between personal and professional and allowing people the opportunity to know you.. flaws and all (that's right, Beyonce'!)

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