Quit Climbing Trees if You Were Made to Swim!

The Search for Personal Authenticity

Quit Climbing Trees if You Were Made to Swim!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word authenticity lately.  Authenticity, in my opinion, is powerful because it calls out our uniqueness, our individuality in our thoughts, reflections and, subsequently, our actions and interactions.

There’s amazing power and lquit climbing trees if you were made to swim, testing, selection, authenticity, empowerment, gifts, talents, abilitiesiberation in simply being you.  Yet why is it so hard to identify it and own it?

I had so many different questions running through my head such as, what does living authentically really mean?  Is living authentically a reflection of how we see ourselves internally?  Does authenticity show itself in only certain areas of our lives?  Maybe it’s the culmination of taking multiple aptitude and personality assessment tests to understanding where our strengths lie? Better yet, maybe it’s knowing what we aren’t so good at doing? Perhaps it’s all of those things and this is a rabbit hole best left alone and I should just continue to ‘stay the course’ of what is comfortable? Sometimes the status quo can be a safe (and predictable) place.

Then, one day I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and came across the picture in this post that really helped put a visual to what I was seeing around me these days and also took me back to a comment from a mentor of mine that I didn’t pay much attention to at the time.

I see authenticity being a two-way street.  This cartoon points out the way the first way that some companies go about selecting key talent via ‘standardized’ process.  Which I do believe, in some ways, is fair.  For example, if a company is looking for an accountant, then there are specific skills, training and experience that are required for that role in order for the individual (and the company) to succeed.

This leads me to the second way down this two-way street and that is the individual.  If you don’t have any accounting experience, then don’t put yourself in that position.  Don’t try and climb a tree if you were meant to swim!  Yeah, I know – that’s not rocket science!  But how many times do we or people we know do this?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “it just isn’t a good fit”?  I used to think of that phrase as being a trite and polite way of saying that a person wasn’t doing a good job and they had to leave.

I now see that ‘f’ word as being a more vital link to happiness than pacifying rhetoric.

Truth be told, I used that ‘not a good fit’ message years ago when I was a manager at a public relations agency.  There was a person who was on my team that was talented, but just not strong in the area of creative work, where his role currently had him placed.  His strengths were more in line with account management.  While his performance was low in this particular area, this young man embodied the values of our agency, treated his teammates very well and was passionate about the work he delivered to our clients, so I didn’t think letting him go was the right solution.

I asked the president of our agency, my mentor, if I could get his advice on the situation and he said, “Mike, you can’t teach a fish to climb a tree.  And that is ok, so let’s get him in the water.”

We went on to find a better fit within the company where his natural abilities set him up to succeed.

“To thine own self be true.”

We are delivered into this amazing world with specific gifts that are shaped and refined – not defined – by our experiences and surroundings.  But, how often do we find ourselves pushing those abilities to the side in an effort to be something we aren’t?  That being said, I believe that understanding who we aren’t is just as valuable because it can teach us who we truly were made to be.

The challenge is that this takes time and experience!

Last year, my daughter, Alexa, did a week-long job shadow where I work and spent time with the various departments that make up our business team.  She spent time with our event marketing, communications, social/digital, sales and marketing teams.  At the end of the week, I asked her which areas she liked and what she learned.  She quickly said, “well, I know I don’t want to work in ‘x’ department.” I celebrated that with her because learning what doesn’t feel like a good fit is just as important as learning what does feel like a good fit.

When we live in an authentic space, life takes on a different rhythm.  I don’t believe that means that life gets easier, but I do believe that it will flow differently.

I have a dear friend who told me that when you are in that zone, that place of authenticity, what you do, how you do it and how you think is like breathing oxygen – you don’t think about it, you just do it naturally.  I love that analogy.

To live authentically externally, in this world, means that you are living authentically inside yourself.  As Shakespeare wrote – “to thine own self be true.”

Here are four words that I have strategically used to help me on my journey towards authenticity, and perhaps this may help you along yours.

 

  1. Inventory – What are the things that I do that are natural to me? What do I do that make a positive difference in other’s lives, a positive impact at the company at which I work? Just as importantly, where can I use these abilities to earn a living or build a career?

 

  1. Value – What do I value in my life and how can I live that out each day, to the best of my abilities? For me, that ranges from expressing gratitude and appreciation to showing others respect, creating high-quality work and living with integrity – do I nail this every day? I’d be lying if I said ‘yes’.  But I know that I have guideposts that are authentically mine.

 

  1. Control – What can I truly control in my life? I visualize two piles of ‘stuff’ in my life. The pile on my left is one where I have zero control because it’s based on external factors.  The second pile, on my right, is where I have absolute control because it’s based on me.  Which pile do you think I spend my energy on most?  Yup, the one on the left!  Can you relate?  I believe that my attitude, my thoughts and my behavior are truly the only three things I can proactively control in my life – the rest is all reaction.

 

  1. Consistency – Change occurs rarely because of one singular event, but through the course of numerous consistent actions over time. I try to align consistency with my daily attitude, thoughts and behavior.  Am I perfect? Again, not going to lie, but I’m consistently working at it!

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Quit Climbing Trees if You Were Made to Swim!

  1. I really enjoyed your perspective on authenticity. Certainly the topic has created personal tension along my career journey, but it is also something that comes up with almost every younger colleague I speak to. They see “the path” leading to “the job” and feel obligated to become just one more person following the same pattern, whether they are truly passionate about work or a good fit for it. We all learn by watching others, but as you have pointed out, there are problems ahead when we start to convince ourselves that someone else’s path should absolutely be the same as our own. Supervisors, mentors, and coaches have to work a little harder to make sure they are customizing their actions and guidance to the unique gifts, abilities, interests (and limitations!) of each individual. Have you ever found yourself coaching someone, maybe even your own kids, to the vision of what you want them to be or what is comfortable for you rather than towards their authentic selves and passions? I know I have, even with the best of intentions. A helpful and thought provoking post – thanks Mike!

    • So many good points, Matt! Finding your authentic place is certainly a journey and can be a process of trial and error … parenting, to your point, has certainly opened my eyes to mentoring and teaching others! It’s their journey of discovery, not mirroring or unintentionally (or intentionally) imposing my vision of their authenticity … thank you for adding such great insight!