Dr. Lori:

The Art of Be­ing Au­then­tic

PS Magazine - - NEWS - Doc­tor Lori Ste­vic-Rust

Prac­tic­ing the art of be­ing au­then­tic—with the good, the bad, and the ugly parts fully ex­posed— is a life-long process. An hon­est eval­u­a­tion of the self re­quires ac­knowl­edge­ment and ac­cep­tance of gifts and weak­nesses. Seek­ing per­fec­tion may, in essence, re­move us from our hu­man­ness, which then makes us be­come self-fo­cused and pre­oc­cu­pied. If we are so busy look­ing at our­selves, how can we ever be emo­tion­ally avail­able to see oth­ers? If we can’t slip our feet into the shoes of con­fi­dence and iden­tity, we live in fear. Fear of be­ing seen. Fear of fail­ing. Fear of eval­u­a­tion. Fear of be­ing fool­ish. Fear of be­ing “caught” as the im­poster that our in­se­cu­rity tells us we are.

The con­cept of be­ing “real”— gen­uine and true to our own im­age and be­liefs about our self—is of­ten cre­ated early and then shaped and re­formed as we gain life ex­pe­ri­ences and make con­scious choices. Our au­then­tic self­con­cept is the in­ter­nal pic­ture and ever run­ning cog­ni­tive script we cre­ate to de­scribe and de­fine who we are, what we be­lieve, how we look, and how we feel about moral is­sues. And, the value on that im­age can be heav­ily in­flu­enced by feed­back from oth­ers. It is as if our self-im­age is an in­ter­nal Vel­cro strip: When we get a com­pli­ment or a crit­i­cism, it sticks to us if we hold the same view.

Con­sider when Meryl Streep, the ac­tor nom­i­nated for more Academy Awards and Golden Globes than any other ac­tor in his­tory, was quoted as say­ing, “You think, why would any­one want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act

any­way, so why am I do­ing this?” The real ques­tion for Ms. Streep is, “Can you act? Do you be­lieve that you have a tal­ent for act­ing?” If the an­swer is “no,” then stop act­ing and learn a new skill. If the an­swer is “yes,” then an in­ter­nal pe­riod should be put at the end of the sen­tence. I know I can act. It is a dif­fer­ent ques­tion to ask, “Can I learn more and as­pire to be an even bet­ter ac­tor?”

Of course, be­cause that is not a ques­tion about our view of our­selves, that is a ques­tion about a drive to be bet­ter, learn more, and im­prove our­selves. But that feel­ing is not the one that sets us up to feel like an im­poster. The ques­tion that gets to the core of Meryl Streep is the doubt about her own per­cep­tions of her skills and thereby her re­liance on the eval­u­a­tion of oth­ers to an­swer the ques­tion about whether or not she can act. This kind of re­liance on the views of oth­ers over our own sets us up for fear and doubt, as the opin­ions of oth­ers is a mov­ing tar­get that we will never fully sat­isfy. But, if we hold our own view firmly in place, we have a bet­ter chance to feel con­fi­dent and con­nected to our iden­tity and the feed­back from oth­ers.

His­tor­i­cally, it seems to be in our very na­ture to be­gin with an anal­y­sis of our weak­nesses, our ob­sta­cles, and our short­com­ings. Un­til re­cently, even the field of psy­chol­ogy fo­cused on ill­ness, deficits, and pathol­ogy al­most at the ex­clu­sion of strengths and virtues. In the busi­ness world, strong lead­ers typ­i­cally have been rec­og­nized for their abil­ity to see what is not work­ing at the sys­tem level and rec­og­niz­ing who is not ca­pa­ble at the per­son level. For­tu­nately, we are see­ing a ma­jor shift in re­search, prac­tice, and train­ing around the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of strengths and us­ing them to im­prove the bot­tom line in busi­ness and the emo­tional well­be­ing of the per­son.

The ex­er­cise of iden­ti­fy­ing our life themes and the strengths that we pos­sess is ac­tu­ally the foun­da­tion of suc­cess. War­ren Buf­fet, one of the rich­est men in the world, once de­scribed his key to suc­cess as his abil­ity to know his strengths and then make them bet­ter. He de­scribed him­self as pa­tient and prac­ti­cal— skills he uses ev­ery day when in­vest­ing

and run­ning a busi­ness. Suc­cess­ful peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly women, learn to or­ga­nize their life in such a way to max­i­mize their strengths. And the dis­cov­ery of our great­est strengths usu­ally oc­curs un­der high stress sit­u­a­tions when we de­fault to what we know best.

The truth is we ac­tu­ally in­vent our own in­se­cu­ri­ties. When we fo­cus on the things we don’t like about our­selves and the things we be­lieve oth­ers do not like about us, we give those at­tributes and be­liefs life. We breathe en­ergy into our flaws and fail­ings and make them larger than any­thing else in our lives. But imag­ine what could hap­pen if we fo­cused our en­ergy on what we do well— our unique gifts. Imag­ine if we nur­tured and de­vel­oped those strengths. ■

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