Authenticity is often a big issue for individuals in my office. They have been living their lives to gain other’s approval. Theirs is a feeling of not being able to live their life in a way that is true to themselves and their values. A classic example is a cliché about “Keeping up with the Joneses,” the idea that people will subjugate their real selves to fit in or impress others through superficial means. For many, it can become an endless, and often empty, pursuit of the illusion of happiness. This theme is found in the media through advertising and the escalation of social media outlets, where many participants manufacture their lives. For some, the changes to self actually become ingrained and inseparable from a person’s authentic self. I fell into this thinking back in my twenties.
Back in 1985, I had graduated from college with a degree in Business Administration. I immediately got a job, got married, and purchased my first home. My first job was as an accounting/IT clerk (believe it or not I have an Associate’s degree in Computer Programming) for a local municipality. I was employed there for approximately a year. After several job changes, I ended up in a well-paying, management training program. Everyone was telling me to be happy; I had it all. Instead of feeling accomplished, I was miserable. To feel better, I enrolled in a graduate course in Psychology at Kutztown University, Theories of Personalities. One night the lecture was about Carl Rogers’ Humanistic Theory of Personality.
During one lecture, the professor, Dr. Polder, stated that when you take on other peoples’ values as your own, you are incongruent with yourself. I was thunderstruck. It was just such an epiphany moment. The next day, I walked into work and resigned. My supervisor was stunned as I told her I would never sit at my desk again. She sputtered and asked if I would at least clean out my desk. I did and left. Next was to inform my husband about quitting my job without a plan. He was surprised but supportive, and I had no idea what to do next.
I sat and stared at the walls in my house for about two weeks. One day, my husband came home and showed me an advertisement for an open house at a local runaway shelter. He said you always talked about wanting to be a social worker, here’s your chance. I was so nervous entering the open house at the shelter, where, as an adolescent I had been a resident. It had changed; the girl’s dorm was now the Board Room.
I walked over in my tweed suit, brown pumps, clutch purse, and helmet hair and asked about the job. After a brief discussion, I admitted that I had been a resident at the shelter. There was a look of surprise from the staff person… wasn’t I supposed to turn out this way? She asked about my resume, which I handed her immediately. It was that night that I got my first job in social work.
It was exhilarating to work in a very creative and authentic way. Every day felt like an achievement, and I was making a difference, just by being me. I never looked back. It was the best decision of my life, from that day to this. I am still so excited about being my own person, honoring my own judgment, and staying true to my values.
There is a statement shared with the individuals in my office; Always go with your first choice, always be you!