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Embracing Authenticity in the Workplace: Overcoming the Fear

Picture of a African American woman with arms open in a group | Hero Image for Embracing Authenticity in the Workplace

Embracing authenticity in the workplace is a journey, and last week I had a remarkable experience that made me reflect on my journey as a trauma survivor.  Throughout my life, I’ve had to confront and push through my fears, often due to the painful experiences I endured at the hands of those I should have been able to trust. Ironically, strangers often felt safer than the people within my own home.

During a recent conversation with a co-trainer, they asked if I had been worried about the training we were conducting. This question caught me off guard because I had genuinely enjoyed the flight, the training, and the break from cooking.

It reminded me of two significant trips in my life: one to San Antonio, Texas, when I was just 18, and the other to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, in my early 40s.

At 18, I was fearless because I didn’t know enough to be scared. But my trip to Puerta Vallarta was an entirely different story—it required a leap of faith and was a transformative experience.

Whenever I pushed through my fear and experienced a positive outcome, I gained more confidence. Sometimes, life has thrown unexpected challenges my way, but help was always available, often from unexpected sources. This journey taught me to expect support from outsiders, and I am deeply grateful for that lesson.

This newfound confidence played a significant role in my career as a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) counselor and later as a supervisor, working with individuals under court mandates. When I confronted my fears and embraced authenticity in my work, it fostered personal growth but also enriched my professional interactions and retention with clients.

I recall an intern who asked me if she was safe in this environment. I watched as she overcame her fear and began to see these individuals not as criminals, addicts, or homeless people—but as fellow human beings. As she gradually relaxed and embraced this perspective, she felt safe and grew personally and professionally. By the end of her internship, she had a profound shift in her perception of “those people,” and I reminded her to thank the individuals she worked with—they were her greatest teachers.

How to embrace authenticity in the workplace:

  1. Identify Your Fear: Consider where fear may be holding you back from being authentic in your interactions with people. Are there situations or individuals that trigger your anxieties or doubts?
  2. Professional Boundaries: Reflect on the boundaries you’ve established professionally. Are they rigid because you fear someone crossing them? Maintaining boundaries is essential, but not at the expense of genuine connections.
  3. Seeing Beyond Differences: Do you see the people you work with as fundamentally different from yourself? Challenge yourself to look beyond their behavior, appearance, or status and meet them where they are.
  4. Authenticity in Motivational Interviewing: If you practice Motivational Interviewing or any other counseling approach, remember that being genuine is a cornerstone of effective engagement. People can sense when you’re not being truthful or genuine. For those who have experienced marginalization, this radar for authenticity is particularly acute.

In conclusion, embracing authenticity in the workplace can be challenging, but incredibly rewarding. Recognizing and addressing our fears builds our empathy/compassion muscle and allows us to foster more genuine connections and positively impact the lives of those we serve.

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