The Cost of Defaulting on Authenticity

Are your internal thoughts and external actions aligned?

I remember it like it was yesterday. Sitting on the couch, reading an article, when the question read… ‘Who are you without your accolades?’ At that moment it hit me I no longer knew who I was without my job and the success I was having along with it. If you’ve heard me speak on a webinar or within one of the TURN Pharmacy Leadership courses, you will have heard me tell this story before. I continue to tell it because it was one of the most profound moments in my life. I call it my early midlife crisis. This was a really tough time and being able to answer the question, ‘who are you?’ without being able to say I’m a pharmacist or pharmacist manager was really tough. But, on the flip side, I got to learn all over again the things that brought me joy, my values, the things that fuelled my fire and how they showed up outside of the four walls of my pharmacy even though I didn’t realise it at the time.

If we were breaking this down into emotional intelligence skills, my self-awareness was poor, my self-management very one-dimensional and authenticity, as much as it pains me to say it, I SUCKED…big time! Today, on R U OK? Day I think it’s the perfect time to discuss authenticity and how this one emotional intelligence competency in particular led to the early mid-life crisis I had to have.

Authencity in emotional intelligence terms is about openly and effectively expressing oneself, honouring commitments and encouraging the behaviour in others. Looking from the outside in, I was authentic. I was open and honest about mistakes, I was open to robust debate and responded effectively when challenged. I expressed thoughts in ways that were sensitive to others and honouring commitments and keeping promises was the thing I hung my smock on. But even though this all sounds amazing and my team would have said that my authenticity was never in doubt, I was inauthentic in one huge way…I wasn’t open about my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I never communicated any of what I was feeling it to the right people, at the right time or in the right way. I was an ‘emotion stuffer’ putting emotions in that metaphorical bottle and kept it capped. On top of this, while I was so busy keeping promises and honouring commitments to others, I would continually default on promises and commitments to myself. 

‘I promise I won’t stay late tonight…’ ‘Ok…it’s a day off and I promise there will be no work done!’ ‘no email before bed…’ ‘coffee time is to just sit and relax’ ‘it doesn’t matter that I’m missing that BBQ on Sunday, work really needs me and there is no one else to fill that shift.’ 

As a fellow Pharmacist, I’m sure you’ve told yourself all of these once or twice before.

The thing I had to really ponder though was a tough question. Why did I default on the promises to myself all the time? Sure I had lots of external reasons, you know what they sound like. The pharmacy, the team, my boss, the money. When I broke it down though, while I valued all of these things, it was deeper than that. I felt if I didn’t do it, I would somehow be seen as a lesser person. I value competency. This value left me feeling that if I honoured the promises to myself, I would have defaulted on being competent. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. Not being able to flex the emotional intelligence competency of authenticity, had me slide into ‘unproductive being’ states. I became temperamental at times, I was frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed. In the fight for competency, I narrowed my capacity for effective leadership rather than enhancing it. If I would have been more aware of what I was doing and brave enough to flex this competency, it could have saved me from a lot of pain. It would have allowed me to live in alignment internally and externally. Instead, I let the battle wage between the internal feelings and the external presentation.

If you resonate with this story more than you care to mention, I ask you the question… ‘What is the cost of continuing the status quo?’

The Harvard Business Review Article, ‘What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity’ discusses ‘enmeshment’. This is a term given to a situation where the boundaries between people, or their careers, blur so much that an individual’s identity loses importance. Enmeshment also prevents the development of a stable, independent sense of self. Throughout the pandemic, Pharmacists were exposed to high-pressure, volatile situations. We continue to experience this pressure because of staff shortages, out-of-stock products and the never-ending shifting of goal posts. When we consider these factors, it’s easy to see why Pharmacists are talking about discontent and a loss of identity. We constantly are putting others before ourselves for the good of the team, the business and our patients. While noble, we need to be sure we are doing this in a way where we are still honouring ourselves authentically.

Ways we can ensure we’re being authentic, and live in alignment internally and externally are:

  • Take the time to write down the way you think and feel about events at work. Taking the time to do this can help you accurately and articulately express yourself.
  • Discuss your feelings with the appropriate people and lead with ‘I-statements’. ‘I-statements’ sound like ‘I feel…’. This way you take ownership of the feeling. Also including information like the source of the feeling is helpful for others to understand your perspective.
  • Tap into other emotional intelligence competencies like self-awareness and self-management.
  • Take the time to take stock of your values and what brings you joy! When you feel things spiralling towards exhaustion, overwhelm or frustration, prioritise time to invest in things that fulfil your values and make you happy. These things are proven to increase resilience!
  • Consider formal personal development like coaching! Coaches can help you unpack these big discussions in a way that is productive and future-focused.
  • Invest in The Essentials Toolbox that gives you the tools needed for effective communication, leading yourself and enhancing your emotional intelligence

R U OK? Day is of course all about asking others if they are ok. I encourage you wholeheartedly to have those conversations with your colleagues, your friends and your family. Ask, Listen, Encourage Action, Check-In.

If you aren’t OK, please reach out to me, friends, colleagues, confidants, a health professional or one of the myriads of great support agencies we have connected to Pharmacy. Please honour what you need.

I hope that this article has encouraged you to take a moment to take stock of where you are today and your relationship with work. We are Pharmacists, we are resilient, we are strong and dependable… we are also human, have limited energy resources and have feelings too. Don’t dismiss them and stuff them in the metaphorical bottle. Be genuine and brave enough to have the conversations you need to have with yourself and others. You deserve it.

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