In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:

  • The top 5 authenticity traps that keep you from finding success in your career
  • What being authentic in a work environment really means
  • How “authenticity” can hold you back
  • Why adaptive authenticity is what you should strive for

What does it mean to be your “true” or “authentic” self in the workplace? One of my amazing listeners, Shelley, wrote in with a note about how she had been shying away from her own personal branding without realizing that she was hindering her upward mobility at work. She thought it was more authentic to stay quiet even though she knew that she was being passed over. Then, she had an a-ha moment.

In recent years, there has been a push for employees and employers to be more ‘authentic’ and true to themselves in the workplace, but what does that really mean? What does it mean to be authentic?

In this episode, I share some views on this topic, and ask the important – but often controversial questions about whether/how the concept of authenticity can actually hold us back from what we really want (and what our ‘true self’ really wants is indeed part of our authenticity!).

When viewed rigidly, being authentic to your “true” self could spell disaster for your career and your personal brand. It’s important to be authentic, and to keep a wide and adaptive view of what that really means. This is one of the core principles that we explore at the TransforMD Mastery Retreat – a special event for women physicians only offered once a year (with registration open right now – check it out!).

Listen in to learn:

  • Why ‘authenticity’ can reinforce self-limiting beliefs (this is a bad thing!)
  • How leaning on what feels authentic to you may be holding you back from growth
  • Why some definitions of authenticity ignores the importance of how others receive you, and this could be potentially damaging
  • What causes ‘authenticity’ to interfere with your results
  • When ‘authenticity’ may undermine your credibility (and when it helps)

As you listen, consider whether you really have a “true” self at all. Because we are constantly learning, growing, and evolving as we gain wisdom, age, and experience, I believe instead we have many selves, including a predominant “current” self, but no single ‘true self’.

“This quest to be authentic can sometimes be self-limiting.” – Marjorie Stiegler


In this Episode:

[00:42] Today we’re chatting about authenticity in the workplace and professional success.

[02:10] Do we know what authenticity really means?

[04:47] Learn more about the first authenticity trap.

[05:41] The importance of self-limiting beliefs and other stories we tell ourselves

[06:53] Rigid authenticity may be holding you back from growth. Learn why.

[09:04] Why authenticity (when expressed rigidly) ignores other people, and why that leads to self-sabotage

[11:17] Does authenticity interfere with results?

[15:31] Can authenticity undermine your credibility? Authenticity can help boost connectedness, but only if you have something else first.

[19:22] How you help others (yes, others) by embracing a professional brand with authenticity

[21:00] How can you be authentic and effective without falling into these traps?

[22:09] About ‘adaptive authenticity’ and how it may be a better goal to strive for

[23:28] The 5 traps recapped.


Links and Resources:

TransforMD Mastery Experience

Blog: Show Up and Be Seen: A Guide to Better Professional Visibility

Blog: Moving Up or Moving On? 4 Steps to Position Yourself for Leadership Success





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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 36: Are These 5 Authenticity Traps Holding You Back?


Hey there, welcome to the Career Prescription. I’m your host, Marjorie Stiegler. This podcast is all about the important stuff they don’t teach you in medical school, about how to treat your career like the business it really is, and how to be strategic about your success. I’ll show you how to use modern strategies to get ahead, create your own path and do more of what you love. Every episode is inspired by questions from listeners just like you. So be sure to subscribe. And of course, send me those questions, so I can use them on a future episode. so you don’t miss anything. Be sure to always check the show notes on my website.

Are you ready? Let’s get into it.

Hey there, welcome back.

Today let’s talk about authenticity. My listener Shelley wrote to me with a question, or not really a question exactly, but a realization she said she had come to from listening to my recent series on professional branding. And she said, “I used to feel very uncomfortable selling myself at work, and I know I was being passed over for opportunities. I used to think that it was more authentic to just hope people noticed me eventually. But after listening to your series, I realized that the problem wasn’t my work. I always had great reviews, it was that no one really thought about me as a go to person for that work. So while I was doing a really good job, I was doing it very quietly. And that was holding me back. And since my work is about something that actually helps other people, it was holding other people back too.”

Well, thanks for that note, Shelly, I love what you just said. I think it’s exactly right. You know, very often people are doing a lot of work that isn’t really noticed or valued or at least not rewarded. And that’s not just sort of a selfish view is your ability to succeed and work helps other people as well. So I thought this was really great, but not only am I glad that you shared that with me, I’d love to chat more about this term that you brought into the conversation about authenticity. And how that fits into career development and professional success. So we’ll talk about that on the podcast.

Today I’m going to talk about five authenticity traps that may be holding you back. So, you know, according to Google Trends, we are somewhere between 50 and 75% Peak interest in the term authenticity right now. So that means that, you know, there have been periods of time in recent history where there have been many, many more search terms, or many, many more searches rather, about authenticity. But we’re still up there 50 to 75% Peak interest, people are very interested in authenticity. But we are close to 100% Peak interest for terms related to the meaning of authenticity, or how to define authenticity.

So I thought this was really important and interesting, because authenticity seems to be the Holy Grail or Gold Standard that we’re all supposed to be striving for at work and in life. But based on at least Google Search trends, it seems like people aren’t entirely sure what that means. And I think it can mean different things. But for this podcast, I want to explore the sort of two narrow or too rigid or too simplistic of an interpretation of the word, because I believe this is backfiring and is hindering people from not only getting the results they want in life, but also from their own personal growth.

So what is authenticity? You can find many definitions, I’m sure authenticity is generally defined as having congruence between what we feel or think on the inside, and what we say or do on the outside. So at its core, this totally makes sense. And it seems really consistent with the idea that we have of like, whether you’re being “real” or whether you’re being “fake,” so to speak, and I put those in air quotes, right, “real” and “fake.” But I think it’s really much more nuanced than that. And also, I think, for many people, including my listeners, my students, my friends, my colleagues, even for myself, this quest to be authentic can sometimes be self limiting. And with a spotlight on authenticity these days, workplaces are even increasingly inviting us or sometimes even insisting you know that we bring our authentic selves to work. Which is super and well intended. But if the workplace isn’t really set up to reward and receive that authentic self, this is really backfiring.

I think especially for folks who may be newer in their careers or who are shifting careers and so are sort of newer in a culture or in an organization in order to, you know, really bring your best self to work, how do you? How do you measure that up with what’s most authentic to you? I think there are some traps. So let’s dive into them.

Here’s five traps that have come up with and of course, I should mention I’m obviously not an authenticity expert or researcher, but I do love to learn so a lot of what I’m going to share with you stuff that I have read, you know from other people, other experts, other household names on the topic. Okay.

Authenticity trap number one, I think this rigid view of authenticity is getting really conflated with self limiting beliefs. So being authentic does not necessarily mean being who you are or who you have been up to this point in your life. And I would actually raise the question, you know, is it even possible to be true to your future self, there is a future self, a self, which today is totally unknown and undeveloped at this point in time. But you’ll be you in 10 years, 20 years from now, and how can you be authentic today to that future self? That you don’t even know yet? So I would just offer that as a question because we all have these narratives in our heads about our lives. Some are positive, and some are less positive, self limiting beliefs about who we are, what we can do, what we cannot do, what we’re supposed to do. These beliefs can feel very, very authentic, but they’re often detrimental. So if the idea of self limiting beliefs is a little bit newer to you, or even if it isn’t, I would, I have a video for a deeper dive on self limiting beliefs on my website.

It’s here in the show notes, you can get the link and it’s also a big part of what we tackle in the transformed mastery retreat for women physicians and since early bird registration is about to close on that, definitely check it out before it’s too late, you’ll be able to at And again, I’ll put the link in the show notes. It’ll be virtual this year because of COVID. But it’s going to be just as amazing.

So again, just because you have been living in a certain way, or you’ve been expressing yourself in a certain way, or you have been choosing certain activities over other activities thus far in your life, does not mean you need to be fixed and do that forever. That’s not what being authentic means. So please be mindful, if you hear yourself talking to yourself about something that you aren’t going to do, because that just doesn’t feel like you. It’s not something you’ve done before. That is conflating authenticity with self limiting beliefs.

Number two, authenticity, rigid authenticity, limits your growth and prevents you from learning and doing outside your comfort zone. So related to number one, it really prevents you From that development that you need, you don’t try things that are uncomfortable or a new style. And you say, that’s just not me, that is a fixed mindset of what you are. And it’s just also an inaccurate dichotomy.

If you think that somehow there’s a real you and a fake you and those are the only two you’s, then what’s really happening in your life, whether it’s conscious or not, is authenticity is sort of becoming an excuse for sticking with what is comfortable. And it’s preventing you from evolving. So constraining to this notion that there’s just one true self that you should be adhering to, it’s just not correct. You’ve heard people say, you know, would you write a letter to yourself from 10 years ago or 20 years ago, your younger self, what would you say?

So, obviously, just the fact that people do things like that lets us know that with life and with experience, you discover more about yourself, and you get new skills and talents and you evolve your viewpoints and your behaviors. And this is really, I think, an iterative process of personal improvement right? This stuff we all do. And clearly we can see that if you had just one true self, that true self changes over time. So this concept that you know something is just not you, or that it’s somehow a fake you because you haven’t been doing it up until now is definitely a constraining notion.

And I would take this even a little bit further to say you don’t have just one true self, probably have a lot of different true selves when you think about the different roles that you have, as a family member, or a spouse, as a parent, as a colleague, as a friend, as a neighbor, in your professional work, and just all kinds of different ways in which you have a true self. And it is, you have a different goal, you have a different purpose in that role. And so you show up differently and those can all be true together. So again, I think it’s a trap to feel like there’s one true self because we know that true self changes over time.

And also there’s multiple true selves dependent Upon your roles, okay, authenticity trap number three, I think authenticity when we sort of interpret it rigidly ignores other people, it’s really very sort of inwardly focused, to say, you know, I’m going to express myself, however I want it to be about my truest self, by speaking how I want, dressing how I want, interacting how I want, expressing how I want, without taking into account how others will feel and react.

What will they think? How will they interpret you? Now, I want to be careful here to explain that you can and should, I think, certainly express yourself however you wish. But I would put a little asterisk there. I’m not sure that you wish to express yourself sort of the most unfiltered way, or the thing that pops to mind as what you might feel as sort of an instinct or you might just blurt out what you think. Because you probably also wish to have a certain level of effectiveness.

And so when it comes to speaking your mind, there’s probably a spectrum that is authentic to you, one in which you’re totally unfiltered. And on the other hand, when you’re sort of more nuanced and thoughtful in how you convey your thoughts and feelings, but along that spectrum, you’re still being true to what you actually think. So it’s really in the delivery. So it’s a trap to interpret that to be authentic is to not focus on the delivery, right or to be authentic is to be unfiltered. It’s important when you are thinking about how you wish to represent yourself to include other people in that equation.

Because if you have a thought or a feeling that you want to communicate, most likely the result or the receipt of that communication is also important to you. And if it is, you should keep those kinds of things in mind and and perhaps modulate yourself, depending upon your audience, depending upon your goals, still in a way that is authentic. Your internal self and your external self. But it doesn’t mean that you can literally say or do anything that you want and expect certain results.

And that brings us, I think, to number four authenticity trap, which is that authenticity, when interpreted really, literally interferes with results. So building on number three, or it sort of ignores other people and the fact that we live in society.

Number four, authenticity interferes with results. I think negotiation is potentially a really good example here. Do you embrace the opportunity to learn negotiation skills, so that you can get the rewards or whatever you would feel you are worth or that you deserve? Right, people always say, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate. But some people will say, well, that’s just not me. It’s not my style. It’s not my personality, and therefore then you’re just stuck with whatever you get.

And if we take that one step further, a lot of people today are disgruntled about what they get right? We’re very concerned about inequity in the workplace. And don’t get me wrong, not all of this has anything to do with authenticity. There’s a lot of true bias and lack of transparency that occurs in the workplace. So, you know, please don’t misunderstand and take this out of context. But a lot of people just don’t negotiate. They shy away from negotiating. They don’t want to negotiate, they feel uncomfortable negotiating. And so then just the reality is, you’ll be accepting a different set of outcomes.

And so I would challenge anybody who’s listening to this thing, and negotiation is just not for me, that’s not my style. It doesn’t feel authentic to me to do that. I just want to be recognized for my value and treated accordingly. You may want that, but it’s not likely to happen. You know, I mean, or perhaps it’s just not surprising when it doesn’t happen. And so that’s an example of rigid authenticity interfering with potential results.

Similarly, we have a close friend or someone that you care about who asks for advice and what you really think is sort of tough love advice, it’s going to be hard to do. Deliver, you probably know how to give honest advice, and still deliver it, package it up with kindness and compassion, and say it in a way where it will help your friend right, it will be helpful.

Because you have all these things already in mind, right? You want to preserve the relationship, you want them to hear you because you think your advice is meaningful plus, they’ve asked for it right, they want some help. But you also want to deliver some of these tough messages. So you know how to do that with a friend. You can apply to all kinds of other situations. When you have a partner, your spouse or a work partner, anybody else, you want them to get on board with an idea, you know, you can either just put your foot down and give an ultimatum or you can try to be very persuasive and appeal to, you know, what would benefit them or or even some people like to, you know, plant some seeds and nurture it until the other person feels like that idea came naturally to them as well and so you’re totally aligned. Both of these things are authentic if the end result is consistent with your internal thoughts and feelings about it. And of course, it’s so long as you’re, you know, living through a moral compass, you know, and your values code.

So it’s in the delivery there. I guess in the long and short of it, it’s just unrealistic to expect to be able to do or say anything without social consequences, whether those consequences be positive or negative. So, you know, I think when people are over interpreting authenticity, and they’re saying this is my permission, slip to say and do whatever I want, regardless of how it comes out, yet, you can do that. But there, there’s going to be some social consequence to that.

And so, I guess, again, that builds on number three about the importance of focusing on other people and really does potentially interfere with the results that you want. The results that you want are also part of your authenticity, right and what you’re hoping to achieve. Not just the sort of, you know, knee jerk response of what might come out of your mouth or a way that you’re used to handling certain kinds of interactions, there might be a different way that feels different to you today. But is, is perhaps even better than what you’re doing.

Currently, it would get you more effective results, that would still be consistent with your internal thinking and feeling.

Okay, authenticity trap number five, studies show that authenticity can undermine your credibility. So why are we running around telling everyone to be their authentic self, if that is going to undermine their credibility? I think it’s really important. This one again, I want to be careful here that people don’t misunderstand. There’s a lot of things that I wish weren’t the way that they are in the world. But nonetheless, we have to exist in that world. We have to negotiate and navigate that And so there are some things where we can affect change. And in order to affect that change, we have to think about how we are showing up.

And even if we don’t want to affect the change of sort of the overall culture of accepting various differences and different authentic presentations of oneself, when you think about your own success, as a leader, your own ability to be effective, you want to have that credibility. So you’ve heard that advice people say, be yourself, be yourself, just be yourself. And that that’s supposed to somehow be good career advice.

So it’s interesting, because, number one, we don’t really know what that means. As we’ve already talked about, you have many selves. But the other one is that science tells us research tells us that if you interpret being yourself as sort of a free pass to disclose every feeling or thought that you have to everyone in the name of authenticity, that’s really risky.

Recently, I was listening to a TED podcast and Adam Grant was telling the story of a public speaker who was showing some emotional vulnerability with a hostile audience. He was sharing what we all know intuitively, which is that, you know, when you have somebody who is a leader, and they show some vulnerability, it’s humanizing. And people like that, and they will probably respond well to you. And in this case, they did, but he shared the caveat that has also been borne out of a lot of research, which is this only applies to you if your competence is already demonstrated.

In other words, you have to be proven first. And then people like to get that glimpse at your sort of realness. But if you are oversharing, when you aren’t solidly established, it backfires. And instead of building a connection, it makes people question your ability. So in Grant’s words, if you’re impressive before, and then you show a little vulnerability, and now you’re relatable to but what’s implied is sort of that you weren’t if you’re not already impressive, if you were not already established as impressive, instead of being relatable, now you may be perceived as being incompetent. So that undermine of credibility I think is especially important again, as I said for people might who maybe earlier in careers or switching careers, which is not to say don’t stay true to your core values, but is to say, perhaps you do want to be a little bit more filtered and a little, you know, a few degrees kind of reserved of what you share with everybody, until at least, you have established that credibility.

Because like it or not, again, this gets back to you know, this is just how it is. I wish perhaps it wasn’t this way, but since it is this way, I have my goal, I guess for this kind of conversation with my listeners to just make people aware of it and help you to think about the nuances and the spectrum of authenticity.

So back to my listener’s comment about professional branding and authenticity. I mean, you probably also realize that your good ideas and your strong potential can very easily go unnoticed or under noticed, if you aren’t doing some effort at selling yourself, and this might be, you know, even just in your annual performance review. It’s something that’s critical for others to take notice of what you’re doing, and to begin to view you as their go to person. And again, this is not a commentary on anyone’s quality of work, it’s just that life is busy.

There’s a lot of noise out there. And we don’t all know what each other is doing. You’re the only one who’s paying the most attention to your own career, to really, really know what you’re doing. So although sometimes we’re surprised to find out that our close colleagues didn’t really know about some sort of sizable chunk of our expertise, we really shouldn’t be. So if you aren’t doing a little bit of selling yourself at work, that’s not only going to limit your success, but it does impact your amount of work and the amount of good that you can do, it limits that as well. So even if you don’t care at all about money, titles, professional upward mobility, I’m sort of guessing if you listen to this podcast you probably do. But even if you don’t care all about those things, the work that you feel passionately about is going to be limited in its impact and its value.

And since your work that helps others is a win for others, it’s a win for the people that you help,

then the importance of sort of selling yourself isn’t really about you at all. So if you follow my thinking there if it feels inauthentic to learn to pitch an idea or to give a presentation or to occasionally, you know, toot your own horn to bosses and colleagues to let them know about, say, a publication or something that you’ve made or done in order to get more eyes on it, more adoption of it more uptake of that way of thinking, then you’re holding yourself back and you’re also holding back from others. So this is really a lose lose situation.

So what’s another way we can think about authenticity to avoid these five traps I think at its core, in order to be authentic, and also be effective, we have to give deep thought to what it is that we want to do. So as I often say, you know, we kind of move on to take a step back and think about the bigger picture for taking a step back and thinking about the bigger picture of authenticity.

It is not about sort of blurting out whatever you think or feel in a given moment, which is about trying to have effective external action that mirrors how you feel inside and that mirrors your own internal thinking and your own moral code. And so, within that definition, we can learn and we can grow and I’ve heard this type of thing referred to by a variety of terms. One is by trying on what they call provisional selves. You know, meaning if you have heard you need to be more assertive or something at work and that doesn’t seem to come naturally.

But you know, you just try it a little bit. Because if at the end of the day, the the the point you know, the what you’re trying to to affect it Your new language or your new behavior is the same as what you’re trying before it’s just, it’s, you know, that’s your, your goal is the same, your style is evolving a little bit as a provisional self. And you can do that. And perhaps you learn and grow and get really good at negotiation, or assertiveness or whatever else it was that you weren’t doing. And perhaps you try it and get really good and it still doesn’t feel like you and then you, you abandon that and you go back to something else.

And over time, this might be what’s considered adaptive authenticity, meaning you’re trying on new styles of self expression, new ways of self presentation. And I think this is the distinction between focusing on authenticity as a quote unquote, true to yourself, type of paradigm, versus a focus on trying to develop yourself, right, trying to improve yourself trying to grow yourself. So trying out and testing new ways of interacting and communicating.

They may be uncomfortable at first, but so is you know, sort of a lot of things that we can consider to be valuable skills, and ultimately lead us to be more effective, more effective contributor contributors and more effective leaders.

So I hope this episode has given you some good food for thought about your own authenticity, and how it relates to professional development. I think it’s super important, again, too rigid or too constrained a view of what it means to be authentic means that you end up stuck with your self limiting beliefs, you end up sort of constraining to a notion that you’re a static one self that’s not ever going to grow or evolve. And that’s just simply not true.

It’s a paradigm that totally ignores other people, and ignores the importance of other people and society, in terms of your communication and your ability to affect the kind of change that you want. That rigid authenticity interferes with results and can undermine your credibility. So those are those five traps, I really encourage you to try to think about adaptive authenticity, provisional selves, and the focus on staying true to your morals, your values, your inner thoughts and feelings, but to try on and test new ways of interacting and communicating, which is at its heart, personal and professional development.

Again, please come check out the Transformd Mastery Retreat at The link is in the show notes. Registration is extremely, extremely limited. This is a podium free zone, very small group. So if you are a woman in medicine, you’re a female physician, please come check this out. It’s a once a year opportunity with really life changing results. So I do hope that you’ll come join us for that. That’s all for me for today. Bye for now.

Thanks for joining me on this episode of the Career Prescription. Be sure to leave me a review on Apple podcasts or whatever podcast player you’re using to listen today. And definitely send me those questions so I can answer them and give you a shout out on a future episode.

Bye for now.







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