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Do you really know what it means to ‘be yourself’ at work?

I hear many of us, including myself, advising people to ‘be yourself’, ‘bring your whole self to work’, ‘be authentic’ etc. It seems like a sensible piece of advice. I mean, who else would you be if you’re not yourself? As leaders, authentic leadership is supposed to be effective in engaging and inspiring people. As an organisation, you get higher engagement and access the best talents when people feel like they can ‘be themselves’ as well.


On the other hand…


Have you ever been told to “be more yourself” or that “you’re not being yourself” when you thought you were being yourself?


Or have you ever been told that you need to “speak up”, “promote yourself”, “be more direct” when that doesn’t feel authentic to you?


Or you try to ‘be yourself’ and get told that you’re too this or that (eg. too soft, too direct, too quiet, too confronting) in feedback and performance reviews?


Then there’s the pressure to fit in (see The problem with obsessing about cultural ‘fit’) so it’s hard to ‘be yourself’.


Or feeling the need to ‘cover’ ourselves because that’s how you get accepted or get ahead (Are you ‘covering’ your quieter self?).


I saw an article on giving an unforgettable presentation with good tips, where the last tip was “Be yourself”. The challenge is, you still have to be enthusiastic, use techniques like asking questions and telling stories and still be yourself. The author says you have to learn how to be yourself in front of a group. Don’t you think it’s strange that we have to learn how to be ourselves?


So ‘being yourself’ is actually quite a complex thing, in my view.


‘Being yourself’ is a fine balance between having the courage to show up regardless of what others may think or say AND being mindful of the impact we have on others and adjusting appropriately.


Here are some considerations for being ourselves at work


  • Learn to access a comfortable and relaxed state as much as you can, even under pressure. It’s hard to be yourself, or your best self, when stressed, anxious, frustrated or fearful.
  • Get comfortable with being transparent and showing vulnerability where it’s useful. It doesn’t mean you have to bear all, but ‘being yourself’ involves showing your humanness.
  • Distinguish between using techniques and skills appropriate for the role you're playing (eg. presenting to groups) vs faking to fit in – do more of the former, practice so they become part of you.
  • Don’t compare and try too hard to be like someone else, instead, acknowledge and leverage your own qualities, warts and all.
  • Stop holding yourself back, using 'that's just not me' as an excuse. Remember that we can always grow and expand our repertoire of what ‘being ourselves’ looks like.
  • Grow a sense of purpose and passion so we become courageous enough to express and contribute more of ourselves in the world. It’s hard not to ‘be ourselves’ when we’re passionate.


What are your tips for being yourself in the workplace?


Join us or encourage other women to attend the Breakfast on practical confidence building to explore what it takes to be confident to ‘be ourselves’. 22nd November 7:30-9:30. Group discounts available for 5 or more people – please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.


Quietly Powerful Women’s breakfasts, exploring challenges and opportunities for quieter and/or introvert professional women (see The Double Glazed Glass Ceiling) are also on 15th November in Melbourne (Melbourne breakfasts registration) and 29th November in Sydney (Sydney breakfast registration).


Related articles:

Don’t tell me to “Be more confident”

Confidence is NOT the answer

Why we tell ourselves "I can't" rather than "I can"

Quietly Powerful – an oxymoron or truth

White paper: Quietly Powerful – be heard, get ahead and make a difference without feeling fake as a quieter professional woman

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