The journey of self-exploration is really a personal quest to know ourselves well enough to be authentically who we are in every aspect of our lives. Finding our steady state of self, the place we are most comfortable being who we are, requires taking full stock of our wants, needs, passions, goals, purpose, and reactions to stimuli (good and bad), We must have a “you are here” point on our map that truly represents us in our entirety. Then, we can take this map with us out into the world of new situations, people, and experiences to help us chart our way back to that place, the very center of who we are at our core.
Some common “hiccups” for being your authentic self in more professional spaces can be addressed but some are actually boundaries we put in place for healthy reasons. Professionalism, especially concerning direct reports and power dynamics, dictates some personal information is kept private. We don’t owe our superiors our life stories any more than our direct reports owe us theirs. While sharing bits and pieces of who we are creates a sense of belonging and builds trust, there are parts of our lives that are inappropriate to share at work. On the other hand, not all work environments are healthy enough for us to share things about us that are normalized in other spaces. For example, a person who is under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella may hide the fact that they have a same-sex or queer partner (or multiple partners) because the heteronormative views of their coworkers include statements that show a negative bias against other orientations. In this instance, a polite distance and lack of personal details provides a safety factor, whether emotional, social, or worse, physical. True threats to the body are not common in more “white collar” industries, but the reputational harm can place a glass ceiling in someone’s career path. The work here lies in knowing what and when (and with whom) we can share to find our way back to the center of our map.
A useful tool for guiding us in plotting our course is to develop a personal code of ethics. A code of ethics guides our decision-making in both personal and professional settings. Most organizations have a code of ethics (it was probably given to you when you were hired or added to a volunteer team and likely readily available) which outlines behavioral expectations while in the workspace. Personal ethics, however, must be identified by us as individuals. Typical factors include religious/spiritual beliefs, morals, lessons learned from previous experiences, and our overall ideas for what we view as an ideal and just society. For some, it may be a simple list of ethical traits such as integrity, selflessness, honesty, loyalty, equity, respect, and/or empathy. For others, it may be a list of statements (with or without explanations).
My personal code of ethics looks like this:
- I will follow the morals and virtues I hold dear to aid me in making good decisions. I will “walk my talk” as consistently as possible, including doing what I say I will do and showing up when I say I will show up.
- I will seek first to understand, acknowledging my personal biases when I become aware of them and working toward making amends when I have caused harm.
- I give myself permission to be imperfect, and I will work toward repair and reconciliation for my mistakes and errors.
- I will strive to maintain boundaries as a free and independent person, acknowledging that those around me are also free and independent and deserving of those boundaries.
- At work, I will maintain confidentiality with my peers, my coworkers, and those who report up through me to allow open dialogue and foster a speak-up culture. At home, I will maintain confidentiality with my family, my friends, and my congregants to ensure trust is earned and kept intact to the best of my abilities.
- I will speak up about events or situations that have the potential to cause physical or psychological harm; I will contact the appropriate authorities when I am required to report a situation or event based on mandatory reporting laws.
Mine does not contain references to values such as integrity, compassion, or loyalty, though all three of these are very important to who I am and who I strive to be in the world. My code of ethics captures behaviors rather than concepts. The use of “I will” statements makes these feel like promises I am making myself and those around me regarding my behavior and how I show up. They speak to the way I move through the world and not simply what values I hold. A list of values alone does not lead to personal accountability and leaves more room for interpretation.
The easiest way to ensure you can follow the map back to your authentic self is to implement a personal code of ethics as your wayfinding principles. Know where your boundaries lie, why they are there, and what actions you can take to create safety and confidence in how you show up in your personal and professional spaces.
- Find your way back to your authentic self by following your code of ethics.
- Create your own code of ethics. Include all aspects of life such as work, home, church, social, etc.
- Where do you see opportunities to be a more authentic you?