I was blessed with a mother that always reminded me to, “Be true to my heart.” When I was a kid that meant to stay honest, dump crappy friends, and follow my passions. It has served me well, and I still use the concept when I’m stuck in difficult decisions.

Now that I work in coaching and development, I am often sharing a similar concept: “Be yourself, and be real.” We are all a bit different in a few different ways, and that’s what makes us beautifully unique. No matter how well we think we can “pretend” for a little while – it won’t work.

Unless we are excited with the concept of being fake, pretending and hiding who we really are is exhausting and pretty much impossible.

(If you would like some research to support up this idea, please check out Amy Cuddy’s book, “Presence.” She explores the concept of authenticity vs. intentions in our words, actions, and body language. Basically:  We are not as masterful with masking or pretending as we think we are.)

I’m a huge advocate of flexing my communication or methods when I need to work through challenging situations or with difficult individuals. Unfortunately, many of us have spent so long adapting our approach to work with others, that we aren’t even sure what our natural approach or priorities are anymore. We have to dig deep and remind ourselves what really matters, why we do the work we do, and what strengths we bring to the table.

So what does it really mean to “Be Yourself and Be Real?” Here are some ideas from my side of the table:

Know Your Core

What are you deepest values? What are things that are so core to your being that when you aren’t in line with them – you can feel that sinking feeling in your gut? What drives you to do the work you do, stand up for what you believe in, and feel more pain in certain situations over others? Also, what are you really good at naturally… and what are you not so good at? 

Own It

Now that you know what’s in your core – THAT’s what you need to “own.” ‘Owning it’ means to embrace that belief, value, strength, or weakness that makes you who you are. Embrace it, and live it with conviction. When people ask you about it, you express honestly how you feel and where you stand.  When you know you aren’t acting in line with deep seeded value… you push back or walk away. When you know you aren’t being or doing your best- you fess up.

Say What You Mean

I am a HUGE fan of adapting your words and your tone to be more effective with the style of the person you are talking with. On the other hand, I do not advocate dancing around the topic so much that it’s impossible to decipher your true meaning. If you are hurt or frustrated by someone, tell them. If you love or appreciate someone, tell them. And if you need to express a strong and difficult position on something, make sure the other party understands your side by being clear with your words.

Don’t Lie

Although this is one of my strong values, it’s also one of those human principles that 99% of us feel is wrong. Whatever you do, don’t bend so far on the first three concepts that you end up accidentally lying. Telling others what they want to hear when it’s not at all what you believe is a very gentle form of fibbing… which eventually can be seen as lying. Beware of appeasing others with “slight mistruths” in difficult situations. It will only eat away and you and your true self.

Play to Your Strengths

What are you good at? I mean REALLY good at? Could you sell shoes to a dog, analyze complex data in 4 minutes, or make the angriest person laugh? If you haven’t figured it out yet, take the StrengthsFinders assessment (or something similar) to get a good idea of how you naturally bring value to nearly every situation. Next, make sure to put yourself in situations where you can USE those strengths regularly. They will show the strongest side of your true self, and also keep you happy and engaged. Stop trying to be something you aren’t, and play up those amazing qualities that help you shine brighter than those around you.

I’d love to hear from you, too: 

How do you know when you aren’t being true to yourself, and how do you get yourself back on track?