People struggle to present their authentic selves at work.
You are concerned how your boss and peers might perceive you if you revealed that you are really good with Origami. Or, you are too worried to express your real opinions about your company's flagship product. Or, you fear being perceived as unfocused if you told them about that online photography course you are taking.
You carefully model a professional persona based on countless images you’ve been fed by the media.
In the end, you become yet another cog in a wheel. Spinning endlessly along with the other cogs. But that’s not you. Definitely not the whole of you.
It’s somebody else. Somebody that you think others will like and appreciate. You try to fit your square peg in that imaginary round hole.Then much later you struggle to stand out. Worse, you start looking for advice to stand-out.
There’s a simpler way to be unique at work and beyond.
It’s less to do with doing something. It’s more to do with stopping yourself from doing.
Stop stopping yourself
If you stop stopping yourself, your authenticity naturally surfaces.
What do I mean?
Let’s say you are a really good software lead at work. But you also love yoga. You harbor the desire to travel to strange places in search of food. You dislike cricket but love scuba diving. You are concerned about marine life more than people. You have zero interest in politics. And movies bore you out of your mind.
Your family and friends know you and adore you despite knowing all these weird aspects about you. However at work, you present yourself as an excellent programming robot that can also direct other programming robots. You worry that if you reveal the whole of you, people will take you less seriously. They may even choose someone else for the next important role.
Eventually, you tire of such work. Because you aren't able to express yourself fully. There’s a part of you that you show. And then there’s this whole other part that you hide and keep pushing under the rug.
You so don’t want others to think of you as weird. Even though, your entire being says, weird is cool and it’s you.
This problem is pervasive and goes all the way to the top of professional ranks. Executive board meetings are conducted as gentle foxtrots. Clients don’t really know who we are as humans. We treat vendors as aliens from another world. And then we go about training ourhumans to be more human with other humans! Now, isn’t that weird?
When you are your true authentic self, you hardly get tired. On the contrary, you are energized. You feel alive. You look forward to expressing yourself again and again.
To be original and unique, all you have to do is be your whole self - exactly as you are - removing those layers that are not you. You are already authentic if you just simply stop being unauthentic. Just be.
Why it’s more important than ever to be authentic
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you already know that an AI somewhere is coming after your present job.
It’s going to get increasingly tougher to standout by being robotic when there are real robots buzzing around.
Surely, machines will be better at any work that requires repeatability, learning and spotting patterns.
As an employer, I’m keenly alert to those capabilities of people that a machine potentially can’t do. Are they creative in some way? Can they empathize? Do they grasp the unsaid? Can they be honest with their mistakes? Can they connect dots across two divergent views? Are they human enough to feel sadness, guilt, shame and anger?
Today, I constantly worry about displacement of skills by machines. If we don't change voluntarily, the market will eventually make sure we do.
Complex activities such as clinical coding in healthcare. While we have clinical coders decipher medical notes and identify correct disease codes, I don't see why an algorithm can't spot those same patterns.
Several of our clients are gastroenterologists. They routinely perform colonoscopy to spot polyps (benign growth) inside the gut. Quality metrics such as the adenoma detection rate help doctors keep track of their performance. Surely, computer vision along with 360 degree video will soon spot all the polyps there are. And more. How does a doctor compete with that?
The simplest way to compete with machines is to become more authentic. As difficult and uncomfortable as it may seem, your human qualities will help you survive. A machine can’t weep or laugh or scream like you. At least, not yet. Not until you teach it to.
Praveen Suthrum is the president and cofounder of NextServices. Get his free e-book: Healthcare Footprint Finder, a simple guide to finding your market, selling your products, and growing your business.
A version of this article first appeared in The Economic Times.