A six minute read about identifying your true motivations in life and living it authentically, without regret.
…”knowing who you are and being courageous enough to be it”.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Yet the word “authentic” has been much-maligned as a hated corporate buzzword due to years of over-use and occasional lack of substance. When I began my personal development journey, then a criminal barrister of around 8 years Call, I recall many a lawyer scoffing at the phrase and meaning behind “bringing your whole self to work.”
After all, a large part of being a barrister is maintaining the mask, preserving the wig, because as we know image can be everything at the Bar.
I’ve done it myself: when my 10 month old baby was seriously ill in hospital, pretty much pretending – outwardly at least – everything was absolutely A-OK for the sake of the case. I was a professional after all, with a client to serve, come what may.
The image of my daughter with breathing tubes coming out of her nose sent to me by my husband from her hospital bed whilst I stood sentry in court will haunt me forever. It was a poor decision to stay at court that day, and not be with her, and it’s one that I regret to this day.
Instead then, how can we live authentically, in spite of the inevitable professional pressures along the way? What does it actually mean and involve?
Quite simply, authentic living means conducting yourself according to your core values and beliefs, then creating a congruency between those values and beliefs and your goals, both personal and professional. This is classic coaching territory: considering your goals, then sense-checking them against your values and beliefs.
Without alignment, you’ll always find yourself coming up short.
A lifetime’s regret
The most extreme example of negative consequences following an inauthentic existence comes from the findings of research conducted by Australian Palliative Nurse, Bronnie Ware, who collated a list of her patients’ regrets.
She identified that one of the Top 5 regrets of the dying was not living an authentic life. The shared wisdom in conclusion to avoid a lifetime’s regret was to “live a life true to yourself not the life others expect.”
This is something I can relate to having made a significant career transition from barrister of 19 years to coach, speaker and author. It was only when I made the successful pivot that I began to live a truly authentic life at work.
So how to live an authentic life…
What do we need to do?
A helpful starting point it to develop an awareness around whether you are currently living authentically, and if not, be reminded of the significant advantages of doing so.
As lawyers, you’ll be keen to examine what the evidence reveals.
- Practising self-awareness brings the benefits to the fore.
When you do, consider these questions for, and about, yourself:
- How do you react to those social media posts that are not just sunny side up but exude what has come to be known as “toxic positivity”? Do the “warts and all” posts suddenly then stop you dead in your tracks?
The latter style allows people to show up courageously, becoming vulnerable leaders in the process, rather than air brushed, cherry picked fakes.
Who would you rather be?
May 2022 was the time people say I earnt the title “courageous leader” – the first time I felt able to be publicly open about my breast cancer diagnosis last year, after keeping it to myself for several months. What a relief that was, I can tell you.
- Are you so busy people pleasing that you forget to please yourself?
There seems to be a lot of guilt and shame wrapped up in preserving dedicated “Me time” and yet we all know how hard it is to pour from an empty cup.
Being honest about your own needs and prioritising them over and above seeking the approval and acceptance of others is a sure-fire way to support a more authentic life – not to the point of selfishness of course, but where a healthier balance can be achieved.
I help clients acknowledge that it’s not only healthy but necessary to give yourself permission to have time alone, away from the kids, to enjoy a cup of tea, to take a country walk. Whatever it is that meets your needs, prioritise it to replenish and refill the cup.
- Do you spend sufficient quality-time reflecting on how you live your working and personal life and whether it is in tune with your core values and beliefs system? Are you intentional about achieving an alignment of them all? What can you learn about yourself in order to bring more authenticity into your life, and grow and develop as a result?
It was after a similar period of reflection that, seven years ago this August, I resigned from Chambers, 6 months after starting my own business.
No more self-fulfilling prophesying about “What if the new venture doesn’t work out?” No more self-doubt. Only then was I “all in”: all or nothing.
Following Marie Forleo’s advice to “start before you’re ready”, and show up authentically, was the point at which the business took off.
- The dangers of living inauthentically are well-documented, particularly around physical health: disturbed sleep, anxiety and chronic ill health. It doesn’t take long to realise that putting yourself last in the pecking order will catch up with you.
There’s a reason on planes we’re always reminded to fit our own oxygen masks first.
Prioritising you and your own needs, far from being selfish, is imperative not only to live authentically, but also to live a more healthy, fulfilling life.
- Conversely, to develop the point still further, research has identified a close link between authentic living and positive mental health, for example, increased happiness and self-confidence, reduced stress and improved job satisfaction. Taking time to reflect on what makes you tick and sense-checking that against your goals will be a sure-fire way to support you to achieve authenticity and improve wellbeing.
Delivering training to a law firm’s annual fee earner conference 6 months into my business journey, the penny suddenly dropped. Here was my coaching niche – female lawyers – having been one for nearly 2 decades myself!
Again, as much a turning point as a turn in fortune, not just financial but also in terms of greater satisfaction at work, which is why I’m now such a passionate advocate for living the authentic life.
Will you follow David Bowie’s sage words on ageing (“an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been”) and leave the authentic life down to the passage of time? Or will you instead take the initiative, and opportunity, to live it now, in the present, no regrets?
Either way, I can firmly state, with the benefit of experience, that becoming the person you truly are, is the most wonderfully liberating thing, and commend it to everyone.
Nikki Alderson Biography
Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker and author, and former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience:
- supports organisations, law firms and barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; and
- empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.
Nikki specialises in 3 areas:
- Women leadership transition and change;
- Enhanced career break returner support; and
- Workplace resilience, mental toughness, confidence and wellness.
She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching, (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX) nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category and finalist in the 2020 Women in Law Awards, Legal Services Innovator of the Year and 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.