Why do you work? What are the reasons you get up and face that set of responsibilities day after day? If you hadn’t made a commitment to this job, would you rather be doing something else? When you go to work, whom do you work for? (I didn’t ask, “Who employs you?”) Have you really taken time to be honest with yourself about these questions? Probably not — it is a lot easier just to go on with the daily routine.
Seriously. Take a moment to consider why you work.
- Is it to acquire wealth? Are you working to create a comfortable lifestyle?
- Are you trying to earn accolades from colleagues, a professional association, or through some other form of recognition?
- Are you trying to impress your friends?
- Are you trying to prove something to a critical parent, sibling, or friend? Are you trying to show them you are better than what they said?
- Maybe, deep down, you are trying to convince your self of your own value and worth.
The truth is that the vast majority of us identify with at least one of those reasons. (I’ll be honest; I identify with a couple of them.) The truth is also that in one way or another, all of these motives are essentially our own attempts to “prove something” to ourselves or to others.
These are false motives though. They are false in that they satisfy for only fleeting moments and they are poor foundations for effective leadership. Any results of these motives are short-lived and weak. The positive sense of accomplishment tied to these motives never fulfills what was hoped for on the way to that success. What was gained always falls short of what was anticipated.
Why? What is the problem with these motivations?
They are not effective motives because in pursuing them you are not being authentic.
There is a growing discussion about authenticity and authentic leadership today. Frankly, this discussion is rather undeveloped and not very helpful to leaders in the field. There are too many conflicting definitions of the authentic leader and few truly helpful tools. However, one of the most gifted and effective leaders I know offers a helpful definition and mindset.
T. J. Addington, author of When Life Comes Undone, said, “Authenticity means we no longer need to work to prove something, but we can simply be who God made us to be.”1 Working to prove something is ultimately unsatisfying for a variety of reasons: The standard of wealth keeps going up. Words of congratulations fade quickly. What you thought would impress others doesn’t. Those critical family members or friends are still critical. You still have self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness. Proving something is based on a false or incomplete set of standards!
The alternative to proving something is just being who God made you to be. This is being authentic. The question then is, “Who did God make you to be?” I’ll be honest and say that is a bigger question than we can tackle in this space now, but I want to address it in more detail later. We do have space though, to address some foundational principles.
First, you were made with a particular set of talents and abilities. When you use these talents and abilities you have endless energy and realize immense satisfaction. The better you are able to identify, develop, and practice those talents and abilities, the more truly satisfying your life will be. One of the best tools to help you with this idea is Marcus Buckingham’s and Donald Clifton’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths.
Second, the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment you will realize from living an authentic life and being an authentic leader, as defined by Addington, will be long-lasting and far greater than anything you realize from trying to prove yourself. Every person I know who has tapped in to their authentic self has reduced their stress, expanded their influence, increased their family quality of life, and has true hope for the future. Who wouldn’t want that?
Finally, and most importantly, God loves you and wants your life to be complete and full and satisfying, but not in the way the world defines it. The world defines this in terms of finance, recognition, and power. God’s plan for a complete, full, and satisfying life is dependent on you being authentic. It has nothing to do with proving something to anyone or yourself. Authenticity is you really being the person God made.
I would very much like to hear your stories about trying to prove something or about discovering how to be authentic — the person God made you to be. What does life and leadership look like from both perspectives?
1: Addington, T. J. When Life Comes Undone: Walking in Faith when Life is Hard and Hope is Scarce. Colorado Springs, CO: Dawson Media, 2011. pp. 124-125.