Authenticity, Self-Empowerment and Co-Creating a More Beautiful World.
Over-used and oversaturated, authenticity is a modern age buzzword. But don´t underestimate its power to transform you into a powerful agent of change. In the post, I share how I used a challenging relationship with my boss to discover my own personal power and how this seemingly small victory can ripple out to change the world.
Maybe you are wondering why in a blog about my journey into permaculture and an off-grid life, I am suddenly writing about ‘authenticity. I mean, what has this got to do with living a more sustainable lifestyle? Is this not more suited to a blog about personal growth or spirituality?
Maybe you are already an activist involved in the cause of co-creating a more beautiful world and you are more accustomed to reading articles about all the ways in which we should be fighting to preserve the planet with outward actions of resistance and rebellion.
And now you are thinking, “Authenticity? What’s that got to do with the price of beans? Save it for the peaced-out hippies, love, I’ve got a planet to save!”
Or maybe that is just my own voice of cynicism rearing its head to throw me off my game. Who do I think I am, some kind of self-styled lifestyle guru?
Define your niche!
I admit that sometimes I too feel a bit confused about what my ‘niche’ is so to speak. It seems we like to compartmentalise things into neat, tidy, easily marketable boxes. Is it a blog about sustainability? Permaculture? Living off-grid? Spirituality? Personal growth? Activism?
Pick one because who can’t be all of them! That would just be greedy!
Well, I guess that the answer for me is that I see them as all intertwined and impossible to separate.
This journey began long ago and it started on the inside.
And it really started to kick off when I discovered what it really means to be authentic.
Authenticity and Self-Empowerment
It seems like the word ‘authentic’ is bounced around a lot nowadays. One quick search through the blogosphere and you will come across a mountain of articles telling us how to be our authentic selves and live our most authentic lives.
Not that this is bad of course, I’m sure the majority have made a difference to many people. But I can’t help but feel that this word has become so overused that in its saturation, it has lost its real significance.
But the English language has its limitations and try as one might, it is difficult to come up with an adequate synonym.
So then, what does being authentic really mean? Why is it important?
As cliché as it sounds, practising authenticity in my everyday life has had hugely changed me and had a big impact on myself and how I see myself.
What I have come to see is that there are some things in life that will do, and others that simply will not.
And to those things that fall into the latter category, when I honour them and simply act in accordance with what feels right for me and set my boundries, life feels better…
And I grow in power.
My journey into authenticity started around 2017 when it dawned on me that I had to enter into negotiations with my boss.
I say ‘had to’- I didn’t really have to. I could have sidestepped this uncomfortable task and life would have gone just fine.
But after a glass of wine in the local taberna with some of the girls from work, it was revealed that one of our male colleagues was ‘supposably’ earning more than us due to his smooth-talking London negotiation skills at the time of being hired. (I say supposedly because it was only a staff room rumour, and it was never proven).
However, for me, it was enough for me to wake up and think “well if he has the balls to negotiate then so do I!”.
I was at the point of changing from a temporary contract to a permanent one. If I was going to try to improve my work conditions then this was my opportunity.
To be frank with you, it thoroughly pissed me off that it hadn’t even occurred to me to do this before. I was simply going to sign on the dotted line without any kind of discussion of conditions. What kind of feminist, modern woman was I?
The rest of my colleagues were also as naive as me; it hadn’t occurred to them either.
And here was this smooth-talking Londoner walsing in and negotiating from the word go!
How could we be so meek and clueless?!
This was something that could not do.
There we all were, on our feminist high horse complaining that he was earning more than us but none of us had the bottle or the noose to go in and do it ourselves. How could we complain?
No, this simply would not do.
From that point on I knew what I had to do and there was no turning away from it. There’s is no way I could have continued to look myself in the eye if I had just tucked that bit of knowledge under the carpet and continued as normal, and then complain about it later on in the bar.
But there was just one problem. I had never negotiated before. I didn’t have much, if any, corporate experience. I could tell you how to travel around the world alone, how to educate kids but not how to stand up to a boss whose favourite tactic was to make you feel small, lest we don’t ask for anything and push our luck.
The first challenge came at the end of year review. Up until now, I had always been greeted with the same question: “What would you give yourself out of 10 as a teacher?”.
Mark yourself out of 10? This is nothing but a psychological assessment. Rate yourself too high and you may be seen to be cocky. Too low and you look weak. What is the right number to appear that you think you are doing a good job, but that you still have room to grow? High enough to look confident but humble?
In my first year, I said 6…followed by my second year where I said 7.
Now I was approaching it for the 3rd time- and this just felt so condescending to me that I just could not stomach it anymore.
I was transversing the territory of the Things That Just Won’t Do.
So how would I go about it this time? I began flexing my goddess‘s muscles and prepared myself for a showdown.
I decided that if I were to be asked that question again, I would simply and calmly reply with the question “What would you give yourself as a boss?”. Or, respectfully explain that I felt that the question was a little condescending and that I didn’t want to reduce myself to a number.
I decided to see how I felt in the moment as to which one I was going to choose.
After much psyching myself up, in the end, he never even asked the question! Who knows why, maybe he also felt he couldn’t ask me it again for the 3rd year running. Or maybe I went in there with a different attitude, a different vibe or energy that he picked up on and subconsciously decided against it.
Either way, I was pleased that the conversation had gone ahead without any friction. I requested a meeting with him to discuss the terms and conditions of my new contract.
When the big day finally arrived and after a week of nervous preparations and research, I felt like it was going into the boxing ring.
I was clear in my mind what my boundaries were. I was not going to leave that office feeling belittled or settling for less than I felt comfortable with.
I had made up my mind- this was a two-way street. If I felt unhappy with the outcome, I would find somewhere else to work. What could he offer me? Why should I continue to be loyal to the academy and not look for something else?
What was my worst-case situation? That I felt so uncomfortable with the end result of the conversation that I felt I had to leave.
Ok. I accepted that.
I was not going to bow down to fear or go crawling back under my rock, never to ask for anything again.
And the result? Well, at the time of writing, I am still working there 3 years on. Improvements were made to my terms and conditions and whilst I can’t tell you that I came out of that conversation hundreds of euros richer, I can say that I came out of that experience a thousand times more empowered.
I should also point another important aspect of this self-empowerment story.
The Good Girl
Up until that point in my work, I had always been seeking approval from my superiors. Looking to impress, to be seen to be a good teacher, a hardworking employee.
This was something that had been with me since childhood, this feeling of wanting to be seen to be as ‘good’.
I had spent the first three years of my professional life in Madrid anxious to impress in every lesson observation, wanting to get approval, feeling the need to prove myself.
However, enough was enough.
I guess I simply got too fed up and pissed off.
No, this way of being would simply not do
So during these meetings with my boss, I told him:
“First of all, I work hard for myself. Then I work hard for the students, and then I work hard for this academy”.
And that’s where the switch happened.
I was no longer trying to please other people.
The only person whose approval I need is my own.
Was I happy with my lesson? Did I enjoy the lesson? Do I think my work is good enough? What do I think?
Lesson observations became a breeze.
“Yeh, sure, come and observe the class. No problem.”
No clammy hands, no nervous sweats.
I had taken back my power from the hands of others.
And people started to notice the change.
One day one of the directors of studies looked at me with an expression as if he was trying to figure out what was different.
“You seem more be confident,” he told me.
And the truth is I really felt it! Suddenly I felt abundant power running through my veins.
Where had this power come from? And where had it been all my life?!
This whole process of self-empowerment around work proved to be transformational. It transformed how I saw myself and therefore how others saw me.
My relationship with all of my superiours changed. I felt relaxed and happy at work- it was as if all the stress had disappeared.
And the most amazing thing was that my strange relationship with my boss also changed. It was as if me, being able to relax into my authentic self and in an open, non-confrontational way, draw my boundaries allowed other people to also relax and stop the pretences.
And whilst what I may have shared so far may seem quite confrontational- and I guess there was a bit of a showdown- there was no defensiveness in it. I made sure to maintain an open and cooperative attitude but was very clear and firm in my boundaries.
In facing my worst-case scenario and being willing to still go ahead with the negotiations, I put my own self-worth and dignity first.
It would just not have been ok for me to say no to stepping up and deciding to stay small.
So having decided that fully to my core, I became fearless.
Such a small, silly situation maybe. But it was so pivotal in my own self-development and transformation.
Authenticity is contagious
In the following weeks and months at work, various people would complain about the boss and moan about how he had spoken to them.
One friend of mine felt so upset by a certain interaction with him that she was talking about handing in her resignation!
But I told her to go and calmly ask to speak to him and then calmly say that she didn’t feel comfortable with the comments he had made in their last conversation and if she could talk to him about it.
And after a bit of coaching, she went and did it.
20 minutes later she came out of the office with a big smile on her face!
She had stood up for herself in a calm and powerful way, had been true to her authenticity that told her that she couldn’t let someone treat her like that and firmly but professionally drawn her boundaries.
And she felt great for it! It had gone from being an awful day where she was going to quit her job to a great day of self-empowerment.
And do you know what? The boss even apologised to her and had no idea that he had come across that way. Because guess what? The boss isn’t a bad guy after all. He just doesn’t have the best social skills and often feels uncomfortable himself half the time.
So when we were able to be our authentic selves, it helped him to be his authentic self. And he is actually a very good guy, and now we have a very good work relationship.
The point is that authenticity is not just about the clothes you wear or how you chose to have your hair or makeup.
It’s respecting who you really are. It is respecting what feels good to you and what doesn’t. It means having enough self-esteem to draw boundaries when you need to, but not out of fear of attack or defensiveness but out of love for your own self.
I once heard someone say in a Russel Brand podcast I listened to, that you can either live life on your knees or standing up. No one will thank you for standing up but at least you, being straight with yourself and walking through your life with integrity allows you to walk tall and look your own self in the eye.
I guess we only learn what will do, by learning what won’t.
And that process can be a painful one. But for me, it has been a game-changer.
When I was reflecting on this process I did think to myself though, “well, it’s ok for me to say that if I didn’t like the way the negotiation went I would leave my job because a) I have no one dependent on me and b) I live in a city where there are many opportunities for my line of work (not all of them very good opportunities but never the less, work was available). What if I wasn’t in such a fortunate situation?”
To that my friends, I don’t have the answer.
But I do know that crawling back under the rock would have been lethal for my spirit.
So what has all this got to do with co-creating a more beautiful world, with activism and politics?
How can our personal journey be in any way be related to the big world out there?
Answering the question with yet more questions:
How can we possibly effectively stand up to our governments if we are not able to effectively stand up to our bosses?
How can we take our power back as a people collectively if we are not able to do so individually, personally?
Society is made up of us, as individuals. So what kind of society do we want to build, one where the people go around on their knees or one where the people stand up tall?
Authenticity and empowerment go right to the core of things- it becomes who we are.
But please don’t be confused. I am far from the finished product. I may have healed my power struggles at work but those in my relationship need continual tending to.
And now with this blog, this is the next arena of the practice of authenticity. I have to be my own greatest fan. No offence or anything, but I can’t write these words and be effective in delivering my message if I am too busy worrying how many people will read it, or what people will think or how many likes it will get on social media (and trust me, this is a new ripe area for growth for me- and it ain’t easy!).
But worrying what people may think and diluting my message falls into the category of Things That Won’t Do.
So on I go, standing up tall and sharing my stories, hoping to start a revolution of empowered and authentic people ready to stand up to the Things That Just Won’t Do in the world,
And co-create something different.
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