How to stay true to yourself at work



Be more authentic at work through regular check-ins  

Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, I spoke to my travel agent, Alison (* not her real name). Unsurprisingly, she was worried about her job given there wasn’t much demand for travel in a locked-down world. But, even accounting for this she seemed extremely anxious and down-beat. Far away from her normal positive-self, she was clearly struggling.  

“How are you coping?” I asked. 

“I’m ok” she lied.

Alison is exceptionally good at building trust and making you feel like she’s on your side. As one of the consistently top performers in her company over many years, she had been transferred onto a special “taskforce” to assist Australians stranded around the world when Covid broke out, get back home. The day before we spoke she helped an Aussie family stuck in Morocco catch two local buses and get onto the last train out of Marrakech to catch the last flight to Algeria, to connect with the last flight to Qatar, to catch the last seat on the last passenger flight to Sydney. Phew. 

Wow! That sounds like an incredible challenge, and it must be a great feeling to be helping people!” I blurted out. 

“Hmmm. Yeah, I amazed even myself with my what I could achieve, and I do love to help people” she replied. “But I have been ordered by my finance team to phone all of my clients with canceled flights. I have to tell them that we have a small-print, $300 per person, per flight cancellation charge. That means a $2,400 fee for the average family holiday”

 She went on to open up about how she was feeling: 

It’s just so tough. It goes against all my values to charge families a penalty when they are facing their hardest times. I’m waking up in the night with pains in my chest and dread about being forced to betray the people who need my help”. She was fighting to hold-back tears.

This is what it feels like when we are not able to be authentic at work. Most of us have faced this dilemma at some point in our lives: Do we “do what must be done” and go against our values or stay true to ourselves and risk our jobs? 

When it’s extreme, as in Alison’s case, an authenticity crisis can cause trauma in the very centre of our identity and this can be devastating. I spoke to Alison a week later to check-in. She confessed that she wasn‘t even getting out of her pyjamas in the morning. She logged-in to work but didn’t turn-up in any kind of spirit. She had quiet quit (before that phrase had been coined), totally disengaged, and unproductive. 

Fortunately, we don’t often face such a stark and immediate authenticity event like this. A feeling of inauthenticity more often sneaks up on us. We drift away from ourselves through many smaller actions over time. The result is a gnawing feeling of dis-ease, the Sunday-night scaries, and those moments of wondering when we stopped being the person we used to be. 

So, how do we avoid that, how can we be authentic at work? 

At the heart of authenticity lie our values. Work and life feel way better when we act in alignment with them. One of the best ways to do that is to regularly check-in with ourselves.  It’s a process of reflecting, asking questions, and being accountable to ourselves. It’s easier than it sounds.

You can do it anywhere as long as you can be uninterrupted and let your mind wander. You can do it sitting under a tree, on your commute at a traffic light, or on the treadmill at the gym. Find your spot, then ask yourself some questions and try to be honest in your answers. 

If you only have a minute, ask yourself simply: am I being the person I hold myself to be? If you have longer you can ask more questions, here some ideas to get you started: 

  • What tough situation have I faced recently? 
  • How did I handle myself? 
  • What are the impacts of my recent actions on others? 
  • Can I honestly say that I have acted with integrity? 
  • If I must do something that doesn’t feel quite right, is there a way I can do it without compromising my values? 
  • If I have bad news to deliver, what is the best way I can do it? (Some tips: calmly, clearly, without delay, and with compassion)
  • Is there something important to me I should be doing that I’m not doing? 
  • As a Leader, would I be comfortable doing the things that I ask of my team? 

However, and wherever you do it, regularly checking-in will start to raise your awareness and you’ll be able to spot, in real-time, the daily challenges to your values. This allows us to choose actions that align with who we really are. This is the key to being authentic and staying true to ourselves at work. 

If you are looking for more information or inspiration on being authentic at work, check out these resources:


Click here to see my TEDx talk (link to Glasgow TEDx) about getting over fears and being authentic at work

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