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Over the course of my career, I've often found myself at a crossroads: torn between wanting to stay true to who I am as a person and feeling pressure to conform to the dominant organizational culture. This balancing act is one many of us know all too well and it has an impact on both our professional success and personal well-being.


Let's explore the nuances of this struggle, along with research and real-world insights, and actionable tips for navigating this delicate terrain.


Understanding the Dilemma


The tension that exists between authenticity and conformity is rooted in the inherent disparities of power dynamics and cultural norms. Research has consistently shown that individuals from marginalized groups face greater scrutiny and are often subject to bias and discrimination in the workplace. Because of this, it can sometimes feel easier to assimilate into the dominant culture in order to try to avoid those challenges and gain acceptance.


Every person's situation is unique, so it's important to choose actions that feel safe to you. Whether that's conforming, standing out, or somewhere in-between, you should always choose the path that works for you.


While it may provide more opportunities for professional success, conforming to the mainstream comes at a cost. Suppressing our authentic self can lead to feelings of dissonance, imposter syndrome, and a potential loss of connection with our culture and heritage. Research also suggests that embracing our identity can enhance creativity, innovation, and overall job satisfaction.


Suppressing our authentic self can lead to feelings of dissonance, imposter syndrome, and a loss of connection with our cultural heritage. Research also suggests that embracing our identity can enhance creativity, innovation, and overall job satisfaction.

Actionable Tips for Balancing Authenticity and Conformity


1. Know yourself: Take the time to reflect on your values, beliefs, culture, and heritage. Understanding who you are and what matters to you is the first step towards authenticity.


2. Assess the organizational culture: Familiarize yourself with the prevailing norms, values, and expectations within your workplace. Identify areas where your identity aligns with or diverges from the dominant culture.


3. Find allies and support networks: Seek out mentors, colleagues, or affinity groups who share your background or advocate for diversity and inclusion. These allies can provide valuable guidance and support as you navigate the challenges of authenticity and conformity.


4. Choose your battles: Recognize that not every aspect of your identity needs to be upfront in every situation. Decide which aspects are non-negotiable and where you can be more flexible in adapting to the organizational culture.


5. Lead by example: Embrace your authentic self and lead with integrity. Use your platform, privilege, and power to make space for others and amplify lesser-heard voices. By demonstrating authenticity and inclusivity, you can inspire others to do the same and foster a more inclusive workplace culture.


6. Advocate for change: Use your platform and influence to advocate for policies and practices that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within your organization. Be vocal about the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and creating space for authentic expression.


7. Practice self-compassion: Remember that navigating the complexities of authenticity and conformity is an ongoing journey. Be kind to yourself and celebrate the courage it takes to stay true to your identity in challenging circumstances.


Bringing your authentic self while navigating the demands of the organizational culture can help you thrive personally and contribute to a better workplace. This is why it's so important that leaders, both from marginalized and dominant groups, create a genuine culture of belonging that allows, protects, and rewards folks who show up in these ways.


If you're looking for support on this journey, having a coach in your corner can be helpful.




References:


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Here's this week's Friday journal reflection prompt: What new experiences have made you feel overwhelmed? How do you think these experiences are contributing to your personal growth, even if the benefits are not immediately visible? How can you shift your perspective to see these overwhelming experiences as opportunities for growth? What specific steps can you take to manage your feelings of overwhelm while embracing the potential for learning and development?


Journaling prompts can help you set aside dedicated time in your routine for reflection. If Fridays don't work for you, save it for a different day, depending on your preference and availability.


What new experiences have made you feel overwhelmed? How do you think these experiences are contributing to your personal growth, even if the benefits are not immediately visible? How can you shift your perspective to see these overwhelming experiences as opportunities for growth? What specific steps can you take to manage your feelings of overwhelm while embracing the potential for learning and development?

Not sure how to get started with a journaling prompt?


First, find a quiet and comfortable space where you can focus without distractions. Approach your journaling with honesty and authenticity. Be open to acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. By embracing vulnerability, it can lead to significant growth and development.


Want to take it a step further? Based on your reflections, identify areas for improvement and set actionable goals for growth. These goals should enable you to track your progress over time. Periodically review past journal entries to track your growth and identify recurring patterns or themes. Reflecting on your progress allows you to celebrate successes and learn from challenges.


Reflective journaling can be a powerful tool for self-improvement and skill development. Come along on this journey and share your thoughts below!

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Congratulations! You just got a new role or a major new responsibility!


Alongside your excitement and anticipation is another feeling that's not quite as positive. Maybe it's a tinge of fear, dread, anxiety, confusion, or overwhelm. All the new expectations, unknowns, and uncertainty have your imposter syndrome and inner voice chirping loudly. Are you ready for this? Can you be successful? Do you have what it takes? What even will it take?


Does this sound at all familiar?


findings from neuroscience, psychology, and related fields, show how overwhelming experiences can lead to positive outcomes such as enhanced learning, creativity, motivation, and resilience

Those conflicting emotions are a normal byproduct when there's uncertainty swirling around you. And while feeling overwhelmed by new experiences may not feel great in the moment, embracing the discomfort of the experience can bring surprising benefits and positive outcomes. Let's learn why!


Data-driven reasons why being overwhelmed by new experiences isn't negative:

  • Enhanced learning and growth: Psychological research suggests that being overwhelmed by new experiences can lead to enhanced learning and personal growth because when you're exposed to novel and challenging situations, your brain is stimulated to adapt and develop new neural connections. This process is neuroplasticity and it allows you to expand your skills, knowledge, and capabilities. These studies have shown that facing overwhelming experiences can promote cognitive flexibility, allowing you to switch between different tasks or problem-solving strategies more effectively, contributing to your personal development and resilience.

  • Increased Creativity: Overwhelming experiences can also fuel creativity and innovation. Research suggests that exposure to unfamiliar or complex stimuli can trigger divergent thinking and creative problem-solving strategies because when you're pushed outside your comfort zone, you are more likely to explore alternative perspectives and unconventional solutions. This can lead to emergent insights and creative breakthroughs that may not have emerged in more familiar or routine environments.

  • Heightened Motivation and Engagement: Experiencing overwhelm can serve as a powerful motivator for you to engage more deeply with your surroundings and activities. Psychologists have found that moderate levels of stress and challenge can increase motivation and focus, leading to improved performance and productivity. When you are confronted with new experiences that stretch your abilities, you are more likely to invest effort and energy into mastering the task at hand, which in turn can lead to higher satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

  • Fostering Resilience: Overwhelming experiences can also contribute to the development of resilience and coping skills. Research suggests that people who successfully navigate challenging situations tend to build greater resilience over time because by confronting and overcoming adversity, you learn to adapt to change, regulate your emotions, and develop effective coping mechanisms. These resilience-building experiences can provide valuable lessons and resources that you can draw upon in the future during times of stress and uncertainty.

  • Expanding Comfort Zones: Feeling overwhelmed by new experiences can push you to expand your comfort zone and embrace unfamiliar territory. While discomfort and uncertainty may initially be unsettling, they also offer opportunities for personal growth and exploration. Research in psychology suggests that stepping outside your comfort zone is essential for building confidence, expanding skills, and discovering new interests and passions. Over time, you may become more accustomed to navigating novel experiences, leading to increased self-efficacy and a broader range of opportunities.

These findings from neuroscience, psychology, and related fields, show how overwhelming experiences can lead to positive outcomes such as enhanced learning, creativity, motivation, and resilience. While feeling overwhelmed by new experiences may initially be challenging, it opens the door for personal growth. By reframing overwhelm as an opportunity for development and discovery, you can harness its potential to thrive in the face of uncertainty and change.


If you're interested in having a coach by your side to help you navigate this journey, reach out today for a complimentary consultation.



References:


  • Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). Academic Press.

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Harper & Row.

  • De Dreu, C. K., Baas, M., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). Hedonic tone and activation level in the mood-creativity link: Toward a dual pathway to creativity model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(5), 739–756.

  • Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135–168.

  • Draganski, B., Gaser, C., Busch, V., Schuierer, G., Bogdahn, U., & May, A. (2004). Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature, 427(6972), 311–312.

  • Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press.

  • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall.

  • Meichenbaum, D. (1985). Stress inoculation training. Pergamon Press.

  • Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1–18.

  • Yerkes, R. M., & Dodson, J. D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18(5), 459–482.

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