Authenticity Matters

wim-van-t-einde-589443-unsplashI’ve never been one to toot my own horn. But a couple of times in my career, I found it necessary to hire someone to help me rethink how I present myself and how my body of work and accomplishments are shared with others. I hired a consultant, a business coach, to help me with it. In plain English, that means I hired a resume writer. I’m not actively looking for a job, but I need the sort of independent critique of my career that I can’t really get from people vested in my day job. 

She gave me a self-assessment that took over five hours to complete. We then spent an hour talking about it and how I want my career to progress from here on. One of the keystone questions she asked me is what I am known for and what I want to be known for.

After considerable thought, authentic is one of the words that came to mind. Let me tell you what this means to me.

I take my day job and professional career very seriously. My reputation, integrity, and ethics have always mattered. Thanks to an enormously influential undergraduate college professor in an honors accounting program, I learned early on that if we lose people’s trust in us as professional accountants – if we give them any reason to doubt our ethics – we were done. He taught us that unquestionable ethics, trust, and integrity were foundational elements in the field of public accounting and auditing where he coached all of us to start our careers. While I can’t say that I was naturally drawn to public accounting and auditing from an early age, this call toward high ethical standards was something that resonated quite well with me because that is fundamentally who I am.  

Fast forward, I began my professional career with one of the Big Eight world-wide accounting firms. Not one to want to screw things up, I was a pretty serious chick in my early work life. Always the arm’s length professional, always formal, and frankly, always a little bit stiff because I thought that’s who I needed to be. I didn’t want to ever destroy someone’s trust in me. But the real me is witty, and likes to use humor. It was exhausting to always be totally on guard, pleasant, and formal, because the real me is not overly formal at all times. 

At one point, I picked up an awesome client, my favorite place to work of all the places I had advised over the prior 20 years, and that’s saying a lot. One of the blessed things about that place was how much their culture values a sense of humor. To this day, the company hangs plaques on the wall to remind employees of what they value, but the thing is, it isn’t just words on a page, or a plaque in their case. Leadership, and therefore the employees, lived it and showed it, every single day.

It was there that I learned how to integrate the real me with the professional me. Totally,  authentically me. I found I could credibly be both trustworthy and light-hearted, yet fully able to deliver the gravitas that is needed whenever it is needed. All of these things are important because as an auditor, you are sometimes required to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, very serious business issues, and you need an outlet to laugh or you’d go mad.

What surprised me is how well people responded to the authentic me. Authenticity feeds integrity, something my husband and I try to teach our kids. What you see from me is what you get at work, at home, at church, with friends, wherever. I am the same person.

If you’ve paid attention to my posts, you may have learned that it drives me crazy to hear a leader say one thing but do another, or talk a lot of fluff or nonsense just to obfuscate a lack of substance. Our country has a dearth of leadership in that regard, and it’s something I can deliver, certainly on a smaller scale, so it’s time I talk about that.

What’s is your “brand”? What do you want to be known for and are you delivering it now? Is it coming across clearly in the ways you network, in the work you produce, and in the life you lead? What steps have you taken to hone what you present about yourself to the world? And how well-aligned are your work and personal lives? Do you want them to be?

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

Alone Time in Sin City

jonathan-petersson-607955-unsplashSitting here in my hotel room in Las Vegas, contemplating my professional life. I know how funny that sounds. A personally know several dozen people who would tell me my priorities are screwed up and I ought to be out right now, enjoying the night life here.

Eh. Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world. The incessant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines the minute you get off the plane, the faint but lingering scent of stale cigarette smoke, the couples pushing baby strollers at 2 am, the cost of you-name-it here, the sparkling pasties attached to DDs on the Strip?  Eh.

I mean, God love Donnie and Marie, Celine, and everybody else here who has or ever once had a show.  The shows are pretty good. And I do love me some Cirque du Soleil. I make a point to catch at least one of those every time I come. But that was Sunday night upon arrival.

Now it’s Tuesday.  Tonight I need a little me time.

Besides, we may be back in the spring with the kids in tow! This is not a place I would normally prioritize bringing them, but the hubs is in conversations about teaching a master class at a university here so we all might tag along since his portion of the travel is a work expense. We do try to show the kids every little thing about the US so I guess it’s time to open their eyes to Vegas.

I’m sure the pasties will make an impression. Good thing we are up front and talk to the kids about everything. We don’t hide too much from them. We try to explain what the world is really like so they’re prepared for what they’ll see and encounter when they’re on their own.


Enough of that.

I came for a three-day conference on, get this: ethics and compliance. In Vegas. Isn’t that funny? It’s not really a town known for….ethics.

The conference is good stuff. Hearing the speakers lit a spark in me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but honestly I could have spoken on a few of the topics. I’ve known that about myself for a while, 20-30 years at least. I used to teach our consultants, a few clients, and fellow auditors in the region when I worked at Protiviti and PricewaterhouseCoopers, so this isn’t an epiphany.

It’s simply been a while since I’ve done it and being here reminds me that not only should I teach classes again, but also I should do it on a national level. Besides, speakers often get comped for the conference fee and lodging, so why not? It’s a quick way to get known nationally for your work, and that is incredibly helpful especially during recessions and times like now when whole industries are being disrupted.

And so far, the blog is fun but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Besides, our CFO told me I would make for an awesome college professor because I can take an esoteric topic and make it tangible. Yes. Yes, I can.

Forget for a moment whether I’m doing that in this blog. I’m just sitting here typing tonight, stream-of-consciousness style, because this stuff is on my mind and I needed a little alone time in Sin City.

Sigh….the thing is, it’s been far too easy to just sit back, learn a few things, and passively collect my continuing education credits at these conferences but I get incredibly antsy if the speaker is bad. Or if they pull a bait-and-switch on the topic, like the one session that was supposed to be about artificial intelligence but turned out to be a 101-level class on data analytics for compliance purposes.

I can’t just sit there and listen to drivel. Nor can I just walk out all that easily. Truly, I’m there to learn (ethics and all….) but by the time I get up and try to find another worthwhile session, I’ll miss the crux of the conversation, so I stay put.

Sometimes you can get a nugget or two out of the talk. But sometimes you can’t. It’s situations like that when I start making a personal list of what groceries we need, what tasks I need to tackle for the kids if only I was home, what updates I should make to my LinkedIn profile, what work emails I need to send, and what I should be doing to market myself better.

And that leads me to my final point of the day.  One of the interesting tidbits that came up this week, echoed in recent conversations at work too, is how valuable authenticity is, especially to Millenials. And let’s face it….the torch is passing right now from the Boomers straight to the Millenials so it behooves a “middle-child” GenXer like me to pay attention to what Millenials need since they’re the economy of the future.

Millenials don’t want posturing. They don’t want fluff. They want people to be real with them. And I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth realist. I don’t try to sugarcoat. I DO try to be positive, though. So why shouldn’t I be me, and use humor to teach people the business concepts I work with every day? Why shouldn’t I share the knowledge I’ve gained? I’m a woman who understands technology, risk, and ethics, and I have a knack for communication. Why shouldn’t I give that a go?

Doesn’t this world need new leaders to step up? I’m not a new leader but it is time to step up. Time to roll the dice.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash