On being … authentic and…

By Ingrid Sapona

Here it is the end of January already and I’m still thinking – and writing – about New Year’s resolutions. I know, I know, it’s even odder given my earlier admission about not being big on NYRs. (See, I can’t even stand typing the phrase out in full!) But, a conversation I had with a friend (I’ll call her Leanne) last week about a resolution she’s made has been on my mind so much, I can’t not write about it.

On a recent weekend trip Leanne booked a place to stay using Airbnb. For those not familiar with Airbnb, it’s an on-line marketplace that lists accommodations offered by people (hosts) who have a couch, spare room, or more, to rent for short periods of time. After a stay, Airbnb asks guests to rate the accommodations. They publish the ratings for other potential guests to get a sense of what that host’s accommodations are really like.

Airbnb hosts also rate guests. The rationale is that Airbnb is creating a “trusted community” and, since hosts have a lot on the line, they want to know who they’re dealing with too. As an example, if a person using Airbnb gets a reputation as someone who makes reservations and then cancels, potential hosts may decide not to accept a reservation from that person.

At the time of our conversation, Leanne hadn’t yet written her review about her Airbnb stay. She was still thinking about what she’d write. It seems there were things that didn’t quite live up to the way the place was described, but it wasn’t horrible by any means. At the same time, she said that it seemed to her that most reviews she’d seen on Airbnb were so effusive and gushing they were often unhelpful and perhaps a bit suspect, given that guests are reviewed too.

She went on to explain that her hesitation in terms of what she might say in the review wasn’t because she was worried about the light it might cast on her as a guest. Instead, it related to her decision to work this year on cultivating being “authentic yet gracious”. In other words, she was trying to figure out how to provide valuable, honest information about the place but in a way that’s kind and thoughtful.

I was very struck by the idea of “authentic yet gracious”. It immediately occurred to me that it’d be a useful approach to take as I implement changes I’ve begun making in my business and personal life. The changes revolve around disengaging from activities I no longer find interesting or fulfilling. I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself in this position, but I’m involved in a number of things, especially on the professional side, that I simply am no longer particularly excited about – or, worse, that I really don’t enjoy at all any more.  

My unsubscribing from various LinkedIn Groups, which I mentioned in my last column, is a simple example of clearing out things in my life that waste my time or take my focus off things I’d rather spend time on. I found doing it surprisingly liberating, but at the same time, I realize that was the easy stuff. After all, no one in those groups necessarily even realize I’ve dropped out. There are other things, however, that I can’t just quietly disengage from – like volunteer activities, and social invitations that people generously extend but that I’m not inherently interested in. So, finding a way to be true to myself – to be authentic – and yet gracious, can be tricky.  

Though many people throw around the term “authentic” these days in ways I’m not comfortable with (much the way they talk about “their passion”), I could relate to the way Leanne was using the term. We’re both in business for ourselves and so we’re pretty practiced at being tactful and polite. But the idea of being authentic yet gracious isn’t necessarily the same as being tactful and polite. To me, authentic yet gracious involves being honest with myself about my intentions and feelings and having the courage to express those, but taking care to not be presumptuous, overbearing, or self-important.

So, I guess I’m adopting yet another resolution this year: striving to be authentic yet gracious in all my dealings. Seems a worthy goal… Indeed, just imagine how different society might function if more people took care to be authentic yet gracious…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


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