Balance Professionalism and Authenticity

How do you balance being professional and authentic? Authenticity is a core value of mine and so it’s really important, and yet, we don’t want to squash the fact that we’re all human—the fact that we are going to have bad days, that we are going to be stressed, that things are not going to go well, or frankly, we’re just tired or cranky. Watch any of those ‘hangry’ commercials and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

One of the lessons that I learned about this was when I was a child. We were fortunate to grow up in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and one of the people that we met there, who had a summer home, was Veronica Tennant, prima ballerina with the National Ballet of Canada. Her lovely daughter, Jessica, was in between my sister’s and my age, so we would try to get together with them when they were visiting.

Now, you can imagine as a prima ballerina, your downtime is really important, and so Veronica did a wonderful job at recuperating when she wasn’t in performance mode. That’s how we came to know her. Seeing her in performance mode was just captivating. To see somebody as a professional ballerina, professional singer, professional of any artistic persuasion is simply amazing. When we had only known her in her casual space, it was all the more exciting.

When we went backstage at the end of this performance to see her, she had this massive icepack around her ankles. We asked, “What’s going on?

She said, “I sprained my ankle just before the end of the first act.”

There were three acts, and I remember as a kid, saying, “And you kept dancing?

She said, “Well, of course.

She had to be professional, and yet, behind stage with us, without a thousand-people watching her, she could be authentic. She could share with us that, “Oh yeah, this is pretty painful being a ballerina.

In fact, I think she may have cautioned me that I may want to be very sure that I want to be a professional dancer. The message I received was, you can have an onstage face that shows the epitome of professionalism, and, it is perfectly okay to express your humanity when you are offstage.

Who do you share your vulnerability or your weakness with if you’re not having a good day? Do you have a place to land? Similarly, are you taking care of yourself well enough so that you can have sufficient “onstage” presence? As a professional, you are poised, organized and together, and yet, you also seem accessible, human and fallible just like everyone else? After all, are you perfect and have everything completely figured out (if so, so you are that one person who does!) When we come across as perfect, we don’t seem real. Are you able to share with the people who depend on you and trust, that you don’t always have good days and that your “onstage” face is for their betterment, but don’t believe for one second that you’ve got it all figured out?

Any professional athlete, musician, dancer, speaker, will be able to tell you the importance of balancing professionalism and authenticity is knowing this intricate balance of your onstage and your offstage presence. There needs to be an authentic line that connects it and a level of professionalism that people trust you.

How do you balance professionalism and authenticity?  Share them in the comments below.

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– Mother Teresa

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