If You’re Going to Post About “Authenticity,” at Least Try to BE Authentic

A year or so ago I saw that someone I knew posted an article on LinkedIn about authenticity in the workplace. I think I’m an authentic person. Authentic in the way that I don’t care to pretend to be things that I’m not. Authentic in the way that if something were to go wrong on a team I was leading, I would take the heat – in the way that I would never “throw someone under the bus.” Authentic in the way that I speak up when someone in my world needs defending, or when something difficult needs to be done or said. Authentic in that I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know something, or to laugh at my own expense when I’ve done or said something idiotic. Authentic when I apologize.

There’s a reason I still remember that this particular individual posted an article about authenticity more than a year ago. Want to take a swing at what that might be?

Yeah. This particular individual was one of the most inauthentic people I’d ever encountered in 30+ years as a professional. Someone so not in touch with their own motivations as to be actually laughable (at least now – not so much when this person had the potential to have a material impact on my livelihood). Someone who sadistically enjoyed getting someone to think they might be “in,” then shredding them behind their backs. Behaviors you’d expect to see in an adolescent with an identity and confidence crisis, but not in a 40-something professional. Not quite bullying, but almost worse, because it was never done to someone’s face. It was all a game to this person, and they were good at it. Seemed to actually take pride in it. I know this because I’d hear about it from others who were privy to the “shredding” that would take place later.

In my corporate career, I learned that, as difficult as it was when something would go wrong, it was always better to ask the hard questions – to figure out why – to understand where I could have done something differently or better. That was never an option with this person because they would never tell you what they really thought.

I try to pay attention to my own reactions and emotions – to understand what drives me in moments of stress – to understand what scares me – so that I can recognize when a negative emotion might be dictating my words or actions. I am far from perfect in this respect, trust me. But the older I get and the more I focus on this loop of self-reflection, the better I know myself, and, I hope, the better person I’m becoming because of it.

In some ways, I feel a little sorry for this “authenticity imposter” I’m writing about, because I don’t think they have the emotional or mental capacity to understand the value of self-awareness. They’ll spend their entire life playing games, but as a result, they’ll never have the joy or peace of mind of being genuinely close to anyone – to trusting anyone. Because they’ll always wonder if someone is doing the same thing to them.

I don’t know why I still let it bother me, but I do, though I’m hoping that writing this finally purges it. Perhaps a part of it was that this person was a woman, and seemed to direct her insecurities, which is pretty much what this kind of behavior boils down to psychologically, at other women. There were countless other encounters: with other people, with entire corporate cultures for heaven’s sake – which I survived – for better or worse – but at least none of them were posting articles extolling the virtues of authenticity in the workplace.

Perhaps it’s just the hypocrisy, but I don’t think so. I think it’s because she is just one small example in a universe too-full of the same cycle of b.s.: lack of self-awareness leading to bad behavior, leading to an inability to trust, leading to childish gamesmanship, leading to people getting hurt, leading to more bad behavior. The patterns apply equally in our personal lives and in the corporate world, which is why we need more examples of authenticity out there. Not just people who post about it.

Mom & Dad, Inc. (Guest Blog by Nancy May)

I’ve always joked with friends about how my parents have been preparing me for their death since I was five.  In fact, as a little girl, my mom and aunt would playact that Mom had fallen ill and couldn’t get up.  While Mom lay on the living room floor, my aunt would yell “Help, Help!  Nancy call the doctor: Mom needs help!” 

Using my trusty red plastic dialup telephone strategically placed on the coffee table by where Mom was lying, I’d dial 911 and tell the make-believe doctor to come quickly as Mom was dead on the floor and needed help, NOW!  My aunt would run to the front door and clang the long brass tubes that were our doorbell, alerting me that the doctor had magically arrived at our front door for me to let in so he could revive Mom.  Of course, I’d get praised for a great job while they went off to laugh, relax, and share a smoke together. 

As I got older, I was told where critical documents were kept in file cabinets; names, phone numbers, business cards, what local banks we used, even personal introductions to the family attorney, accountant, financial advisor – and what was in each account. I got pop quizzes on all of this.  At the time I thought this was a bit overkill.  Looking back, I understand how life’s tragedies, such as the passing of their parents, and later my sister at age four made it imperative to them that I be able to carry the torch, on my own, if necessary.  As the eldest daughter, I was prepared at an early age to become the caregiver they now need.  

Over the last nine years my sister and I have gone through a steep learning curve.  We’ve learned that nothing can totally prepare you for what’s needed to physically, mentally, or financially to take over the care of a parent or loved one. 

I first wrapped my head, heart, and hands around this idea (which later became a substantial and complex project) after my husband drew my attention to small changes in Mom’s conversations.   Later, after utilities were cut off for failure to pay bills – which was always Mom’s responsibility, while Dad ran the business – reality and the need for action kicked in fast.  

With their first move into Assisted Living (this move was their choice as they both said  “we don’t want to be a burden on you kids), Dad called me in a panic five days from their move-in date.  He’d been blindsided by Mom, thinking they had two more months to go.  I jumped into the deep end,  learned to swim, and have been doing laps ever since.  Doing the backstroking has become much easier with practice.

We who care for our parents have learned to manage in our own way – often only with subtle differences.  My approach is to take charge of ‘Mom & Dad, Inc.’, complete with a team of caregivers who are with them 24/7.  Doing this work long-distance isn’t easy, and Mom, Dad, and our amazing ladies are always on my mind, and in my heart.  There have been some bumps and bruises along the way for all of us, but I managed to acquire some life and business lessons along the way. 

I’ve shared my journey with friends, family, and strangers.  Having heard my story and faced similar situations, many have asked themselves: “What would Nancy do?”  As an entrepreneur I’ve learned much from walking alongside Dad at his factory and getting to know his employees, customers, and industry colleagues.  Without knowing it, he and Mom have been the cartographers for my own exploration and learning.  Watching them flourish (or sometimes deteriorate, but they always spring back) from my decisions, I manage Mom & Dad Inc. like a well-oiled enterprise: overseeing their welfare; hiring and firing various ‘’professionals;’’ identifying vulnerabilities; and removing the weakest links quickly, in medical, legal, financial, daily care, and even supply chain services.  All the while, I’m keeping a focus that this is personal for them, as well as for my sister and me.   

This has become my nature.  Running a business and advising large company leaders, CEOs, and boards is a walk in the park compared to managing the business of being a caregiver.  Working this way has helped me keep everything in perspective without becoming an emotional wreck – although I’ve had those moments too. 

My commitment to doing what’s good, healthy, and right for Mom and Dad has become an obsession.  Like the service that I deliver to my corporate clients, I give the best guidance and support to others who become overwhelmed by what it takes to be a caregiver: courage, character, and confidence to keep your head high when the day presents dark clouds and fears creep into your mind. 

This is a tough road for anyone. Society shuns the elder caregiver, not knowing what to do with and for us.  It’s why I’ve started sharing options, opportunities, and positive outcomes that have helped others in a new Facebook group called Eldercare Success

Through this group, we caregivers come together, confidentially, to help, support and take some of the emotional, physical, and financial fear out of our own hearts. That’s the mission for me and others in our Eldercare Success group.   We’ve grown over these few short months, now that word has spread that this  is a safe and trusted space. In fact, we just launched, Eldercare Success UK.  There are no borders when it comes to the challenges we face as caregivers.   I expect that there will be many more Eldercare Success Groups in the near future. 

If you, a friend, or family member needs a safe, trusted, empathetic and valued place to ask for and give support to others, come on over and join us.  You’ll find joy in the little things, and a way to relieve stress and frustrations as we work to provide the best for those we love.  As I say in the group:  “Together We Are Stronger!”

Walking at your side!

About Nancy May:

Nancy May, CEO, The BoardBench Companies, and noted in Forbes as one America’s governance experts, knows the ins and outs of challenging board environments. Nancy hosts the Boardroom’s Best podcast, which was recognized among the top 25 business podcasts to listen to in 2018.  She is a regularly featured contributor to the CEO Forum Magazine, and is a frequent guest speaker on corporate boards, governance trends, and how candidates can “crack the code” that gets you to a seat at the table. She has been a guest lecturer and presenter for numerous national and international business and professional organizations and universities.

Ms. May  has been recognized by clients for her innate ability to quickly identify key action points and resolve complicated boardroom and business challenges impacting corporate governance and performance.  Her skill and insight into many different industry environments comes from her long-term, diverse experience with many companies from rapid-paced start ups and IPOs, to broad complex corporations and institution.

She also freely applies her skills to the needs of others like herself. In addition to her work in the boardroom, she has been the primary guardian and caregiver for her elderly parents for more than 10 years.  Openly sharing some of the most challenging issues that caregivers confront, she has become a “go to” for many executives and friends who find themselves physically, emotionally, and professionally overwhelmed.  Nancy’s strength and advice, has been a grounding force for many, includng that of her own family and an ever-expanding group of caregivers.  



Coming up Tomorrow: A New Guest Post!

Hello readers! Check in tomorrow morning (Tuesday, May 21st) for my next guest blogger post on the “Light My Fire” page of Fire Over Fifty! It’s a story that may be of interest to “Mom & Dad Monday” followers, too.

This week’s post is by someone I’m honored to call a friend, Nancy May. Nancy has built an amazing career advising corporate boards through The BoardBench Companies. Now, driven by her own personal journey coordinating care for her aging parents, she’s developing her next big channel, and she starts here with sharing her story.

ICYMI: “Love a Tree Day” is Today

In case you missed it, in honor of Love a Tree Day, I’m sharing a link to the article I wrote for Herself360 on the subject, and which is a pretty significant milestone for me – my first published piece in the “real world!!” (If you already saw it/read it when I posted about it a couple of weeks ago, thank you – apologies for the repeat.) If you love nature, or had an awkward-pre-adolescent phase when you sometimes wished you could just disappear, or spent a lot of time playing outside as a kid, or just feel like taking a 5-minute break to read something that isn’t political or work-related, I’m happy to share this. I hope you love it as much as I loved writing it.

Here’s this year’s version of the dogwood I talk about at the end. It wasn’t in bloom in time for publication, so I had to revert to a photo from a couple of years ago. This was taken this past Monday. 🙂

New as of April, 2019: “Light My Fire”

I’ve added a new page as of April, 2019, called “Light My Fire.” Change happens – especially over fifty! The Light My Fire page will be a place to share stories of realization, transformation, redefinition – some will be mine, but most, I hope, will be yours!! If you’d like to share a post here, contact me. (If that link doesn’t work, just head over to my “Contact” page). Featured image is “The Goddess Pele,” by Arthur Johnsen.