Find the Courage To Be Yourself

by Alli Polin on February 7, 2014

Find the Courage to Be Yourself

I’m currently in the middle of alumni interviews for my university and am talking to applicants from around the word.  At the start of our interview I let them know I’m not looking at their credentials, I really just want to get to know who they are, what they love, and what they most want from their college experience.  “I’ll assume you have great grades and tons of activities,” I say, “but I want to know what makes you, YOU so I can help bring your application to life.”

Then, one of two things happens:

1) They take a deep breath and get authentically engaged in our conversation.
2) They present their resume, in perfect practiced form.  No matter what questions I ask them, they squeeze it all in.

Want to guess which ones have made the strongest impression on me?  

Too many people seem to have a game face and think that if everyone is playing the game, they have no other choice.  I don’t know about you but I’m tired of playing “the game.”  It’s exhausting showing people who I think they want to see instead of who I am.  Honestly?  I made the conscious choice to give it up years ago.

What age do we learn that we need to “play the game?”  You know, the one where we lock away all of our ugly, messy, human bits, buried deep in a drawer, under a pile of t-shirts.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely OK to put your best foot forward!  Why not let your best-self shine?  Still, each step forward requires two feetyou’ve got to go all in unless you want to go through life hopping on one foot.

I’m not advocating using a first meeting to air all of your shortcomings, fears and doubts.  I am suggesting that you don’t just tell people the answers you think they want to hear.  Leadership starts with the heart and courage to be you.

Are You in There?  Authenticity, meet Reality.

Job Interview

You say: “I love working in excel all day!  Bring on the spreadsheets!”
You think: “Please tell me there’s more to this job than spreadsheets!”
What about: “I have strong excel skills. I’m also really interested in learning more about the job and the team.”

College Interview

You say: “I want my college experience to be all about challenging myself academically.”
You think: “I can’t wait to join the Ultimate Frisbee team!  Do they have one?”
What about: “I’m looking forward to taking a wide variety of courses but definitely want to get involved in the campus culture too.  For example, I love Ultimate!”

Networking Event

You say: “Color copying.  How interesting!”
You think: “Please someone come and join our conversation. I’ve heard enough about toner.”
What about:  “It was great to meet you.  Enjoy the event.”

First Date

You say: “I love to have quiet nights at home too.  Love them.  Live for them.”
You think: “If this date ends soon, can I still meet my friends at the bar to tell them about this loser?”
What about: “A quiet night sounds good.  I admit, I don’t have them that often.”

You are more interesting when you are real, vulnerable, honest, silly, quirky, YOU than a carefully crafted portrait.  

Break the Frame Challenge:

Show people who you are, what you believe, enjoy, and think – it all matters.  There is only one you – why pretend you’re someone else?

What about you?  When was the last time you spent some time looking within, getting to know yourself, your values, dreams, fears, beliefs, what you most want and what matters most?  There’s no time to start better than today…

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Keating February 7, 2014 at 5:55 am

Sooner or later the real you always makes an appearance. The sooner we find the courage to show our real self the more credibility we have in the long run. Nobody likes, or trusts, a fake.


Alli Polin February 7, 2014 at 5:58 am

Well said, Steve! It’s impossible to build trust without authenticity and integrity.

Many thanks for your comment! Greatly appreciated!


Chery Gegelman February 7, 2014 at 7:27 am

Great post Alli!

I love that you take the time to uncover the gift of each individual!

A perfect post to share with Career Services Groups!


Alli Polin February 7, 2014 at 8:01 am

Many thanks, Chery! We all are special just as we are – why play a game when we can fully show up as ourselves and rock out 🙂



Karin Hurt February 7, 2014 at 8:41 am

I LOVE THIS! LGL is going to be inspiring a “Mean It” Movement: Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say… beginning in March… and the March Frontline Festival will be all about sincerity. Looks like you have the perfect submission! This is one of my favorite topics.


Alli Polin February 7, 2014 at 8:49 am

Look forward to March and joining the movement! Looks like we have a shared passion…

Thanks, Karin!


Terri Klass February 7, 2014 at 9:06 am

This is a wonderful post, Alli, in getting us to think about who we really are and how we want to present our authentic self!

I too learned that when I show my true colors and what I stand for, I am a stronger person, leader and friend.

Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin February 7, 2014 at 9:17 am

Terri – that’s it! There is strength in our authenticity. It’s connected, grounded, and sincere. People feel it even if they can’t put it into words.

I’m lucky to know you. Learn from your wisdom all the time.



Haseena February 7, 2014 at 9:19 am

Great post Alli! This is my favorite topic! Exploring authenticity… Why it is important to bring both your feet…

I have written a bit about it on Birds on the Blog, a UK business blog site that I post on:


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:53 pm

Thanks, Haseena! Loved some of the points you made in your post as well. Authenticity really does matter!


Joy Guthrie February 7, 2014 at 9:39 am

So glad I read this today Alli. I will be interviewing people next week. One of our customers has asked for assistance in hiring a full team of people. I’ve been noodling over questions that will take it out of the normal interviewing process and into a different conversation. This was perfect in helping to frame my thinking. Normally, I have people draw pictures. Shakes thing up a bit (especially when hiring for deeply technical positions). Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Asking people to draw pictures! I’ll bet that catches them in a moment of authenticity (authentic surprise!) It’s an assumption that I’ve always made with people – yes, I want to understand their experience more deeply but I invited them in for an interview because I assume they have the skills (to be confirmed) but I want to know who they are and understand if there is a mutual culture fit etc.

Thanks, Joy! Good luck with the interviews this week!


Bill Benoist February 7, 2014 at 9:49 am

This is a great post, and I couldn’t help but think of my own interviewing techniques.

For years, I managed the internal computer help desk department. On the rare occasions I had an opening, I was pretty confident the individual already knew the technical basics, but I needed to know the person behind the interview mask in front of me.

I would often ask questions like, “what your favorite breakfast cereal is” or “Ford or Chevy?” I ask these questions because not only did it lighten a stressful atmosphere with a little humor, it helped bring out the person behind the mask. I could get a glimpse of how he or she would fit with the team.

I haven’t had to interview in years now. Still have the same team 🙂


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Those questions are hysterical, Bill! I’ll bet they smile, laugh and realize that they will enjoy their interview instead of just talking through their credentials.

Says a lot that your team has stuck with you all these years! Clearly you’ve been successful at finding people that are a strong fit!


Grenae Thompson February 7, 2014 at 9:56 am

A powerful message, Ali. Many have been “playing the game” for so long they have lost sight of their true selves. The good news is that it’s never too late to be who we are. It might be difficult at first but I’ve found that by being your self, you put other people at ease and “give them permission” to be who they are. Thanks for sharing the real you.


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Grenae – I know just what you’re talking about! I was with my first company for 11 years and had a hard time separating what I did for a living from who I am. It’s definitely difficult at first but worth the work to strip away the layers and BREATHE!

Love your point that when we show up as who we are… it gives others permission to do the same. Agreed!

Many thanks for adding to the conversation!


LaRae Quy February 7, 2014 at 11:51 am

Love this post! Alli, you make so many great points.

What struck me immediately is this: if we know at a deep level who we are and what we’re about, we won’t need to rehearse it. It will be at the tip of our tongue. It’s always good to formulate our thoughts in a structured and professional way, but when we REALLY know who are, and we’re authentic, we won’t need to fall back on prepared words to convey ourselves to others….


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm

It’s always key to prepare but what I’ve found, is that when I’m the most prepared, it’s when I can let go and be IN the moment with confidence instead of trying to control it.

Thanks so much, LaRae!


Blair Glaser February 7, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Great message, Alli! And great examples. Thanks for giving us permission to be real. In dating I am currently learning how to drop the game. When I catch myself with the plastered smile and nod, I try to check in and find a real response, even if it’s different or challenging. I have to remind myself that being real is not the same as being mean. I recently asked one date, “Do you feel a connection here?” And he paused, looked worried and then sighed a sigh of relief, “No!” We laughed and were able to part in agreement on that!


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:41 pm

What a fantastic example, Blair! You are definitely a role model for healthy relationships with self and others. Only focusing on the other person and making them feel good without honoring your own feelings never works for the long term.

Thanks so much for sharing!


Glenn Elliott February 8, 2014 at 10:50 am

Great company culture only works when people are authentic. Excellent companies that care about culture and engagement want real people. Diversity of people, experiences, ideas and eccentricities will create success. Great article!


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:50 pm

I’m with you all the way, Glenn! Real people, not walking, talking resumes, are the ones that make the magic happen.

Thanks so much for your comment and hope you’ll share here again. Appreciate your insights!


Jon Mertz February 8, 2014 at 11:27 am

Excellent insights, Alli. I agree with Steve Keating. At some point, the real person will be discovered. We need to tap into our courage and be the real person we are. The right organizations and people will recognize this and appreciate this. Ultimately, this is what will deliver the best fit. Thanks! Jon


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:44 pm

Agree! We can only play a game for so long. I’ve had people join my team that seemed like an ideal fit during the interview process only to discover that the perfectly practiced person I saw during that time had little resemblance to their temperament, values and priorities on the job. I’ve also interviewed for jobs that I wish had given me more insight into the reality of the organization before I signed on. Culture fit matters and can only be discovered with honesty, integrity and real people on both sides of the table.

Thanks so much for adding your insights here, Jon!


Tom Rhodes February 9, 2014 at 8:31 am

We have all been put in the box of how the structured interview should go. Thank you for changing the box. I know when I interview I am looking for the person. I have a knowledge of their skills or would not have asked to meet them. I want to see if they will fit with the people they will work with each day.


Alli Polin February 9, 2014 at 9:48 pm

YES!! You’ve brought them in for an interview for a reason – and it wasn’t just because they had a great objective statement at the top of the page. Skills matter, no doubt, but WHO they are matters too! Appreciate your personal commitment to finding people that match and not just skills that match your openings.

Thanks, Tom!


Samantha February 11, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Great post Alli. I read this when you first posted it with every intention to comment before sharing and got sidetracked. 😉

Steve succinctly hit the nail on the head in his comment when he said:

‘Nobody likes, or trusts, a fake.’

Unfortunately, our culture and society GROOMS us from birth to basically BE…fake.

Be politically correct.

Hide genuine feelings/emotions in order to make OTHERS happy. (constantly deny yourself and what you need/want, which is VERY dangerous over the long term)

Don’t rock the boat. Don’t have a different opinion because that might be upsetting to people.

Don’t think for yourself. (yes, everything you read in a book or on the internet is TRUE….yeah…right! So do NOT question it…whatever you do! : )

We grow up and MASKS become the norm…the name of the game.

And then what’s worse, WORDS are uttered or written that have very little to do with reality at all. Dreams and ideas that SOUND good yet are delivered as if #1) It’s even possible to live #2) Delivered to audience as an expectation that THEY should be living it #3) While ignoring the glaring FACT that authors not only do NOT live it themselves yet haven’t even TESTED to see if what they are writing about can even BE practically lived!

That’s where I’m at on the journey. I’m no longer reading things and accepting it as ‘gospel’. I am now reading things wondering, #1) is it even true and possible and more importantly #2) does the author live it themselves?

If not, why write it. Why share it. (Not YOU…. the population in general)

It takes GREAT courage to shed the old conditioning in order to BE YOURSELF in the world. In fact, that just reminded me of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson I see every once in awhile:

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is one of our greatest challenges. It requires great courage.

Thanks for such an awesome post of encouragement.


Alli Polin February 18, 2014 at 3:32 am

YOU are amazing.

You’ve really gotten to the heart of it – we’re groomed to play the game. In fact, I would guess that most people don’t even realize when they’re holding back, being polite and choosing politically correct over the messiness of speaking their truth.

It reminds me of a master coach I trained with that truly and deeply helped her clients create and live fulfilling lives with robust relationships. When I met her, she had just received a message that her third husband had left her. I loved that she continued to teach the course but also leaned into her pain (because it was raw and real). She showed me what it’s like to hold both – commitment to others to be their “leader” and showing up as who you are.

Thank you for always reminding me that it’s OK to say what’s unpopular, to think what you want and to embrace it. You ROCK.


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