“My authentic state is I like to lie down and eat cake,” says writer and stand-up comedian, Deborah Frances-White, to a panel of women in Sibos. The session followed on from a panel on the future of post-trade panel, providing a change of pace, but also a refreshing perspective on the concepts of authenticity and resilience of professional growth.
As women in business – and particularly finance – we are often encouraged to be our most authentic selves to succeed. However, if we all remained authentic, we would limit ourselves to everything we are, as opposed to opening ourselves up to everything that we could be.
“The idea of authenticity is very limiting because the idea that you’re authentically crap at something…you’re kind of stuck with that and then you need resilience,” she says.
If we remain authentic to ourselves in the skills we are not good at the only other option for success is forcing ourselves to battle through them for as long as we can.
This, Frances-White argues, is a short-term solution because as human beings we are often not equipped to be resilient for long periods of time. We burn out and give up after a sustained period of resilience.
“Unless we are forced to do things that are difficult, it is very unlikely we will sustain what is difficult. That is because human beings in the main would rather be comfortable than successful,” she says. “The way to get around having to be resilient is to reinvent and to forget the idea of authenticity.”
This idea that you can reinvent yourself to be someone who simply gives things a go and is good at them sparked my interest. This overly simplistic and obvious piece of advice made me scoff at my screen.
All this time I’ve been rubbish at public speaking and all I needed to do was tell myself that I’m actually brilliant at public speaking.
However, what Frances-White is arguing is that to forget the idea of authenticity we have to change the way that we as individuals learn.
By a certain age, adults are aware of what they are good at and what they are not good at. We tend to continue only practicing the skills we know we can do as it makes us comfortable when we do things well and it makes us uncomfortable when we fail.
Children, however, take an altogether different approach. Children will do anything to have another turn at something and another moment in the spotlight. Even if they come down the slide backwards and hit their head, you will still see them running back to the steps to climb back up and try it again.
It is this attitude that Frances-White believes we should take to reinvent our authentic selves. We should reinvent ourselves to be someone who enjoys doing the things that we are not good at and that way eradicate resilience from our lives.
If an adult walks into a board room and messes up a presentation it is likely the next time they are faced with the same task they will approach it with fear. They will actively avoid having to do other presentations and their brains will be scarred with the memory of their embarrassment.
Albeit an unlikely scenario, a five-year-old would waltz back into that boardroom and try to deliver the quarterly figures again and again. All the while collecting data on how to improve for next time.
We should approach learning like a child who has nothing to lose. “Instead of assessing the quality of your goes, assess the quantity of your goes,” says Frances-White.
This is obviously easier said than done. As women in a male-dominated industry, you may feel like the odds are stacked up against you with many of your colleagues are expecting you to fail. The idea of continuously attempting something you know you’re not good at in front of people who are expecting you to fall is daunting.
However, to tackle this feeling you have to be aware of this lack of confidence in you from others and instead combat it with confidence in yourself.
While the industry is working on improving equality within senior leadership positions, there are still steps you can take in parallel in order to develop personally, because personal growth it important to us all. Frances-White’s advice to trust yourself is a particularly relevant one.
You have to tell the story that you trust yourself and other people will trust you too. Instead of thinking about what your audience think of you, think about what you want them to experience and what you want to change in them through your actions.
You are outward facing. Fix yourself to the floor, use definite gestures, come towards of your audience, use a front foot energy, hold your head still and then forget about yourself.
“Think like Michelle Obama,” says Frances-White.