• Ashley Lang

Masking Authenticity

I don’t like being vulnerable, and honestly, I’m not sure who does. Vulnerability is not something I’m good at, but is something I continue to tell students they need to challenge themselves to be to gain confidence and be their true, authentic selves.

Heifetz & Linsky (2002), authors of Leadership on the Line discuss the concept of The Sacred Heart. It seems I have taken on a shield of self-protection, hiding my curiosity, compassion, and love. For those that don’t know me, I’m not exactly a wear my heart on my sleeve kind of person. I’ve heard I’m cold, rigid, and intimidating. Several months ago, a student left my office surprised at how friendly I actually was because she had never had an encounter with me (yes she said that)…only seen me from afar or heard of the expectations I have of others. I have turned the above traits into cynicism, arrogance, and callousness as Leadership on the Line describes (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002). These more negative traits are not flattering, nor helpful on the path to ethical leadership. This loss of heart is then dressed up as traits I see in myself: realism, authoritative knowledge, and the thick-skin of experience; Heifetz and Linsky (2002) go on to say, “You risk numbing yourself to the world in which you are embedded” (p. 227).

I’m not sure what got me to this point; I suspect negative experiences with leaders and lack of values in leaders I’ve regularly encountered has contributed. To move forward I need to muster up courage, which is a hard thing to admit. Courage is a necessary part of leadership and requires one to overcome any fears to move forward and do the right thing (Johnson, 2015). I need to look past what judgements I’m concerned will be placed on me or the idea that I’m not good enough. It’s time to recognize what I need to do and act.

Authenticity is hard. I’m a mom, wife, educator, entrepreneur, student, sister, daughter, and so much more. I constantly seek balance of school, work, and my home life. I need people to know that my life is not ordered or perfect…far from it actually. My life has not gone according to my ideal plan. I have a messy house and whenever anyone comes to the door I feel the need to explain or am ashamed to let them in the door, a never-ending to do list that requires me to rely on my husband so much more than I want to – I AM AN INDEPENDENT AND COMPETENT WOMAN!, expectations that I’m not meeting for myself and probably others, I am often too proud to ask for help to keep up the façade that I CAN do it ALL. I feel constantly pulled in all directions, having to choose between what appear to be multiple good things. This is about as vulnerable as I have ever been with someone other than my family…I know that most people would never guess this about me and that is why I’m sharing, hoping my vulnerability will encourage others.

Not too long ago, I had a paper due on Sunday at 11:55pm. I had done my reading and discussion posts early in the week but continued to put off the paper. Sunday rolled around and I put my daughter to bed, only to finally decide to start the paper. By about 10:45pm the paper was done. I read it, thought it seemed coherent and met the minimum expectations and decided to submit it because I was tired and no longer focused. To a perfectionist like me, this is not how things are done. I usually have it mostly ready and keep reading and re-reading, editing it until I feel good about it. This was a huge step for me to simply get it done and submit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging this behavior of any of you.

It’s okay to give ourselves a break once in awhile. We should work to seek out a centered life instead of a balanced life because let’s face it, I’m probably not going to find the balance I want anytime soon. Flexibility and adaptability are key traits of living a centered life. “Leadership is an improvisational art, what we do from moment to moment cannot be scripted” (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002). So why do I try so hard to plan everything and be in control all the time? It only results in my having a brief emotional breakdown with a good frustrated cry because I’ve kept everything inside too long! I DO NOT CRY and especially in front of others. It takes my husband poking and prodding to get me to open up and remove the mask.

It would seem I want the perception to be that I don’t have flaws/imperfections. This is a mask I am hiding behind, because let’s face it, we all have them. I do what I can to hide these flaws until the light shines through the a crack or slip up.

The truth is we are challenged and pushed to our limits, but there is always something out there, making sure we are given an opportunity to discover how far we can truly go, digging deep within ourselves to make a comeback and show our strength. Imperfections in clay are what let the light shine through, giving a sense of hope to move forward with. We want to allow our true selves to come out.

This reminds of a Habitude called The Golden Buddha (Elmore, 2009):

Over 50 years ago, the Golden Buddha was discovered in the city of Bangkok, Thailand. It was an accident. For years, a huge, ugly concrete buddha sat in the middle of town. Visitors put empty cola cans and other trash at the base of the stained statue; candy wrappers and other waste lay around it. Then one day, a priest decided to move the old statue inside to clean it. In the moving process – it cracked. As the pieces began to crumble, his crew noticed something underneath the concrete shell. They pulled the shell away and were shocked. Inside they found the world’s largest chunk of sculptured gold, standing eight feet high! For years the huge chunk of gold was there – but no one knew it. Instead, little attention was paid to the statue. It got dirty. Weathered. It was used to store trash. Would this have been done had people recognized what is was storing inside? Everyone was ignorant of the valuable “inventory” the concrete shell contained.

We are a lot like this statue. Our real value is inside, if we would only take inventory of it, instead of hiding behind the mask, concrete shell, or the clay. Once we know what we have, we can go about our lives with confidence. We cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way we see ourselves. If we think we are average we will perform average. We ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to be broken before we can truly shine.

In order to find our gold within, we need to be vulnerable and reveal our true authentic selves. Find someone or something to remind you to do this. In the past I wore a bracelet that said “Be Authentic” and that has been my focus for an entire year – sometimes I have to remind myself, it wasn’t just for that year, it is an all the time thing. Allow others to see who you actually are instead of letting the stress and anxiety overcome you as you work to wear a mask that is not representative of who you are. Living up to what we perceive as the expectations of others is much harder than facing ourselves. I know I don’t want to sacrifice my beliefs, values, or character because I’m afraid to take the leap and show you my imperfections. Who knows…you might even find the gold hidden inside as you display your true self.


Elmore, T. (2010). Habitudes: The art of self-leadership [#1, Values-Based]. Growing Leaders, Inc.: Georgia.

Heifetz, R. A., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.

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