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The Authenticity Formula – A Corporate Researcher Speaks Out!

You start to take your professional self more seriously as you get older, and the silly melts away. In a way I hope that’s true, because I think it would make my life easier. But, I hope that’s not true, because the corporate world needs sparkling personalities.



Editor’s Note: I met Tiffany McNeil recently and immediately found her to be witty, smart, charming, and insightful: the perfect combination for a blogger! Luckily for us, she likes blogging as well so she has agreed to join GreenBook blog as a client-side contributor. I think you’ll like her humor, unique perspective, and insight as much as I do. So, get ready to grin a bit while also having your thinking challenged and welcome Tiffany McNeil as a client-side author!


By Tiffany McNeil

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking again (yes, again) about what kind of person I want to be at work.

Here’s the background.  I’m the child of a couple of free-thinking, kind-hearted but completely impractical Baby Boomers.  I was raised to be whomever I want to be, do whatever I want to do.  So what did I do?  Like so many other Gen-X-ers (I’m in the insights field – I read this stuff), I got really depressed when I realized I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do (see quarter-life crisis) and emerged on the other side of said self-obsession profoundly pragmatic but still completely obsessed with the idea of being “authentic.”

Look – I’m as poised and professional as the next gal when I need to be.  I’m not going to walk into a meeting with C-level management and ask if they think Katie Holmes is pregnant again, and I can hold my own over high tea at Fortnum & Mason.  But where do you draw the line?

The kicker is that this has all gotten even MORE complicated now that we’re all over the web.  I think I have the hang of Facebook now, and my personal blog is good to go if somewhat neglected, but blogging about work things is just a big mess, and I’m completely duped by Twitter.  Can I tell Jimmy Fallon my #worstgiftever, tell my dear friend Robyn to keep her chin up, and wax poetic about insights and methodologies from the same account?  Surely I shouldn’t have to be a Triple Twit to effectively communicate that I’m a funny/caring/smart one.  Do I need @SmartTwit, @FunnyTwit, and @CaringTwit?  Holy cow I can’t handle that.

The point, though, is that all of this web stuff is completely transparent and could be influencing my colleagues’ impressions of me as a professional . . . as any awful “fired because of what I said on Facebook” story would suggest.

It somehow seems profoundly unfair, and I think that’s part of what got me thinking.

I believe some people are more comfortable exuding a “buttoned up” vibe than others.  I also believe a lot of people put a LOT of energy into acting more buttoned up than they are.  Always dress beautifully, always craft their sentences carefully, always carry the appropriate binder, always have the appropriate single glass of white wine and talk to the 3 most important people at the goodbye happy hour before going home presumably EXHAUSTED from spending so much energy trying to be a better version of themselves.

There are days when I can ALMOST fathom being like that.  There might even days when I am like that.  OK maybe not WHOLE days.  But most of the time, I don’t get through a meeting without giggling or making some sort of silly irrelevant comment.  I don’t derail meetings, and I’m not a time-suck, but I really like my job, and I really like my colleagues, and I think life’s too short to not enjoy myself during the day.

I realize it’s entirely too convenient for me to get on the proverbial soap box about authenticity when frankly anything else would make my life more difficult.  For now, though, I present the following pseudo-algebraic proof:

1. The happiness theorem

  • I’m happy when I behave like my naturally silly self.
  • I spend a lot of time at work.
  • It’s good for you to be happy a lot of the time.
  • Therefore, it’s good for me to behave like my silly self at work.

2. The professional respect theorem

  • Most of the people I work with are nice.
  • Most of the people I work with are smart.
  • Nice people like silly people.
  • Smart people know that silly people can also be smart.
  • Therefore the people I work with probably like me and are willing to believe I could be smart despite my silliness.
  • Note: this is a hopeful theorem.  Work in progress.

3. The stress theorem

  • Trying to say all the right things all the time is hard in a bad way.
  • Things that are hard in a bad way are stressful.
  • Stress is bad for you.
  • Therefore, trying to be an uber-professional workbot would be bad for me.

So that’s all well and good, but maybe those buttoned up folks are the ones who have the most professional success.  I don’t see a lot of senior level execs doing cartwheels down the hall.  Or maybe, as I’ve been feeling lately, you just start to take your professional self more seriously as you get older, and the silly melts away.  In a way I hope that’s true, because I think it would make my life easier.  But in a much much bigger way, I hope that’s not true, because my GOODNESS the corporate world is just STARVED for sparkling personalities.


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5 responses to “The Authenticity Formula – A Corporate Researcher Speaks Out!

  1. Very interesting. True authenticity should always be the most effortless thing in the world to practice.

    However, when Dolly Parton was asked about her flamboyant look and said….”following trends and current fashion is easy, what I do takes an effort.”

    I enjoyed your post Tiffany!

  2. Good news is authenticity always wins and humor is a sign of intelligence. Buttoned-upness on the other hand is not. I think if you worry a lot less about what others think you’ll go far.

  3. @Tom – thanks for the kind words re: humor, though must admit it’s only a lucky few who find me funny. Congrats! 😉

    Wanted to respond regarding worrying about what everyone else is thinking because, while that is a component of it, in a way it misses the point. You’re not the only one who went there, though. . . hence the note. It’s really more about optimizing communication to balance poise with a bit of nonchalant humor which can undermine credibility if taken too far. I actually think that attentiveness to what and how I communicate with people has served me well thus far. Maybe focusing to some degree on (vs. worrying about) what other people think ain’t a bad idea?

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Tiffany McNeil

Tiffany McNeil

Director - Innovation Strategy / Insights & Mission, Plum Organics