Use Authenticity to Catalyze Productivity

The response to last month’s “confessional” newsletter was amazing – a real outpouring of support. Thank you all so much. Here’s one thought-provoking comment I received:

What is it to be professional? When we spend so much of our time working, is it fair to be asked to hide/divorce/suppress big pieces of ourselves that are considered acceptable or even assets in other settings? Why aren’t these qualities perceived as professional? Should these qualities be valued and incorporated? How do we change business to be a gentler and broader place? Is that even desirable?

I can’t help thinking, as I read that, of Mad Men, many of whose characters lead lives that, though superficially glamorous, are inauthentic on pretty much every level. One of the show’s glories is to render the consequences of that inauthenticity plain.

So, let’s talk about productivity. When you increase your productivity it can feel weird. Particularly if you’ve been used to dramatic creation cycles – incredible ups when you produce and incredible downs when you don’t, which, by the way, is an addict’s cycle – productivity itself can feel flat, and kind of a let-down. (Same as sobriety.) Don’t let that flat feeling fool you, though: it’s the absence of drama, and not its presence, that signals productivity. Take the flatness as a sign you’re closer to your goal of being able to frequently – and pleasurably, but not in a frenetic or otherwise addictive way – lose yourself in your work and just produce. (Another word for that state is: inspired.)

So, can we tie authenticity to productivity? Yes – and this newsletter offers proof. I finished the bulk of it within two days of submitting last month’s. Last month’s was so much more interesting to write than previous newsletters, and the experience of receiving so much love and support in response was so liberating, that I went, all at once, from hating to write newsletters to loving to write them. (I’ve actually drafted next month’s, too – and bits and pieces of future ones. I’m actually worried about having too much material for a monthly newsletter!)

Basically, by moving past fear and into authenticity, I was able to discover a well of untapped ideas and creativity within me that I didn’t even know existed. And I discovered it literally overnight. That’s not unusual: people always think they’re blocked because they’re missing something – discipline, willpower, commitment, etc. – but a block is really just what its name implies, something separating you from your power, ideas and energy. Remove the block and there it all is, ready and waiting.

The block is composed mainly of perfectionism, i.e., a terror of failure. I use the word “terror” deliberately and not at all exaggeratedly: perfectionists don’t just fear failure, they are terrified of it for many reasons, including that they overidentify with their work and so believe that “failing” at their work means that they themselves are “failures.” (Check out The Lifelong Activist or my FREE ebook The Little Guide To Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism and Blocks for more on perfectionism: it’s a big topic.) And so, in a desperate attempt at self-protection, their psyche throws up a block, which, although painful, is more tolerable than the prospect of failure.

We’re not born perfectionist: it’s a habit we acquire from parents, teachers, the media and other sources. Once you identify your patterns of perfectionist thinking and start practicing healthier responses to your fears, you’re well on your way to overcoming the problem. You’ll feel inspired and write prolifically because you’ll be able to easily tap into your fascinating authentic core.

Even once you achieve this realization, however, you are unlikely to travel in a straight line to maximum productivity. In most personal growth arcs, there are usually plateaus and backsliding – and, who knows, I might backslide with these newsletters. That’s okay, because even if I do I won’t have lost what I’ve learned – and I’ll still be much stronger than I was before starting this experiment.

So my advice to you, if you’re stuck on a writing or other project, is to try working without dictating the outcome. Just sit down and journal (free write) without any expectation of success or failure, and see what comes out. Chances are, you’ll be happily surprised.

If there’s a specific problem stopping you, journal about it, taking care not to get stuck at the “I’m panicking” stage, but to move on to the “okay, what’s really going on here?” stage. Writing out a problem’s details is often all it takes to calm down, characterize it and solve it.

So, authenticity catalyzes productivity. Another compelling question for me – and for you, if you’re an entrepreneur – is whether it also catalyzes revenues. This is tricky stuff, because I’m not a devotee of works like The Secret, which seem to me to promote a kind of hyped-up wishful thinking. The other problem is that revenue is based on sales, an activity not always congruent with authenticity.

I’ll be thinking a lot about that issue, and would welcome your ideas and input.