Fear is often a major factor in choosing to turn away from duty – fear of the loss of reputation, of a familiar identity, of relationships. From the sense that we are negating the old in order to choose a different path, rebelling against duty can trigger shame, guilt and feelings of unworthiness.
Yet it can also be completely liberating, where duty has been an overwhelming burden.
Cultural differences show the concept of duty in profoundly different lights. From a western individualistic viewpoint, we are encouraged towards independence that takes others into account, but affirms the individual’s right to choose for themselves. So while society maintains certain expectations of obligations to others, these ties are far looser.
For other cultures, the collectivist emphasis on the group is reflected in interdependence. The one is less important than the group, as we rely on each other through a complex web of mutual obligation and support. In this context, turning your back on duty for the sake of individual fulfilment can easily lead to dishonour, or the loss of face. When your actions reflect on the whole family, such a fate may be worse than death, as the honour of the family name is sacrosanct.
What is Authenticity?
This has become such a buzz-word in recent years, that I was even unsure as to whether it is the appropriate term for this power tool situation. Perhaps it’s more about self-determination? Or identity? truth? Or even courage?
The research of Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman provided some insights and confirmation that authenticity is indeed the quality being described. They identified four key components of authenticity that could be measured in a written test.
- Self awareness – understanding and trusting your own motives, emotions, preferences and abilities
- Unbiased processing – the ability to objectively evaluate your strengths and weaknesses
- Behaviour – acting in ways that are congruent with your own values and needs, even at the risk of criticism or rejection
- Relational orientation – sincerity in close relationships
Kernis and Goldman found that people who scored highly on authenticity tests were more likely to have effective coping strategies, satisfying relationships, a strong sense of self-worth and purpose, confidence in mastering challenges and the ability to follow through in pursuing goals.
Why is the pursuit of authenticity such a desirable state? Partly because consciously living an in-authentic life can place such strain on us. For some people it will be a sense of dissatisfaction that sees us heading for the personal development section of the bookstore, for others it will be a major life overhaul that renders them almost unrecognisable.
Ethicist, John Portmann, of the University of Virginia noted that people who undergo sex-change operations or gastric bypass surgeries, say of their new gender or clothing size,
This is who I really am. I’m myself at last. Indeed, client E told me I’m home. This is the real me.
Many of our obligations and duties are chosen, either by or for us, early in life, when we have no less of a framework for considering other possibilities. These duties provide support and certainty, and strengthen our ties to family and community. As we learn, grow and change, so too does the context of our choices.
When life reveals other directions, those responsibilities can become painful bonds to be challenged and reshaped. What might have fitted with us at one time, is no longer the case. Those around us often seek to hold us back from change, as it has major implications too for them.
Coaching supports the process of examining and weighing our choices and taking steps towards change. Duty and authenticity may sit comfortably together for many, but for others facing your truth is rarely so uncomplicated.
The Coaching Application
- What do you want?
- What are your choices?
- What assumptions are you making?
- What are you responsible for?
- How else can you think about this?
- What is the other person thinking, feeling, and wanting?
- What are you missing or avoiding?
- What will happen if you stay where you are?
- What questions should you ask (yourself or others)?
- What major fear will you be addressing if you…?
- What ‘magic solution’ would make that fear decrease/disappear?
- What can you control in the situation?
- What can’t you control in the situation?
- What might you control that you haven’t been?
- Think of someone you truly respect and admire. How would they look differently at this situation? What would they do in your position?
- What do you want this relationship to look like? In one week? Six months? Five years?
- What would have to be true in order for you to feel confident moving forward?
- What’s the best, worst and most likely outcome?
- How will you keep the future in mind as you move through this process?
- What action steps make the most sense?
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy –the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. Brene Brown.
Further Coaching Techniques
- Visualisation: Imagine a family photo, five years from now. Who is in it? How would you describe the relationships?
- Journalling: Morning pages (Julia Cameron) 3 pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing
- Focus on the Present: What’s the one thing you can do, right now, that will take you to the next step?
- Goal Setting for the Now (Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing)
- Wrist snap-band: Wear to catch the ‘what-if’ moments
- Self-care: List every positive self-care technique that has ever worked for you, and do one every day!
- Affirmations: Write a list of every fear or negative belief, then write the opposite statement as an affirmation
Adams, M. (2009). Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work. (Revised, Expanded) (BK Life (Paperback)) (pp. 184-186). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Cameron, J. (2012) The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. Souvenir Press.
Fleischer, J. (2005) Living Two Lives: Married to a Man and In Love with a Woman. New York, Alyson Books.
Keller, G., Papasan, J. (2013). The One Thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. John Murray Press. Kindle Edition.
Wright, K. (2008). Dare to Be Yourself. Psychology Today. [Online] Available: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200804/dare-be-yourself [Accessed 21 December 2013]