Authenticity and Contexts

by | Dec 7, 2023

Two years ago, I worked with a stylist. “Work with a stylist” had been on my wish list for a long time. We’re talking years. Rationals, excuses, and reasoning finally got forgotten when Nicole Otchy came into my world. 

Not only am I MAD fashionable now 😉, but I also have a dear friend and entrepreneurship buddy in Nicole. Her approach gave me a new way of viewing my closet and myself.

I got to thinking about her approach and how it can apply to how we all show up, new clothes or not. 

Nicole had us outline various contexts we’d find ourselves living our lives. For me, keynotes/training, date night/out with friends, and Zoom lewks were the three contexts I found myself in most. From there, it was Pinterest pinning and closet clearing and new clothes purchasing to create the looks for those contexts. 

What I am going to wear on stage–probably not what I’m going to wear out and about in my boho-beach town. What I’m going to wear on Zoom, maybe not what I’m going to wear training (because I’m pretty sure a fancy top and shorts-not-actual-pants are not a training-approved look.) Hopefully, you get the gist. 

However, the thing about all of these contexts, they are still ME. There is still the Erin-style throughline–bold colors, color blocking, funky earrings, strong silhouettes. They are authentic to me. 

Let’s talk about that word “authentic.” Or, as I like to say, “authentic vs. #authentic.” 

#authentic is brought to you by the cesspool of social media. Where branding experts and influencers have told the world that they need to show up as their “authentic” selves. From my experience, this is typically followed by over-shares, way too personal details I don’t want to hear from my best friends, much less some rando on the internet, and ironically trying to create the same #authentic life as every other tool on social media. When authentic=generic. 

The concern is when this #authentic shows up at work. Or the “bring your whole self” to work concept. Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh really? 

I’m pretty sure people at work don’t need to see our “whole selves.” (I’m not just talking about the Zoom mullet.) I’m pretty sure people at work are put off, feel uncomfortable, and cringe when you share about sex with your spouse and how it’s changed over the years (ACTUAL ACCOUNT) because you are trying to show your “whole self” and “be authentic.” (You’re probably gagging on memories of awkward overshares by colleagues in an attempt for them to be #authentic. My bad.)

Let’s get a grip. 

Enter Nicole’s context concept. Enter your work contexts. Just as I am not going to wear my “formalwear” context to yoga class, we don’t need to bring our best-friend-vibe context to work. We don’t need to bring ourselves-at-a-bar-on-a-Friday-night-after-doing-11-shots-of-Fireball-context to work. (Not an actual account–for me, at least.) 

Not everyone gets to see or know everything about you. 

Not showing it all does not mean you’re not being authentic. 

It means you’re being strategic. Smart. Relevant. Reading the room. Respecting boundaries. Building trust. 

And still being you. 

The key is to find and be aware of your vibe. What is your authentic style? What feels right for you? Movements, words, energy, clothes, stories, expressions…the whole nine yards. 

How do you take your throughline, your vibe, your authentic style and bring it to life at work in a way that builds trust, creates credibility, and feels comfortable for you and the people around you? 

Your authentic self, “work context.” 

Last week I watched this play out during the Presenting with Impact workshop. As we worked through the activities, as the participants had a chance to practice and give each other feedback, their authentic selves started to come through. They loosened their corporate personas. They became familiar with each other. In three short days, their authentic selves came alive–in a genuine, appropriate, and powerful work-context way.

You can be you at work. Just remember the context. 


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