One of the reasons I left paid employment within the youth sector was because I felt that my work no longer had any meaning and my stress and anxiety levels were soaring. The reason for this was the gap between how I wanted things to be and the way things were, more specifically I was being asked to act in ways that I felt were true to myself….I was not authentic. I no longer believed in what I was doing.
I feel strongly that when it comes to working with children and young people it is important that you are authentic. This means being honest but at the same time being aware of when that child or young person is ready to hear the truth. It does not mean that you lie to young people but sometimes you may need to be mindful of what you share with them. It is also about being direct and focusing on what is happening at that time, not revisiting the past or projecting into the future. I also think it is about drawing upon your own direct experience rather relying too heaving on some theory or notion of best practice.
I have worked with children and young people for over 30 years, in a range of different settings. And if I am honest I have not always come across as authentic…and these were usually the times when I was either looking for quick fix solutions or I had other agendas e.g. meeting funder’s targets.
But I am also aware that when I did work authentically there were huge benefits:
- Young people were more honest, open and direct with me
- I was more likely to see things as they really were, rather than how I wanted them to be…and then was able to deal with them more effectively
- I was able to build trust and confidence in my relationships, not only with children and young people but also colleagues
- It helped me to remain relevant, realistic and flexible in my approach
So how to you develop and keep a sense of authenticity?
I can only speak from personal experience (the way to be authentic!). What helped me was a strong Personal Brand. I used mindfulness practices to help me to develop a greater awareness and understanding of who I was, what I wanted and what my values were. I also helped me to develop the ability to go deeper, to ask deeper questions…surface solutions tend to have surface impact.