We spend an awful lot of time 'doing' and not enough time 'being'.
I speak about this at length in this recent article on the business of happiness and looking within. We’re not comfortable enough with who we are.
Neither do our environments truly permit us to be comfortable just being ourselves.
Financial services is not an anomaly here. It’s too often fraught with risk and judgement.
Most of our environments place a heavy pressure on us to conform to something - a way of looking, sounding and behaving - whether that’s in a working or social context.
Some people might fit quite neatly into these categories or social constructs, or the 'suits' that we wear.
But for most people, even the 'suit' they fit into best is a little ill-fitting and doesn’t show them at their best. For many people, there’s no size that fits their shape at all.
So, they just spend life feeling really flipping uncomfortable and unable to operate at their best.
But why are we trying to fit into suits?
Within financial services, this metaphor is particularly apt.
Too often firms and individuals can be a bit stuffy, grey, and stilted - and far from reflecting the diverse audiences they could and should represent.
And from our experience, people are finding these suits rather suffocating.
Why aren’t we all embracing the freedom of being naked?
Not actually naked obviously. Just metaphorically - the freedom to just be.
In the spirit of bravery
The subject of being ourselves is a universal one.
To take an example away from financial services, the opening up of the conversation and reality around gender fluidity and breaking down the binary definition of gender identity is a huge step in the right direction.
Gender has always sat right at the core of our identity from birth, and our roles are laid out for us. From the get go, we’re potentially brought up to fit into something rather than just be.
By working to rather reductive definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman, certainly in terms of behaviour, we miss out on the glorious idiosyncrasies that come from people just being themselves.
Now, I’ll use myself as an example - in the spirit of bravery, but not because I think my experience is anything extraordinary or that it compares to the struggles that many face.
Throughout my life, I’ve frequently been assumed to be a gay man. It’s never bothered me in the slightest, but I’m not.
It’s interesting. It comes from a desire or need to place people. To put them in their suits.
Regarding gender, I identify as a man. However, I naturally display behaviours that many would traditionally classify as not what they understand to be 'manly' - even effeminate.
When seeing these behaviours, I’m guessing the thought process for people has always been, “ah, effeminate man = gay man.”
Again, very problematic, inaccurate and unhelpful - and probably largely unconscious and not intentionally malicious. But the need to classify and “suit up” is interesting.
I’ve never been too much of a conformist.
But now more than ever, I try to be strict about just allowing myself to be - fully. Neither projecting or pulling back. Not worrying about my suit.
It'd be remiss of me not to point out that as a white, middle class, heterosexual man, I’m incredibly privileged for this to come quite easily - as society has been and remains most accepting of these things.
But being ourselves is so important. The fact I even have a piece to write here is a shame.
I’ll say it again. The more fully we all understand, embrace and celebrate our truest selves and each other, the happier we’ll all be.
Fitting in is effort
Looking at business and productivity, if you’re worried about this 'wacky' spirit of non-conformism and people being themselves, don’t be.
It’s where we all need to move. It’s where financial services desperately needs to move.
Conforming is energy wasted. Not conforming should be energy saved.
Fitting in is effort, so being ourselves should be effortless.
I’m well aware that, historically, this hasn’t been and still isn’t the case on so many levels.
People the world over continue to fight to be themselves and to receive equal treatment legally, economically and socially. In no way is this fight effortless.
I’m also very aware that my insistence on being myself is fraught with far less risk and judgement and costs less than is the case for many people.
I’m also from an acting background and perhaps, even though I’m working within financial services, I’m still an outsider.
This means my 'quirks' and 'idiosyncrasies' (I’d prefer to say expressions of myself) are probably to be expected much more than for an adviser.
But I still say, be brave. Insist on being yourself.
Simply being ourselves, whatever that looks like, should be the most natural, easy, effortless thing in the world. The fact that it isn’t, is a travesty.
So this business of being ourselves takes a commitment from everyone.
It requires us all to stop judging, hating or whatever-ing - all of which restrict everyone’s freedom to just be.
The more we stop self-filtering to suit certain environments and allow ourselves to flow, the more at ease and happy we’ll be.
The energy we’ll save on trying to project some inauthentic idea of ourselves or pull back from showing who we really are can instead be spent on being brilliant.
And surely, all businesses want all their staff to be brilliant. Aside from that being a nice thing, you’ll get a lot more out of them.
So, no. Being ourselves is not a “nice to have.” It’s essential.
We’ve exerted far too much effort conforming, fitting in or hiding who we are, or perhaps not even knowing who we really are.
We’ve worn ill-fitting suits for too long and squeezing into them has left us tense, uncomfortable and confused.
It’s time for businesses the world over to be intentional, vigilant and energetic in supporting this de-robing.
In my last Illuminate article, I quoted Anna Sofat’s rallying cry to the industry “Are you in?” I’ll repeat it here.
If we’re brave enough as a profession to insist on being ourselves, not only will we all be happier and perform better, we’ll also change the public perception of advice by being more approachable, human and relatable.
If we’re all of these things, we’ll be far more able to deliver on our purpose of ensuring happiness and financial security to as many people as possible.