As I finished up my law degree, one of the places I was hoping to get work (while I secretly built up a coaching practice on the side) was with the Department of Justice — Canada’s federal legal department.
Going into that interview, I was trying to memorize fifty different things I had to do. I had connected with someone beforehand, and she shared with me a story about someone coming into the interview and saying “Hey guys,” as a greeting, and how that didn’t bode well for them.
I needed to make eye contact with each person, smile just enough, but not too much, not say “Hey guys”, appear professional, but not overly so, and so on.
So many things I had to remember.
That’s how we tend to approach interviews and similar experiences. They aren’t a natural expression of who we are — they’re a performance we’re putting on in order to achieve a result.
That’s exhausting. We literally have to put on a show. Remember our lines, the right ways to be and to act.
And the worst case comes when we actually get the position — because then we’ve been hired based on the performance we put on, rather than the fact that it’s a natural fit for who we already are.
I entered my first long-term relationship this same way. The girl was beautiful, and popular. I didn’t figure there was anyway at all that she’d be interested in a dork like me, so I fabricated a story. I used to be a “player”, getting together with all the ladies, before reforming and being ready to settle down.
(I was nothing of the sort. I was a dude that liked playing Magic the Gathering and Tekken.)
When we started dating, we entered into the relationship based on that lie I had told. The whole relationship was built on a foundation of a lack of trust, created by the lies I was telling and the parts of myself I was keeping hidden from her.
We put on these acts because we don’t love and trust ourselves as we are. We don’t hold that we’re sufficient, exactly the ways we are and are not, to create the life we want.
And so we show up to life, armored and ready to perform, in the hopes that it will get us what we want, and that will somehow make us happy.
When we’re met with someone else’s performance and armor, we keep our own up. If I see that you’ve shown up to the party wearing chainmail, I’m going to wonder what’s going on, and figure it might be a good idea to throw my own on.
And therein lies the secret to interviewing powerfully. To really interview masterfully you have to disarm the person across from you, and the way you disarm someone is by being willing to show up disarmed.
(BTW, when I talk about interviewing, I don’t just mean for a job. Dates, meeting people at a networking event, connecting with a stranger on the bus — it’s all the same thing.)
If you show up, free of performance, free of trying to create an impression, free of needing to be armoured and protected, there is an inherently disarming quality to you.
If I engage in a conversation with you and am willing to be vulnerable and open, it creates a natural invitation for you to do the same — a clearing. And from that clearing, we can both show up and be human with each other. We can experience intimacy, in the moment. Not as an intellectual concept that we “know” is important, but rather, as an experience in the moment.
This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get the job, or the boyfriend, or whatever. But maybe that’s a good thing. If, when you showed up unfettered and freely as yourself, they concluded you weren’t the right fit. Maybe you just saved yourself four years of sitting in a job becoming increasingly miserable and resentful.
It’s not that authenticity and a willingness to show up as yourself will work every time, or provide a magic solution.
It’s that they simply work better than everything else does.