“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.”  –Oprah Winfrey

It’s not easy being you. Or is it?

I have coached countless professionals who felt they needed to be more like their firm’s top performer in order to “fit in” and to achieve a similar level of success. Consider the single mother working in a male-dominated industry. There is also the millennial carving his path to a C-suite filled with baby boomers. And I can’t forget members of the LGBTQ community whose firms have not fully embraced diversity.

Society often conditions us to want to be more like others. But I take my clients on a journey of self-discovery, helping them define and embrace their uniqueness. And I have witnessed, first-hand, that learning to love and leverage our authenticity is a game changer.

Authenticity unleashes passion. And when we serve our clients (and family and friends) with an abundance of conviction, amazing things happen.

Stop apologizing for who you are. You’ve got nothing to be sorry about!            

Self-acceptance precedes authenticity. And far too often I see intelligent, highly talented individuals fall victim to criticism and negative self-talk. Take for instance the growing number of men and women that cares for an aging parent as well as their own dependent children.

Acquaintances and clients alike have shared feelings of guilt and inadequacy, fueled by coworkers who are critical of the sandwich generation’s need for a more flexible work schedule. My message to everyone being unnerved by judgmental colleagues is simple: If you consistently deliver value; meet deadlines and objectives; and operate within guidelines, you’ve got nothing to be sorry about!

Being unapologetically you is like child’s play. Really!

Watch young children at play, and you will likely observe an overabundance of confidence and authenticity. We have all seen the toddler walking proudly through a store wearing mom’s heels and dad’s necktie. And how about the ambitious preschooler who boldly proclaims that she’s going to be a fighter pilot, a Ph.D., and the next president of the U.S.?

Perhaps you were that child. But if you’re like most of us, fearlessness eventually gave way to parental reprimands, numerous attempts to manage your expectations, peer pressure, and your own self-inflicted need to “fit in”. Then one day, to everyone’s surprise, unapologetically you morphed into a self-conscious teen.

Waning confidence, much like acne and middle-school awkwardness, is a teenage right of passage for most. But a 2008 “Psychology Today” article by Karen Wright, MA, LPCC, LADC, concludes, “A hunger for authenticity guides us in every age and aspect of life.”

The gift of authenticity                                                                                                                

Consumers will spend more than $18 billion on tokens of love for Valentine’s Day, projects the National Retail Federation. But the most meaningful gift that you can give to those you love and serve is free: You, unapologetically. Below are a few suggestions to help engender that childlike confidence and authenticity:

Be honest about your priorities, and willing to stand up for them.

Stop owning (and apologizing for) things that aren’t your fault and don’t require an apology.

Say no to people and projects that don’t inspire you, or that make you feel uncomfortable about who you are and what you stand for.

Surround yourself with ambassadors who will hold you accountable.

Be an example of what it means to be unapologetically you.

Inspire someone else to do the same.