The dilemma of authenticity

“Just be yourself!”

“What a terrible piece of advice!”, I heard someone say once, and it took me a moment to grasp the enormity of the challenge that was being offered…

I get it now: It’s simply impossible to “be yourself”, because you are not oneself – You are a whole symphony of selves. Different parts of you will be showing up in different situations.

I’m not the same person at a network event compared to when I’m playing with my daughter. I’m not exactly the same person when I’m with my mates on a night out than when I’m with my wife on a night in. Of course there are aspects of who I am that are consistently showing up across contexts, but someone who experiences me in a training room may be somewhat surprised who they’re meeting out in the pub (maybe more opinionated, less attentive, and perhaps not such a great listener – arguably depending on how immediately interesting it is what you’re telling me).

I’ve been feeling very fortunate that my line of work not just allows me, but actively requires me to show up congruent and authentic as one of the core conditions for effective psychological work. I’ve been telling students often: “Who you are is how you coach”. And even if we activate different parts of ourselves in different situations, it’s important that who’s showing up is genuinely me.

Now as we’re scaling the Coaching Lab I’ve run into a dilemma around authenticity:

Over the past year we’ve worked hard to expand our operations, so that we can create more visibility about the many spaces and services we offer to coaches around the world, to help coaches be better coaches (more skilled, more reflective, more impactful and purpose-driven) and, in turn, elevate the state of the world as these coaches go and work with individuals, organisations, communities, and complex systems.

At scale, it becomes impossible to do everything yourself. And in order to market effectively in the age of social media, the output required to keep an audience’s attention is well beyond what a single person can maintain – at least if that person is still working with people rather than predominantly focusing on content creation and marketing.

And so I’ve been witnessing parts of myself transforming into a “brand”.

This “Brand Yannick” is now co-existing alongside “Yannick”, mostly identical as I, Yannick, am still the one writing these Nuggets, posting on social media, facilitating the Coaching Lab and Cabinet, and running all consultations… but as we’re building systems to scale, it will no longer be possible to do all of this myself. My team has been growing steadily, and I’m now working with a copywriter to help me create engaging and helpful content to serve coaches and to draw attention to what we’re doing in the Lab.

Ambika has known me for years, and she really gets me, but she will never be me, and she will never write quite like me. So even when she does her job super well and brings all the points home that I’m trying to offer to the world, it just cannot possibly be 100% authentic.

And so I’m finding myself struggling with proof-reading new content thinking “But I wouldn’t quite say it like that”, or “yes, true and super helpful, but that’s not 100% what I meant”.

Thing is that if I were to try and maintain 100% authenticity, I’d have to go back to doing everything myself, and there’d just be no way to get the message out there and help more people.

So I’m caught in the dilemma of authenticity, and currently experimenting with compromising some of it in order to achieve something that feels deeply authentic: to help as many coaches as possible be a generative force for meaningful change in the world – one person or group at the time.

It feels weird on the one hand, and exactly like the right thing to do on the other. It’s just difficult to navigate the complexities of authenticity, whether that’s in the process of scaling a business or by balancing our many selves across the many different contexts that we find ourselves in as we navigate our lives and careers.

As Heidegger put it (and I’m obviously paraphrasing heavily here): We can at best weave in and out of authentic states. That’s just life.

So if at any point you’re reading any of my output, and you’re wondering who that person is that you used to know, please forgive me – and do tell me!!

We’re working hard to make sure that “Brand Yannick” will never veer too far from who I am as a person. After all, authenticity and integrity are core values of mine – it’s just really hard to honour such values at scale without micromanaging and working ridiculous hours.

This is a prime example btw of one of such “hidden leadership challenges” that most leaders don’t talk about openly, and why coaching in general, and existential coaching in particular, are such a valuable service. Talking about this to you has been somewhat cathartic, though I also see the risk in doing so, and I’m sure if I had a board, they may not be up for being this transparent…

With that said, thank you for your trust and for journeying with me through my experience in these Nuggets.

With Love


New content: Publication of our Coaching & Psychedelics White Paper

After nearly 5 years in the making and many little building blocks stacked on top of each other (thanks Leah for the metaphor!), I’m proud to report that our academic white paper “Coaching & Psychedelics: A Beneficial Partnership?” has been accepted for publication for the August2024 issue of Oxford Brookes’s International Journal of Evidence-based Coaching and Mentoring (editors Elaine Cox and Tatiana Bachkirova).

There is a lot of talk about the enormous healing potential of psychedelics in combination with therapy, and a fast growing evidence-base reporting some mind-blowing results for treatment across a range of mental health issues and clinical conditions. But while a lot of “healthy normal” people turn to psychedelics for personal development, and a lot of coaches are happy to hold space for, or even guide the preparation and/or integration of such experiences, there is literally no literature on psychedelics-assisted coaching or coaching-assisted psychedelic journeys.

Our paper set out to change this by establishing a rationale (grounded in the literature on coaching psychology and positive psychology) as to why a partnership CAN be beneficial, offering potential meeting points both in theory and in practice, highlighting important ethical considerations, offering a defining framework & a code of conduct for practitioners, and hence laying the foundation for future research.

If you wanted to learn more, I’ve presented the rationale for this work at this year’s World Congress on Positive Psychology in Vancouver, and you can watch the recording on YouTube.

BIG thanks to my co-authors Nigel Pedlingham and Marcel Braun – I couldn’t have done this without you and your intellectual contributions as well as your help with editing and accountability were instrumental in birthing this baby. Lots more gratitude is due, which I’ve showered out as part of my LinkedIn post from the day we received the good news.

If you’d like to hear more, but didn’t want to wait 9 months for the paper to be published, you can listen to (or watch) the author team discuss the paper in detail as part of the next episode of our podcast Talking about Coaching and Psychedelics, which interestingly enough we had scheduled to be released TODAY! Synchronicity?

Watch it on YouTube or listen to the episode here or wherever you find your podcasts.

Oh and a PS fun fact about that foto: you can’t see this from where the picture was taken, but at the top of all these LegoDuplo blocks there’s a Canda (head of a cat, body of a panda) with a chair on his head, on top of which sits a Pat (head of a panda, body of a cat). If that’s not a rich metaphor for this paper, I don’t know what is?! 😀