Showing up authentically is a personal and professional imperative, keynote speaker says

Authenticity can seem like an abstract concept, but it is present in every moment of our lives, in big and small decisions we make every day. Authenticity is knowing who you are, what your values and vulnerabilities are, and not being afraid to show them.

So why do we love authentic people, but we find it so hard to be authentic ourselves?

Mariana Atencio
Keynote speaker Mariana Atencio poses during her talk on July 15 at AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver. (Photo by Sara Beugen)

It's that "being unafraid part," no matter what other people think, says Mariana Atencio, a bilingual journalist and motivational storyteller. She gave the keynote talk, "The Power of Authenticity: To Create Meaningful Connections, Foster Trust, and Inspire Others" on July 15 at AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver. The keynote was sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition.

Often people do what she calls "covering," which is hiding the aspects of their personality or identity that they don't believe are compatible with success. These can be preconceived notions about things such as mental health issues, personality quirks, or physically appearing different in any way from others.

"We cover what we are ashamed of. The ironic thing about covering is that you cover to belong, when covering erodes that sense of belonging," Atencio said.

Taking that risk and being unafraid of being who you are is worth it, she says, not only personally but also for the profession as a whole.

"In this day and age, for the future of the AVMA, the more real the better. We don't need you to be role models, we need you to be real models," Atencio said. "The invitation is to be vulnerable. To examine what are these ideas I have that a successful veterinary professional should look or sound like."

For example, if someone has been labeled as "too emotional," that may mean they can better empathize with pet owners or caretakers whose animals are suffering. Or a recovering alcoholic may be able to connect with others who are also dealing with addiction.

Does this mean you should tell everyone all of your opinions all of the time? No, Atencio said, because that's the other piece of authenticity: there's helpful authenticity and harmful authenticity.

"It has to come with empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of other people. Are they interested in what I have to say and how it will make them feel?" she said. "It doesn't mean we blabber our opinions to everyone. You have to choose what you disclose and who you disclose it to."

Aside from those considerations, Atencio says you can only control what you do and not what other people say and do. She ended her talk with the "CONTROL" framework for how to show up authentically in the world:

Covering: When you are 'covering' part of who you are, what are you leaving at the door that makes you unique and can help you succeed?
Outlook: Are you impeding yourself from being authentic or someone else from doing so?
Network: Who are you surrounding yourself with? Is it people who make you feel good about yourself?
Time: What are you spending your time on? Are you making time to take care of yourself?
Ritual: What are your habits and routines? How can you spend your time so that you feel grounded when everything else goes haywire?
Opportunity: Are you looking at all of your options or helping others with that?
Love: How are you showing yourself and others compassion?

It's not about being perfect, she said, it's about being perfectly you.

"We need the new, original, emerging voices that will catapult this organization forward," Atencio said. "You are leaders in the veterinary profession. I don't need you to mold into existing voices. I need you to bring everything unique about you to the world, every single day."

A version of this story appears in the October 2023 print issue of JAVMA

Mariana Atencio gives the keynote presentation, “The Power of Authenticity: To Create Meaningful Connections, Foster Trust, and Inspire Others,” which was sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition. (Video by Matt Zingale)

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