9 August 2013
Last Sunday I gave my twelfth "Thought for the week" on BBC Radio Manchester. As always, I was introduced as Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester because I want to promote the organisation and what it does.
I based it on a true story from my school years. It shows how much easier it is to be authentically yourself than trying to "fake it" by pretending to be someone you are not.
At PricewaterhouseCoopers over a decade ago I attended a course for PwC partners on health. This entailed completing a questionnaire to measure the level of stress in my life. While being a partner in PwC is often thought of as a high-stress occupation, I scored so low on stress that the doctor administering the questionnaire thought I must have falsified my responses. However when I took the questionnaire a second time, the outcome was equally low-stress.
One important reason for my low stress measurements is that I have always taken the simple approach of being myself and telling the truth. It is much less effort than trying to lie, and then trying to remember which lies you told each person you deal with! It leaves you with more energy for dealing with the job in hand.
The other obvious point is that once people catch you out in a deceit, they find it very difficult to trust you in future. That can be very damaging to your personal success.
I want to share a sad story from my teenage years.
A boy from my school did very well in his A Levels, so the following year he applied to Oxford. On the application form, he listed amongst his interests “German poetry.” His entrance exam marks must have been good, because he was invited to Oxford for an interview. In the interview, the admissions tutor asked him what German poetry he had read. Unfortunately he hadn’t read any! That was the sad end of his attempt to get into Oxford.
The following year, on my own application to Cambridge, I wrote that I liked reading science fiction. I remember having a whale of a time in the interview discussing different authors and ideas in science fiction. A few weeks later I received a letter telling me that I had passed.
One obvious point is that the Oxford chap should have read at least a couple of German poems before he went for the interview. However I don’t think it would have helped. It is not easy to fake an interest in a subject. It was far easier for me to talk about something that I liked, than it would be to pretend to know about German poetry and to fake an interest in it.
Sadly all around us we see people pretending to be something that they are not. It is hard work playing a role that isn’t really you, and I think it almost never works. The new film version of “The Great Gatsby” shows just how tragic it can be to pretend to be someone you are not.
Many people using dating sites falsify their details, without thinking about how they are going to sustain that falsehood through a lifetime of marriage. How do you pretend to your husband or wife that you are a fundamentally different person from the one you really are?
William Shakespeare said it better than anyone in “Hamlet” when Polonius says:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”