Cottey Organizational Leadership Students Give Advice on Authentic Living

Karlie Acton

Karlie Acton, Speaker

Five students capped off their study of organizational leadership by presenting a TED-style talk for the Cottey College community on April 11, 2019. The event was called REAL talk, short for Recognize Empowered, Authentic Leadership at Cottey. The speakers were on the brink of receiving their bachelor’s degrees in organizational leadership. Speakers included Tiffany Winter, Sarasota, Florida; Morgan Brown, Hernando, Florida; Karlie Acton, Williamsburg, Michigan; DarlinaRose, Vancouver, Washington; and Jemimah Nasara, Denton, Texas. We will present three of the talks in three posts.  

“Authenticity” by Karlie Acton

We see a beautiful model on a billboard and wonder, “What can I do to look like that?” But what you don’t know is she has been completely Photoshopped making her fly-aways disappear, waist a little smaller, and skin a little clearer. You see someone eating chicken McNuggets, but what doesn’t go through your mind is the fact that only 40% of what you’re eating is actually chicken. GMOs, plastic surgery, Photoshop—these are aspects of society that are deemed as necessities. Well, I am here to tell you today that most people aren’t looking for artificial—they are looking for authentic.

Karlie Acton

The REAL Talk program took place in the Missouri Recital Hall at the Haidee and Allen Wild Center for the Arts.

Everyone struggles with insecurities. It’s a human condition. So here’s my question. If everyone struggles with insecurities, why do we try to hide them and pretend they don’t exist?

I want to try and open your mind to see that we spend so much energy hiding who we are instead of embracing it. We ourselves want so badly to be perfect. To say the right things, do the right things, act the right way—all the while losing who we really are and the rawness that comes with being human. While we strive to frame ourselves in a way that people will accept, those around us are craving someone or something that is real and authentic.

I want to give you an example in my own life to help shed some more light on what I am talking about. I have a tightknit family. My sisters, Kasey and Kelsey, attend Cottey with me. I have my mom, a brother 18 months younger than me, and a baby sister who just celebrated her sweet sixteen. My family, all of them, are very emotional and sentimental. I, on the other hand, am not. At all. If I had to choose one of the five love languages with which I least connected, it would be words of affirmation. So, one random day, Kasey decided that we were going to start this new “birthday tradition” where we all have to go around at dinner and say your favorite thing about the person. Now, I would be fine if it were a “You have a great sense of style” or “I love how we always dominate together in Rook.” But no. Not in my family. We go around the table and it gets deep. Fast. Everyone's crying saying things like, “I've seen your inward beauty bloom, especially over the past year and seeing your inner strength arise like a lioness has provoked me in ways you will never know.” I look over at Kasey and she's crying and I look over at my mom and she’s sniffing with her Kleenex. One by one people go around the table and all I can think is, “crap!” My brain goes blank and all of a sudden I can’t think of ONE thing I like about this person I truly admire. My body temperature rises and my brain is frantically searching—I am legit having a mini heart attack. It comes to my turn and most of the time, I can’t even remember what I said because I was THAT stressed out about it. But what can I do?! Oh, sorry, I can’t think of anything I like about you!?!?! No!! I can’t say that guys. Not in my family when everyone's crying and the birthday person is looking at me anticipating my deepest thoughts. It is a very stressful situation.

One day, I realized that whatever I would say at the family birthday would not be genuine. I needed time to think about what to say! Plus, it would be so much more heartfelt if it were not face-to-face.

So March 5th rolls around. We are sitting at Cheesecake Factory and, of course, the words I have been dreading the whole day pop out of Kasey’s month, “Who’s ready for our tradition?!” The heat rises, brain races, anxiety increases, and then I hear, “Karlie, your turn.”

It was then that I realized, “I've got nothing.” So I was just super open and honest and said, “Kels, I’ve got nothing. Is it okay if I think about it and write it in a card to give you later?”

All of my anxiety left when she answered nonchalantly, “Of course!” She later told me that that card meant so much more to her than me pulling something out of the hat on the spot out of clear obligation.

This is my point. Instead of hiding my insecurity, I embraced the fact that I am just not wired like the rest of my family, and that is okay. I don’t have to be. Embracing who you are instead of trying to change to save face brings so much freedom.

Up until my senior year of high school, I had the amazing privilege of being homeschooled. However, with being homeschooled, there are certain stereotypes that come with it. I grew up answering questions such as: “Do you have friends?”; “Are you allowed to have sleepovers?”; “Do you do your school work in pajamas?”

So, it’s not surprising that when my peers found out I was going to an all-women's college they responded with, “Of course Karlie’s going to an all-women's college,” or, “Out of any of us, you WOULD be the one to go to an all-women's college. I didn’t even know they still existed.” Now, I absolutely love Cottey College. I began falling in love the minute I stepped on campus and I would not choose to go anywhere else! But after receiving many questions my first few years, I started to get a little self-conscious about telling people it was an all-women’s college. So when they would ask me about Cottey, I started withholding that information and just stuck with, “It is a liberal arts college in Missouri.”

One day it dawned on me. I can love whatever I love, and there is absolutely no shame in that. I love that Cottey is an all-women’s college. Why? Because I’m 25 years old and don’t want 18-year-old boys running around. I realized that I am hiding part of who I am because I am worried about what other people think, when I don’t even care about their opinions. These are people I will never even see again! Why do I think twice about what people think? Because we are conditioned to look the best and be the best; to be the coolest, or the smartest, and to never, ever, ever mess up—because only humans mess up.

So I told myself, “Karlie, if you’re going to love it, own it!” Now, on purpose, whenever anybody asks me about where I go to college, I say, “I go to a small, all-women’s liberal arts college in Nevada, Missouri, which is a small town south of Kansas City.” And I say it with so much pride. Now, did the comments stop? No. Do I care? No. Why? Because we are who we are regardless of what people might think. The sooner we can embrace that, the happier we will be.

Karlie Acton

The REAL Talk program took place in the Missouri Recital Hall at the Haidee and Allen Wild Center for the Arts.

If you are a high school student and you don’t know what you want to do after you graduate, and someone asks you, don’t make something up because you want to look like you have your life together. Own up to it and say, “The world is at my fingertips and I haven’t decided which route sounds the most fun.”

If you are an athlete and you just got butchered by a team, and someone asks how the game went, don’t say – “We lost because the refs were awful.”

If you are a professor and you get corrected by a student, don’t argue your point because you can’t be wrong. Own up to it and say, “Oh yeah, my bad,” and move on. Your credibility doesn’t lessen in our eyes.

Just because you hide something or pretend it’s not there doesn’t make it disappear. Embrace who you are, your flaws and your feelings. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it! Learn to love the process of being human. At first it was hard for me to tell Kelsey that I had no compliment to give her, and it was hard to start telling people I was attending an all-women’s college. But the more I did it, the easier it became.

I want to challenge you, the next time you really want to fake it, own up to what’s really going through your mind. People can spot fake a mile away. They know when you aren’t being genuine with them. So in a society where you can’t tell what’s real from what’s fake—be authentic.

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