What I wished I’d known when I started my career – #3
I was always an odd bird. I was too nerdy when things were supposed to be funny. I was too funny when things were meant to be serious. I was 13 going on 30 for what seemed like forever. At sleepovers, I would end up in the kitchen talking to my friend’s mother. When people say “I was an awkward child”, I can picture precisely what they mean because that was me — never the right age at the right time.
Early on, I formed a habit. I wished I was someone else — someone more confident, someone instantly at ease, someone rich, someone totally opposite. I remember moments when I was just so sick of myself, wishing I could be anything but what I was. Unsurprisingly I was into acting as a child, finding comfort in playing the lives of others.
Eventually I took these two habits into my working life: wishing I was someone else and pretending I was someone else. This is the core of “fake it until you make it” so actually somewhat useful! I braved my way through many situations pretending I was the sort of person who could do that presentation to leadership. Or pretending to be interested in spreadsheets because it seemed like successful people liked spreadsheets. But these habits were also the core of my “imposter syndrome” — thinking that whatever I was isn’t good enough, and people would find me out. And more so, it’s less fun to pretend to be other people. They are better at being themselves, and I always felt the deficit.
So what changed? I was at a leadership event for women that Google had kindly sent me to, and as I was listening to all the different women and all their different jobs. It crystallized an idea I’d been long forming. I was different, and that was good. In fact, that was great. In an average business meeting, I don’t care about the data on the screen as much as I care about the people who are impacted. When we’re rolling out a change I’ll think about how this impacts everyone involved, and I’ll catch issues others don’t. The world needs me to be me in the room, standing up for what I believe in, not being some poor copy of someone else in the room.
And importantly, only by striving to be the best ME will I feel successful. I won’t feel successful copying others, even if their paths seem more easily rewarded. Temporarily it may be useful to copy someone’s approach, but ultimately I need to find the authentic way I’d run a project, manage a team, or lead an organization. And once I do, people come up to me, on their own, and tell me they appreciate the way I lead. See, it pays off!
Ultimately I learned, and it took me too long: Being me is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but it’s also the most important thing I do.