(This is the latest in Jodi’s “Women in Business” blog series. To read the rest, click here.)
“True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are.” -Brene’ Brown
I recently had the good fortune to spend an entire week with seven of my friends from high-school. Thanks to the generosity of one, we were afforded a magnificent week together in a remarkable house in Costa Rica on the beach and by the pool, we were able to spend significant time together.
Our high-school selves that were riddled with self-doubt and lack of confidence, were cast aside and replaced by women that soulfully appreciate and understand each other in ways no one else can. I guess that’s growing up. It is astonishing to me how many storms we have weathered, and all continue to be the best of friends.
We were pals throughout high-school, at varying degrees. When we all get together, it is fairly evident who has closer ties to whom Our memories of events and wacky stories are twisted by dissimilar perspectives and tainted by how we saw each other and how we were fairly and unfairly defined by our classmates. But the joy of all of us at one time is that we all readily accept one another for who we are today. I was struck by our vast individuality on the trip and can’t remember that level of acceptance in high-school. I’m certain our immaturity got in our way. After all, it’s incredibly hard to see how others see you when you are desperately trying to figure out who you are.
These women helped define me. These women allowed me to be a complete and total fool as an unknowing and insecure teenager but loved me anyway. Turns out we all had our own insecurities. We had gaps of years after high school when we didn’t see each other or have collective encounters until one tenacious friend convinced us all to attend an annual weekend to catch up. It’s been transformative and comforting to have this connection. I am strengthened by who I am when I am with them. They make me believe in possibilities.
As the week progressed, I started to think about my behavior in the world of work and what I initially thought might be in stark contrast. These women who have known me for 35-plus years called me out on my minimalistic style and low-maintenance vibe. In high school, this would’ve been a jab and an insult no doubt, but in my life now it made my heart soar. They understand me in ways no one else does. They are only marginally impressed that I spoke at a conference earlier that week and worked on a pitch until the very last minute of our departure. They thoroughly enjoy the stories of me being ungracefully pulled up on stage to emcee in front of hundreds of people, in high-heels and a pencil skirt no less, and how I once wore a pajama top to work thinking it was an actual top. Not only do they laugh at me for these blunders, but they love me for them. They will catch me when I fall. Each of these women compels me to be better.
Two days after our trip, I find myself in a hotel room the night before a client meeting. The contrast to my minimalist, low-maintenance, non-professional style is replaced with reviewing tomorrow’s presentation, ironing my classic (boring) professional outfit and preparing to convince a new group of people they should work with us. Regardless of what happens, I’m confident with my team. I believe in who we are as a company and what we can do together. This is a different sense of belonging but is belonging nonetheless.
I spend 50 to 60 hours a week with a team of people that I adore. I am incredibly grateful to work with people that I trust. They are open and honest with me. They know things about my work-life personality that not all recognize or appreciate. This also comes with a certain level of vulnerability. Much like my high school pals, they have stories of their own that peck at my imperfections.
I had a boss once that basically invited people to make fun of each other through a skit-type concept. Initially, I thought it seemed a bit mean-spirited but was later told that it was strategic in the sense that it allowed management to see themselves through their subordinates’ eyes. I’ve tried to apply that when I hear misconstrued tales about myself. Which part of that is true? Is there something for me to learn? Should I behave differently? I wholeheartedly admit I use my team every single day to make me better. I’m good at what I do because they make me better and smarter. Together, we know how to make things happen. Alone, we cannot. We belong.
In order to understand your own personal brand, you need to be able to accept others see you differently than you see you. Respective audiences, like your high-school friends versus your work team, see different parts of you that may seem massively disconnected. Consider where the truths are and who you can be your own true-self with. That’s where you belong.
- Understand that you have “audiences” who know and understand you differently.
- Take that vacation. Time off offers new perspectives and refreshes you, allowing you to be a better employee.
- Don’t be afraid of your worst moments. Learn from them. They often make the best stories.
- We all feel judged and vulnerable at times. It’s okay. Use it to draw strength rather than dwell on it which weakens you.
- Understand that in order to belong, to truly belong, you must participate. You must not worry about crafting a “perfect” image. Just be real. Be you.