Lately I’m finding myself in a lot of new situations, doing a lot of different and unusual things. Some of which I haven’t done before. Heading into these unknown experiences is exciting, as I’m learning so much and connecting with a lot of interesting people. People who are ‘different’ to me.
What I’m also discovering though, is just how often the safety-seeking part my brain wants me to conform. It wants me to ‘fit in’ in these new environments, instead of being my individual, odd-shaped self doing my ‘unusual’ business thing.
For example, I recently found myself obsessing over the following question:
(Yes, really. Bare with me.)
The trigger was a new networking event with a specific group of people, working in a sector I haven’t had experience of before. I was contemplating the impression I might make with a bunch of strangers, if they thought I wasn’t ‘dressed right’. I felt uncomfortable at the thought that I may need to go out and buy a pair of ‘business-type’ shoes just to be understood or heard (read: judged / accepted) by these people. Silly I know, but here I was thinking about it nonetheless.
When I finally caught a wake up on what was really going on here, I laughed pretty hard. My limbic-driven ‘little self’ that scares easily was desperate for my ‘big self’ to fit in, rather than stand out. It was struggling with all of the uncertainty I’ve been immersed in these last few months, and it just wanted to feel safe. My core values about safety were clamouring for attention above my values around individuality and entrepreneurship, creating much consternation and energy depletion about what may seem like a trivial matter.
But sticking with shoes for a minute, I realised that the question should really be:
The literal answer (if you’re interested) is: spangly trainers or Doc Martens. But it represents a whole lot more than what it seems. It reflects my identity, my culture, my values and beliefs. My shoes don’t really impact on my ability to do the work or produce the results, but they are an important part of HOW I work.
This experience reminded me of who I am, and what I’m not. What I’m trying to do and who I want to do it with. It confirmed for me, that if they can’t work with me in the shoes I’m wearing, then those people aren’t the right fit.
I understand that certain industries have a dress code, and I accept that we all have our own dress style. What I am highlighting here is that the Culture of ‘US’ (as individuals) is as important as the Culture of ‘THEM’ (those people we may want to work with).
When you’re working in tune with what’s in both your heart and your head, then you’re bringing your whole self to what you do. That is way more effective and ‘real’ than being a blister-footed imposter in court shoes.
So, if you’re ever feeling the pressure to conform, ask yourself a few questions to reconfirm what’s important to you.
For example… instead of asking yourself how to connect with the right people, instead try “What types of people do I feel most connected to, or comfortable working with?”
Are they problem solvers open to new things? Are they big picture thinkers or detail focused planners? Are they curious, kooky or kind? They could be suited and booted. Or they might wear jeans to work. Decide what’s important to you, and use that as your guide for finding the people you’ll collaborate with best.
Another example … instead of asking what skills are required for a new project, try “What skills do I bring to this project? And what skills do I need, in order to do this project most effectively?”
We’re not our job descriptions. Even if we do the same thing, you and I will do them in a different way, as the individuality of our experiences affects how we hone and use our skills. And ‘knowing ourselves’ is one of the most important skills to develop.
When we’re in tune with what we have within us, then we know how, when and where we shine best. We know where we might need to brush up, or bring someone else in to bridge a gap. We are comfortable in our own shoes.
It’s worth being more connected with our values, and the strengths and foibles which make us each unique. When we maintain awareness of what’s important to us, we’re able to be more fully present in what we do. We’re able to give the best of ourselves, whatever we’re wearing.
Remember, even in a community of like-minded people, your USP is You.
So don’t be them. Be you.