Consider for the moment that more Americans are enrolled in outplacement services than in MBA, Law, and Medical graduate programs combined! For most participants this is a brutal wake-up call and hopefully they find a new and prosperous path. But the biggest obstacle to their awakening is their resistance to learning who they are and what they want. In the end they have to adopt the networking and mentoring lifestyle–the best inoculation against the plague of an unexpected job interruption and not working is networking!
All of us have Sybil like qualities of having multiple personalities, many faces, and many dimensions. That does not make us candidates for elecro-shock therapy! 🙂 It is normal and makes us interesting. However, where did these personalities come from? Why do we have these facets and what makes them shine? Hopefully, I have not lost you already. I am referring to how we each act in our multiple roles. As a parent, a wife, a subordinate, a child, as a guest, or a host. You know, the way we switch instantaneously to a new persona based on expectations, history, or what we think is right. This is a giant topic, so I will discuss how you recognize the way you are presenting yourself in the world of networking and mentoring.
I meet so many people across the demographic and economic spectrum who are unwitting members of the Federal Witness Relocation Program! They have assumed new career identities. Often, these identities have been foisted upon us like second-hand Halloween costumes. In most cases this costume has been sewn together by the advice and guidance of well meaning people who have told us what we should do, what we are good at, and what we should not be. The classic, "You can't make money as a (fill in the blank art career)." And needing an identity, we slip on the costume and it is better than nothing. And over time we think the costume fits and like many things we adopt it as our own. Mary Jacobsen's book Hand Me Down Dreams discusses this topic in depth on how others shape the dreams we have. Our parents have aided and abetted the crime of identity theft. Parental expectations can govern everything. Pleasing our parents is an innate desire. What they said to us about our dreams and what our choices should be can be lifelong incentives or burdens. Asian parents are notorious, as are many different types of parents (I just happen to encounter many Asians in my worlds) in setting specific and non-negotiable goals. Like the old and stereotypical story about the Jewish kid who pursued law because he could not stand the sight of blood! Asian parents push academic achievement, brand name colleges, and the specific professions of medicine, law or engineering. In addressing Asian American young people, I usually start by giving them permission to think outside of the Asian parent box. Tell the parent you are going to be a doctor–maybe that turns out to be a PhD in literature!
You blend this costume wardrobe with the requirements of social etiquette, brown-nosing at work, first date party manners, familiarity, respect, political correctness and the costumes keep on coming!
Context changes how we act. Sometimes that is nice and sometimes it is stupid. Here's one example that befuddles me. When bright competitive and hard-nosed executives, entrepreneurs, and successful people join non-profit boards, they become imbeciles. They don their nice and gentle costumes and bite their tongues because they assume new identities and not themselves. They think that a non-profit is a sanctuary from their cut throat worlds. While the mission and bottomline of a non-profit is doing good, non-profits need the tough acumen and decisiveness of the business world–but more often than not they don't get it.
Being authentic, being you–the real you, has to be your goal. Hiding who you are or suppressing your interests and needs will only hurt you in the long run, because you will eventually land in the land of regret–the most painful land of all. And while being yourself requires the discomfort of removing some of those now form fitting costumes, we all know being real does not require you to remember anything. Pursuing what you want and not what you think others will like, or what your parents desire, will always be more fulfilling. Authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite these pressures.
I am not saying just blurt out your inner thoughts or to be so honest that you offend every person in your path! Mutual respect and being aware of your surroundings remain essential. That being said, you need to find ways to pursue your authentic self. Martin Seligman's authentic happiness site has a variety of free self assessments
- Setting your real goals, not the ones that sound good to others
- Practice articulating what you want and who you are, not the words you have been saying as a placeholder. Love when people introduce themselves as "Director of sales and an artist."
- Asserting yourself by asking the questions on your mind. Pursuing your true curiosity by asking the questions and getting the answers.
- Enhance your network with people that are real and model this behavior. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and like the real you.
- Find a mentor who you can really talk to–Let loose and take intellectual risks with.
- Define and refine this real plan for you with a mentor co-architect.
- Openly discuss your weaknesses and seek feedback from your mentor and others.
- Conduct your own self assessment and get your mentor to evaluate it.
Not saying that we can shed all of the costumes, but living exclusively in the Federal Witness Relocation Program will never work out. Like everything, your self-awareness about who you are, what you say, and where you are going are the best guides up the mountain of authenticity. That will determine who's in your network and who your mentors are. Then you can return many of the costumes to the goodwill shop.
Sometimes we define ourselves by a job title or a role– I am VP of the company or a homemaker. That is not you, that is only a part of you. Don't be defined by a role, you are an incredibly unique and talented person who is much more interesting and complex than any day job. And in the end, the only personality that counts is you.
Thanks for reading. John