I have always felt the need to be stuffy when doing anything official. Like running a business. Or applying to college. Or any job, for that matter. Somehow being stuffy translated to following the rules. And as a Type-A firstborn, following the rules is a Must with a capital M (well, until I go crazy from the pressure and flip out).
My college housing application – typed. Yep, only the crazy nerds did that. I identified myself as a book lover who went to bed early. Both of which are true.
But I forgot about the fact that the going to bed early thing tended to get thrown out the window when there was opportunity for socialization. You can see where this is going. I had a roommate who had lights out by 10pm every night – and an average bedtime for me was around 2am. Fortunately, we worked out an easy system where I just went somewhere else during those late hours (hello, dorm lobbies!).
Looking at our applications, no wonder they put us together – we were a perfect match on paper. And looking at other applications the next few years (I worked in the housing office, so saw a lot of them), I realized that the applications say a lot about personality – but not necessarily about realistically assessing oneself.
I’ve never been good at realistically assessing myself.
My best job interview ever was the one where I truly didn’t care if I got the job or not. I kicked back, wasn’t nervous at all, and as a result, let the real me come through. Out of 26 people that made the cut for a second round interview, six were offered jobs. I was I one of them.
Even in starting my own business, I felt the need to do what I should do, not what is actually me. And there’s the rub. The times in life that I have been authentically me, I’ve been the happiest and things have worked out the best.
And another irony? Being authentically yourself is usually easier than being what you think you are supposed to be. I just re-read Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona for the first time in years. In it Beezus is struggling to be creative in art class. She tries and tries and tries to be creative, and it just doesn’t work. Then she stops worrying about what she is supposed to be doing, or what the teacher will think of her painting, and lo and behold, creates her best work yet.
Too often, I think, “I have to do it that way, it’s business (or life or parenting or…).” That is a trap.
Live your part. Be the you that you were created to be, not the you that you think you should be.
From a business standpoint: Don’t fall into the trap of building the career or business you think you should. Build the career or business that will make you happy (and make money at the same time). If you are a casual person, make sure your environment has a casual vibe. If you are more formal, find a more formal environment. We’re fortunate to live in a time and place where there are a variety of ways to be successful in both directions. Neither is right or wrong. If you try to be what you’re not, you set yourself – and your clients or colleagues – up for frustration.
And if you, like me, have trouble honestly assessing yourself, ask people who know you well for feedback. Then listen to them.
Have you ever struggled with a gap between how you think you should act and how you would naturally act? If so, how have you overcome this?