At some point in our careers, we all feel the pressure to conform. Regardless of whether you're just starting your job, or working your way up the executive ladder, there is always a burden to fit the mold of others.
Those who dare to stand out and be authentic, are usually told that they're not cut out for this type of work. "You're too nice for business" is a piece of feedback I've heard many times throughout my career.
It's unfortunate that people actually believe this -- even worse, they convince others of the same thing. That to be successful in business, medicine, entrepreneurship, etc., you have to fit a stereotypical definition or follow a predetermined path. Luckily, there are many stories like Laura Schwab's, President of Aston Martin Americas, to prove them all wrong.
In an article that Schwab shared on LinkedIn, she explained her rise to the top and how she became the President of one of the most iconic automotive brands in the world. It's non-traditional to say the least.
As Schwab described her journey to an audience at an Automotive News' Leading Women conference, it was evident that it was not a deliberate path.
She studied Government and Spanish, liked sports more than cars, and even tried her hat at law. As fate would have it, a temp agency placement lead to a job selling cars for an online startup. The rest was history.
What made her story even more inspiring were the points of candid authenticity. She shared moments of joy, moments of tears and even some that required a 'Fourth Meal' at Taco Bell.
"In the early days, I'd left work to cry in a parking lot, while binging on Taco Bell. I've been told I'm too nice to make tough decisions. That I smile too much. That, with my Kentucky accent, I'd never make it in business. I always seem to show up to events in the frilly pink florals, and miss the memo on all-black city chic. For a few years, while I was based in England, my loud daily, "Morning, y'all!" was often met with awkward silence."
But, she persisted and stuck to her guns.
"Being a woman in power shouldn't mean you deny who you are. My simple act of being who I am, and sharing stories, both of embarrassment or defeat and of the ability to overcome, has surrounded me with a community of people who understand that we can all get things done while being ourselves."
The point that Schwab drove home was best summarized by a quote she shared from Tina Fey's book, Bossypants, "Do your thing, and don't care if they like it."
It was a clear message of authenticity. I was immediately hit with the thought, "Is it worth it to achieve your goals if you lose yourself in the process?"
I'd ask you the same thing.
Not to be presumptuous, but if you're interested in working authentically, I have one tip for you: Embrace who you are.
Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She describes authenticity as "the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are."
Obviously, this is unique from person to person. However, I think embracing who you are at work looks like this:
Your career is value-centered, not self-centered.
Unfortunately, the two are often opposites. If they aren't, then you've found the ideal situation -- a job where you can adhere to principle and progress at the same time. Don't take it for granted -- it's rare.
Your work models humility, not pride.
Our normal condition is always to try and prove to others that we're somebody. In the process, we become arrogant and egocentric. We hide anything that could potentially expose our faults. There's beauty in imperfection and humility. Don't be afraid to make a mistake or ask someone for help.
Whether it's due to fear of isolation or lack of confidence, many of us rarely say what we genuinely feel or believe. We would rather be dishonest and hypocritical than run the risk of being secluded. In reality, it's the exact opposite. People respect those who are true to themselves and original.
It takes guts to be authentic. The world wants you to conform. The choice you have to make is whether worldly success is worth eternal happiness.