We all want to shine at some point, everyone wants to be noticed for what they do well, and be appreciated for it. A younger, and more ambitious, me used to wonder what I needed to do to be noticed in the professional setting. I would attend trainings, put in above and beyond my expected work hours, and seek out mentorship in an effort to advance professionally. All of this helped, and I learned a lot in the process. These activities were the meat of my professional learning and growth. But there was an additional item that really pulled it together. One piece of advice I received and learned to stop listening to is probably what actually facilitated access to a good amount of my professional experiences. Not that the extra work, hours and role models I had didn’t, clearly this was all substantial. But the piece that pulled it all together was freeing myself up enough to be myself in each of my roles. Not working to fit into someone else’s vision of who and what I should look like, how I should behave, how much of me I could use professionally. Whether that meant allowing myself to be quiet and slow to warm up when entering a new setting, or sharing my ideas and cracking jokes in another.
As a young woman, and a woman of color, I got plenty of critical feedback from people who were attempting to “help” me to fit in. Critique of my clothing, my vehicle, whether I did my own laundry and ironed and folded it afterwards or sent it to the cleaners, my smile, tone of voice, the way I stood, laughed, all of these things were things that bosses and mentors felt the need to discuss with me in order to help me improve myself so I could continue to grow and advance. Initially I believed some of this stuff. And things like wearing wrinkled clothing to work is never a good idea. But truth be told the only way to truly shine is to shine in your own skin. It’s your uniqueness that sets you out from the crowd. It’s your operating from the core of who you truly are that cultivates the relationships you need to create in order to flourish professionally. Your uniqueness is also the only thing you have to offer that no one else has. If you are worried about balancing in a three-inch pair of high heals and concerned about the fit of a designer suit you would have never worn in the first place, you wont be relaxed enough to enjoy and connect in the moment. Much less feel comfortable enough to put yourself out there intellectually or in any way that you need to in order to let your jewels shine.
At this point, which is over a decade in, I seek out professional advice, feedback, and mentorship. I also make sure that I access support. I connect with others, and connecting with other women, especially women of color, who have shared a lot of the same experiences is extremely useful for me. It’s having these relationships and supports that allow me to be liberated enough to be who I am. It’s through this process that I became able to tease out what is actually useful feedback from what is someone needing to correct me for not being white and not being male. Nowadays it’s extremely easy for me to dismiss it and realize that for many they are operating from a place of fear.
My advice to those interested in truly connecting or growing in any role, cultivate relationships with those who can support you and understand your experience, be who you truly are, and besides ensuring you follow the basic rules like the office dress code allow yourself to shine authentically- and in your own skin!