Ever taken up a new job and had one of your new colleagues tell you:
‘...we’re glad to have you on board; —-‘s performance (insert person whose role you’ve now been hired to do) was simply stunning; you have quite the shoes to fill’?
I have! What a welcome hey? :)
One of the questions that's always stayed on my mind ever since is ‘which shoes do I wear to work today?’ Not literally of course, but more: What version of myself should I take to work? What version of myself am I allowed to bring to the office? Is it even possible for me to bring my whole authentic self to work?
Can I be friendly, approachable and keep a generally positive attitude towards life and my tasks, and still be taken seriously?? What about Lois P. Frankel’s Nice girls don’t get the corner office?
Should I be like Timberland shoes; hard on the outside, able to weather rainy storms, dusty roads, and muddy situations? Do I wear this tough exterior at my workplace and never show my vulnerability? The thing with Tims is although they give off a ‘cool’ exterior the more raggedy they get, they get pretty heavy to walk in if one wears them for too long!
Hold on; I’m a lady! Surely anything remotely 'feminist' is ‘too much’ and leaves a bitter taste in people’s mouths whenever anyone alludes to it! Imagine the awkward silence and pauses when I’m explaining (with examples) why I deserve equal pay, because my male colleague earns way more than I do, for doing the same job as me (or doing considerably less than me actually). Should I conceal these things and only speak on the subject when it’s brought up? During my pay reviews maybe? Should I come out of my shell every now and then; like my toes when I put my pair of peep toes?
Or maybe I should rock Balinero sneakers, and just like them stay fresh, clean, pristine and oh so comfortable - but only wearing them on days when it’s not raining, else they start to stain, and tear away bit by bit!
Similarly, for my work - should I stay away from conversations that rock the boat with my peers and superiors? Steer clear from discussions that seem too radical and will in turn ‘stain’ my reputation amongst my peers?
Maybe heels are more appropriate! Sure they’re uncomfortable, but they’re also elegant, work well with almost any outfit and (if worn right) will get me to carry myself in a way that may or may not, get people complimenting my outfit! Should I suck it up at the expense of my own career growth? Comfort? Just so my bosses/peers can notice how hard I’m trying? Is it worth it? In all honesty - how practical is it to wear heels every day? Don’t even get me started about how much more complicated it is for women of colour who have to continually balance demystifying a stereotype with exceeding the expectation that most people have that we’re not as good! (More on that in a future blog post) Imposter syndrome is a real thing!
Maybe I should brogue my options; the shoe that's often overlooked by the modern girl; comfortable - yes and more casual than formal dress shoes, but a touch more showy too. There’s no ‘strictly speaking’ when talking brogues and the shoe forms they take. Should this be an ok attitude to bring to your place of work? Express myself regardless of the consequences? Forget the rules. Is that practical? Is that even wise if I want to stay at my job long term?
How can I remain confident without being arrogant? How can I dance between asserting myself and not having the ‘I’m so sorry to bother you, but...’ attitude? It’s a tricky balance, but not entirely undoable. I think it’s possible to wiggle oneself out of these impediments with aplomb. There’s no ‘one size fits all’. What I like to do is wear the most appropriate shoes to suit the situation at hand, whatever that is.
A few things have taken me through my 13-year career. They’ve worked for me, and taught me about life. Today, I’d like to share 4, in the hope that you can apply them to your own situation if
1. I trust my intuition
I learnt (a little late in life, I must admit) that the sooner you recognise that it’s there to protect you against yourself, the better. Get to understand how it operates. Familiarise yourself with the process of listening to your inner voice. I mean really get to know her/him. Give her/or him a name of you need to - Your gut. The Holy Spirit. Your sixth sense... Whatever works. In my case, I recognise her existence because when push comes to shove, all I have is a series of choices I made that led me to a certain point. If something doesn’t seem right to me or doesn’t sit well with my spirit, it most probably isn’t - and so it’s on me to do something about it. Going against it has never done a lot for me. If anything, I’ve learned that rebelling often puts me in a questionable position of becoming the common denominator of the erosion of trust between the me now and the better person I'm trying to become.
‘Sometimes you don’t see the example because you are the example.’ Luvvie Ajayi
2. I don’t know what I don’t know
...but that doesn’t give me carte blanche to ignorance & laziness! (plus - what’s my excuse in this day and age where access to information is literally at my fingertips?) I need to get off my arse and do my part - Ask questions. Read. Explore. Research. Read some more. Something. Anything. I try to find ways to add value to my team. ‘...no one can be more you-er than you…’ and what I think Dr. Seuss meant by that is everyone has something to contribute to a group - your job is to figure out what that is - and then do it!
3. Someone’s always going to be better than me
...and it’s ok to be ok with that. But I can’t waste precious time dwelling on things like that - it’s out of my control. Imagine a candle; it does not interrupt other candles, it just stands there, shining. Sometimes the light is dim, sometimes the light is bright - either way; it shines. I’m undergoing a continuous learning process of understanding that my career is a candle, my mind is the wick and the matchbox is my attitude, regardless of what others are doing for themselves.
4. I do not let work interfere with my career, I am always learning
Know who you are! Office politics can sometimes have one doubting their value and the reason why they were hired in the first place. We have to be conscious of our environment, of course, but without letting it dictate the pace of our own progress..
Regardless of what is going on, I give my role my best shot - but I always remember my worth so that if I need to, I can find the courage to leave the table when respect is no longer being served.
What shoes do you wear to work? Have there been any tips that have helped you during your career?
Please share them in the comment section below :)
I wish you everything that brings you better energy!