Ever have one of those moments where you think you know how something is going to go, and then it turns out completely differently, but it still works to your favor?
That was my experience last week when I asked my facebook connections to vote on a video topic for a contest I'm entering. I asked them to choose between these two topics:
- How to show up more confidently as yourself in every aspect of your life and work
- How to balance work and life demands more effectively.
Hands down, the winner was #1 - in all but one group where the vote was evenly split. For whatever reason, people I know can really relate to the struggle of showing up fully as themselves - a malady I can SO relate with.
But here's the thing... both topics are really about the same thing.
The only way to be truly successful is to be yourself.
It almost sounds like a dangerous idea, right? I mean, there are "blueprints" and "formulas" galore in the world. There are gurus, guides, and coaches who want nothing more than to sell you their 'proven system' to help you be "successful" in some area or another of your life or work.
Heck, I'm a mentor myself. I have systems and tools that I use and offer to others, so it stands to reason I could lump myself in that category, too, right?
I wouldn't blame you if you did.
The thing that I hope sets me apart is that I detest the one-size-fits-all approach that so many leaders laud. A lot of people tread that path, and in my experience that's where the mediocre are. Back in my direct sales days, there was a "technique" that was touted as a sure-fire way to get business: pass out your business card to everyone with a pulse. Does it work? Sure. Eventually. But it's painful, awkward, and gives you a bad reputation.
Cookie cutter "blueprints" have their place. Like making cookies, or building houses. You want to know, before you invest your resources, a reasonable idea of what the end result will be. But you can take one blueprint and build two "identical" houses and they won't even be close to the same. Why? Location, interior decoration, and other considerations that have nothing to do with the blueprint itself. Likewise, three people can take the exact same cookie recipe and have three dramatically different results. Why? Again, lots of considerations that have nothing to do with the recipe itself.
Essentially, YOU are the difference.
The difference in the house and the cookies lays squarely with the owner. Who's the one doing the building, the decorating, the baking? That's what's really going to dictate how things shake out. That's something most coaches and gurus don't take into account in their blueprints.
Frameworks are helpful, but you can't expect to duplicate someone else's success because you are not that person! Believe me. I've invested my share of cash into training, blueprints, and frameworks. Any time they're a step-by-step "here's what I did to be successful" approach, it falls flat. Because I'm not them! I've been coaching and training for almost 10 years, and while there are some common themes, every client is different. There are no two people, no two businesses that are exactly alike. Even in direct sales, where every consultant is selling the exact same product from the exact same catalog, the results are markedly different because of WHO is doing the selling and HOW they are doing it.
A blueprint or a framework can show you how, but it may not work for who you are. It's the underlying principles, the concepts, and the WHY this worked that matters. Once you know WHY something works, you can figure out HOW to apply it to your situation in a way that works for WHO you are.
The most important product your company has to offer is YOU.
It was my very first tagline and it's still true. You are the most important piece of the puzzle in growing a profitable, sustainable business. Without you, it's just another product, another service, another offering. You are what makes it special. But if you're spending all your time, money, and energy trying to fit yourself into the mold of someone else, you're missing out on your biggest opportunity for success.
Showing up as yourself more completely means being willing to own your shadow and your light. None of us - not even the well-paid gurus and muckety mucks of the world are perfect. No matter how much spit and polish they put on. We all have bad days, make poor choices, and then have to live with the consequences. Being willing to admit your imperfections takes courage, and a little vulnerability, it's true. What I've learned, though, is that when I am willing to show up as myself - warts, sparkles and all - it gives the people around me permission to show up as themselves, too. It's an upward spiral that perpetuates itself.
When I finish speaking in front of an audience, I usually hear two comments. The first is usually about my energy and enthusiasm. The second is about how refreshing it is to see me be so "real" on the stage. They appreciate that I speak without talking down, insulting their intelligence, or making them feel inferior. They appreciate that I'm not afraid to tell the messy stories of my life. It gives them confidence to share their stories - sometimes just with me, but often with a larger audience they've been nervous to talk to.
From my perspective, life is messy. We all know that, yet so many people try to pretend otherwise. Embrace your mess, maybe even love it a little, since that's where the juicy stories come from. That's what makes you relatable.
Don't be afraid to be yourself. It's a job no one else is equipped to do. (click to tweet)
That doesn't mean you have to air all your dirty laundry. I do my best to share my stories in ways that are helpful to others. I'm one of those people who believes that if you can learn from my mistakes, then you won't have to repeat them. I also believe that every choice I've made (for better or worse) has led me to this moment. That if there's something from my journey that can help you on yours, then I want to he able to share it.
Showing up as yourself means letting go of the masks.
We've all put on the brave face, the happy face, the facade that says everything's okay when it's not. But I'm talking about something deeper. You've heard me talk about "The Pretender" and "The Coward" before. One mask protects you from the world, the other protects the world from you. Yet, neither serves your highest good. You have to take off your masks to risk being truly seen.
When you know who you are, you aren’t afraid to admit who you are not. I'm not a scientist. That's my husband. When the kids come home with math homework, I quickly remind them I was a music major in college, so I can count to 12 and divide by 7, but that's about it. I know my limitations there. But it's easy for me to forget those limitations when I slip on the mask of what a good mom is "supposed" to be. I'm pretending. It's frustrating. And it's just digging my hole deeper.
Once you start wearing a mask, it becomes risky to remove it. Showing up as yourself means letting people see what you don't know, what you can't do, what you aren't capable of in this moment. That's scary stuff.
But it also means showing people what you do know, what you can do, and what you are truly capable of in this moment. That is sometimes even more scary.
I grew up in a "gifted" program full of smarty pants kids. We were all too smart for our own good and socially awkward. Most of us had one or two things that we really knew - we were smarter than even the smart kids! But if we dared to show our intelligence in that area, we were quickly brought down a peg by someone who was smart in another area - just to show us that we didn't know everything.
Sadly, that attitude doesn't leave us when we're adults. So being seen as smarter, faster, or better than someone else can become an equally heavy burden and scary proposal.
Masks, to me, are like McDonald's. Once you've seen it, you know what to expect. When you walk into a McDonald's you pretty much know what's on the menu, where the bathroom is, and how competent the counter help will be. On those rare occasions when they're offering a special menu item (remember McDonald's pizza?) it throws you off. Now you're not sure what to expect. That could be good or bad, but either way, you're thrown for a loop for a minute while you get your bearings.
Masks become a cultural shorthand. The problem is that humans grow and change, and masks don't fit forever. Try taking a picture of yourself when you were a child and wearing it around during the day. Unless it's Halloween, people are going to be thrown off. Why is this grown-ass person wearing the face of a small child? What are they hiding? Why are they hiding?
Peeling off the masks is a must-do. How can we fall in love with you if we can't see who you are? If you're wearing a mask, we're not falling in love with you, we're falling in love with the mask, and that creates all kinds of internal backlash and self-loathing. It's a vicious downward spiral that keeps us trying on different masks, hoping that one will eventually fit.
There's nothing more courageous than being yourself.
It takes guts, and tremendous amounts of courage to be true to what really matters to you. Lady Gaga takes a risk every time she steps out in public in one of her crazy ensembles. Yet, it's far less of a risk than playing small and not owning her outlandishness. If you fell in love with "small-playing" Lady Gaga, you just might have a heart attack watching her tramp around in some of her crazier get-ups. Her outspoken, outlandish appearance is part and parcel to who she really is.
To deny any part of you is to deny all of you.
You can't say "that's not my hand" when it's clearly connected to your body. If you deny the hand, you deny the body. Likewise to deny what's important to you (family, faith, travel, relationships, etc.), is to deny YOU. You can't deny a part of you. You're denying your whole self, because that "part" is woven into the very tapestry of your existence. It's a meaningful thread of who you are... whether it's a piece from your past, your present, or your future, it's every bit as important as every other part of you.
In the next few days, I'll be sharing a special gift with my subscribers to help remind them to remove their masks and show up more consistently as themselves. If you'd like to get it, be sure you're subscribed above. In the comments below, I'd love to hear your stories. When did you recognize you were wearing a mask? Did you choose to take it off? Why? What happened as a result? It's in sharing your stories that we lift each other up.