A number of years ago I did my best to conform.
While I worked in an industry that was creative, we had corporate technology clients and the advocated dress code was designed to match – smart, safe business wear.
Which was all very well, except that I hated it.
Now don’t get me wrong, some people look brilliant suited and booted. I’m just not one of them.
In truth I looked like a 14-year-old who’d been at the dressing up box. Not exactly the best guise, nor one that did wonders for my self-confidence.
But most of all, the innocuous uniform just didn’t feel like an outward expression of who I am.
Like an uncomfortable costume in the wrong size, it simply didn’t fit.
What I really wanted to do was break the rules and dress creatively.
I wanted to experiment with pattern and colour, and stand apart from the sea of black suits.
I wanted to be a living embodiment of the inventive work I delivered.
What’s wrong with clashing animal print anyway?
But I didn’t.
Rather than embracing my inner Vivienne Westwood, I did what was advocated and toned myself down.
I did my best to fit the mould, looking and dressing unremarkably and for the most part I succeeded.
Luckily for me, playing by the rules culminated in a situation where I was heartily encouraged (read begged) to wear a suit.
I was attending a senior leadership meeting at a client’s European HQ and the message was clear.
Whatever you do, don’t be original. Fit in. Blend. Be what’s expected.
Despite my initial protests, I conceded and went feeling utterly uncomfortable in my own skin. I have never performed so badly in a meeting before or since.
I still get the shivers when I think about that experience, but it was a game changer for me.
I vowed never to compromise myself like that ever again.
It made me realise that I could only perform at the top of my game if I was the best version of myself, unusual outfits included.
That learning saw me deliberately bring the real me to my job role and working attire.
Trusting my instincts, I got rid of my suits and sensible slacks.
I waved goodbye to my court shoes and pin-stripe shirts.
In their place I introduced zebra print trousers and clashing tops, and I launched an ongoing experiment with changing hair styles and colours.
And the funny thing was, the more I embraced my true self the more successful I became.
Allowing myself to be different communicated confidence.
It also created a new dynamic.
It gave clients a better insight into who I was, which encouraged a more open and personal dialogue that resulted in deeper relationships.
It made networking easier because people were curious and would use my attire as a way to open up the conversation.
It encouraged prospects to trust in mine and my team’s ability to delivery creatively.
And it made me visible to my organisation’s executive leadership team.
They started to pay more attention to what I was doing and what I was delivering, which resulted in bigger opportunities.
Now you might be wondering why I’m telling you this story, so here’s the skinny.
It’s what I tell people who want to enhance their career success.
The root is to be unreservedly yourself.
Don’t let any person or organisation tell you who, what or how to be if it means contorting to fit a mould that isn’t you.
Refuse to fit in. Reject demands to be something you’re not. Say no to being unexceptional.
And if you’re in a company or a role that can’t or won’t accommodate your best self, change them not you.
You’ll never achieve your greatest potential in the wrong guise. It will only ever hold you back.
Your real self could be exactly what your team, clients, partners or organisation needs, so be bold and let your unique light shine.
You might just be staggered by the results.
P.S. Just for laughs, here are some of my before and after shots.
This was my “safe” hair. Perfectly fine, but not a true reflection of my wannabe Vivienne Westwood.
Seriously, I look like a young French student in this one (which my sister pointed out in-between snorts of laughter).
A slight change!
This colour caused great hilarity at a corporate client’s office after I’d accidentally left the dye on for too long and my hair basically glowed in the dark!
P.P.S. If you want to reveal elements of your true self use that information to identify your ideal career in the context of your ideal life, check out my Work Wonderland career coaching programme and web app.
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