And the even bigger problem for you is that it prevents you from being you.
When you try to fit – by using a jargon that everyone else is using, by going through a career trajectory that everybody can recognize, by telling a story that everyone feels comfortable with – you essentially hide your differences for the sake of harmony. It is normal to want to do that, even advisable in some instances.
But what happens once you are in, feel at ease, and attempt to express that part you hid? Here is a strong risk of a life of misery.
There are two things you can do to mitigate that.
First, you have to be selective with the groups you want to be part of. Not all groups are worth fitting in – which is, again, essentially losing a little part of you. Some groups are more open to differences than others – which means having to hide less, or nothing.
Second, you need to work on your story in a way that eases you into fitting in (the groups you selected). You own your story, you choose what to tell about, how to tell about it, and by making your story an expression of yourself, you signal to the group who you are and what they can expect from you.
It is no longer enough to tell that you work in marketing, that you are a great communicator, that you are an expert in corporate finance, that you have decades of experience in consulting.
That is the same thing thousands of other professionals can say at any given time, in any geography, with any type of degree and certification backing that up.
If you want to really stand out tell about the time you have leveraged your knowledge of customers to deliver unexpected growth; about the time you have changed the culture of a company who was struggling to engage employees; about the time you found a nasty mistake in the accounts of a potential acquisition, saving the buyer money and time; about the time you have turned around a stagnating start-up by suggesting they exploit an unexplored market opportunity.
We are not looking for marketers, communicators, accountants, or consultants.
Things come and go. They come again and they go again. Other things will come and go.
And so on.
The only aspect you can really affect is the way things impact you. A rainy day can be a disaster or an opportunity. An argument with a friend can be a deal-breaker or a change in perspective. A rejection can get you down or give renewed energy.
You need intention when interacting with the world.
Asking questions is more important than answering them.
You should ask questions when you know everything and when you know nothing. When you are alone and when you are in good company. When things go just as you planned and when nothing seems to fit in the right place.
We tend to think that confidence equals having few doubts and that experience means you are finally in a position to dispense answers.
In reality, confidence if feeling ok with not knowing and experience means you are faster at figuring out the questions to ask.
Sometimes you need a critic, as they might take you back to earth and set you on a path of improvement. Sometimes you need a cheerleader, as they might give you that boost of confidence you are lacking to truly appreciate what you have just achieved.
And you always need a coach. They will see your trajectory and help you find what you need to get there.