I’ve always believed in being yourself in everything you do. In staying true to yourself and knowing who you really are, you are at a distinct advantage. Being aware of your limitations is one part of that, and you certainly shouldn’t feel as if you should be good at everything. But knowing how to use your unique strengths in terms of your skills and personality is equally important. Put together, this awareness will build the individual that people will come to recognise.
It’s likely that you’ll arrive at who you are by identifying aspects of yourself that are distinct, but you should also be very clear about who you are not. The process of elimination is actually one of the easiest ways to filter out the noise and draw the line between who you are and who you’re not. From there, you reach a place where you’re confident about what your strengths are, and what you’re not good at.
Bringing your whole self to work isn’t instantaneous, it often develops slowly. Personally, this was something I struggled with as a fresh graduate. I knew who I was outside of work, but I always imagined that I had to be a different person once I entered the working world. I thought I had to fit into a certain mould. But obviously, everyone is different. What makes you interesting is different from what makes me interesting.
The turning point for me was when I started spending time with my colleagues outside the office or during breaks. I noticed that the interactions between them were casual, which made me comfortable with opening up and letting loose. Actually, these interactions often ended up being creative sessions, leading to work conversations that didn’t feel like work. I started seeing my colleagues as friends, which allowed me to let my guard down and be myself.
These conversations showed me that work is more than just the nine-to-five grind, and that my colleagues have interesting stories outside of work. The fact that my colleagues were so comfortable with being themselves encouraged me to do the same. You, too, can encourage people to be themselves simply by being yourself.
When I started my career, I felt I had to be a lot more serious at work, to stop making jokes. I didn’t bring my fun personality to work. Eventually, I realised that I could bring these elements of my personality to work without adversely affecting my work in any way. Obviously, this will vary based on the atmosphere in your workplace and the culture. However, if you’re playing by the rules and not being too disruptive, you should be able to bring your personality to work without issue.
The easiest rule to follow is to make sure you’re not being disrespectful to anyone by being yourself. It’s fine to make jokes, but not if your jokes are making your colleagues uncomfortable. And you certainly shouldn’t be carried away such that you’re having fun at the expense of getting work done.
It’s not always about just humour, either. Suppose your workplace has a very strict dress code, then follow it. But find a way to express your personal style and ethic in the work you do. Your work is always the best place to express your individuality, and that way you don’t run the risk of being disrespectful to anyone.
First impressions matter. This is especially true if you’re trying to set yourself up as an individual that people recognise. To set yourself apart, people need to remember you for a particular trait of yours, or your unique way of thinking. You can help by setting the right perception of who you are, so that your colleagues and partners know you for who you are.
Having an individual personality that people remember helps you to build relationships, but more importantly, helps people see the value of your perspective. You keep your voice instead of fading into the background. You’re a solo artist instead of a member of the choir.
Now this doesn’t mean that you aren’t a team player. The best solo artists out there shine because they have the support of great producers, musicians, and sound engineers. Collaboration is the currency of the times. Yet while working collaboratively is crucial, your voice should be distinct enough to allow people to set you apart from the rest.
How do you bring your voice to the table? By not being afraid to share your authentic opinion. Don’t hesitate to rock the boat or to be the black sheep. If you’re daring enough to share new perspectives in the business world, people respect that. You won’t always be right, and people may not always agree with you. However, people will eventually respect the fact that you’re brave enough to think or do things slightly differently than the rest. That’s what you’ll be remembered for.
Think about a C-level executive in a big corporation. They meet so many people that if they were to meet you today, they probably wouldn’t remember you later on. Higher ups won’t remember you if you tell them things they already know, even if they agree with what you say. Instead, if you have something to say that goes against what they think, ask a great question that challenges them, or question the status quo, they’re more likely to remember you.
Of course, don’t just say or do things just for the sake of it. All of your insights should come from a place of authenticity. Be yourself and think about what you would talk to them about, even what you might do if you were in their place. Especially in Asia, a lot of people shy away from approaching senior executives. They feel that they’re too junior, and the hierarchical structure of many companies only reinforces this way of thinking.
While an increasing number of companies are moving away from hierarchical structures, you should be comfortable with disagreeing. Don’t be afraid to disagree. You’ll find that more good can come out of healthy disagreement than bad.
When people try to discover themselves, they’re told to “dig deep” to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are. I hold the opposite view: that the more you dive deep in the quest to define yourself, the harder it is to shoot back up.
More often than not, your true self is in plain view. So I think that your true self is really, more often than not, right there. Why not ask the people around you to reflect who you are back at you? Ask your friends how they define you – what they like and dislike. Take their feedback and use it as a way to build a picture of who you are, or at least how people perceive you.
Having said that, find a way to strike a balance between the personality you are and the spirit of self-improvement. It’s crucial to make learning and trying to be a better person an ongoing pursuit. But avoid falling into the trap of imitating people you look up to. Learn to pick and choose traits you want to pick up from various people, but don’t let that dilute your own personality and strengths. Be very conscious about this.
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Chief Brand Officer | Former Group Head of Branding