It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. We might hang onto an old hairstyle because it worked (when we were 20…) Or we might stay working in a particular industry because that’s where someone wanted us way back when, until we realize lawn fertilizer or tax prep software or athletic socks are just not our jam. It takes a lot of self-discipline to examine your life to figure out what’s working for you.
I really struggled with this during my mid- to late-30s. I felt awkwardly caught between being that young, eager go-getter in the office vs. the seasoned, competent professional woman who could dole out sage advice. Our 30’s tend to be busy years; we could be making really big strides in our careers, buying real estate, forming significant relationships and perhaps starting a family. Often, we accumulate these roles without properly integrating them into our lives and changing the way we show up.
In my case, because I had gained a better title with my new job, I had gotten married and was looking for a house suddenly I felt like I had to be more serious. I ditched all my natural mannerisms especially the ones that make me unique. Guess what? It didn’t work. The disconnect between who I really was and who I was trying to be was so strong, it started interfering with my ability to build relationships with my internal clients. And it really started to interfere with my communication style: the more I felt I needed to be serious, the more I shut down. I rarely joked in meetings, never let anyone know about my personal interests, and only talked business. You can imagine how much fun I was.
Eventually I realized I was doing myself more harm than good. If my natural self wasn’t accepted in this workplace, then long-term, I would probably be happier elsewhere. Letting loose a bit would probably have even improved my work product. I’m pretty sure they would have still liked me if I talked about my weekend plans and my pets once in a while!
Are you in a rut with your communication style? Are you still showing up as your 22-year-old intern self as a 32-year-old rising leader? Or perhaps like me, prematurely aging yourself to be a wise old sage at 36? Think about how you show up. For a fun exercise, try asking 10 people to list three things that come to mind when they think of you. You might be surprised to see what comes back.