Two of the more enduring lessons that my Dad taught me were quite simple. The first lesson that I learned was even before I began formal schooling. Education is everything; no-one can take it away from you. I took his words to heart and earned my master’s degree, accumulated professional certifications and licenses, and continued to expand my knowledge base and skill set, albeit outside the academic arena.
The second lesson is one that he exemplified in everything that he did. Work hard, and do your job to the best of your abilities. Always. From my early years earning money babysitting neighborhood children to my real jobs in my adult years, I have followed his lead. Regardless of the work I am doing, I do my job, and I do it well. Always.
These lessons have been the foundation on which I have built my professional house, but recently, that foundation was rocked a bit. During a meeting with my professional mentor, I shared my desire to find a new position and the difficulties with the hiring process. She is someone I respect, and we share similar professional and personal backgrounds, so, I was more than ready to hear her response. What I was not ready for was my response.
As she carefully chose her words, my mentor gave a nod to the lessons that my Dad taught me and to my own past and present professional achievements. Then, she started talking to me about the need to spend time getting noticed by colleagues and upper management. As she talked about spending time and energy participating in company supported social media platforms and work groups and volunteering for high-profile activities that lacked meaning or substance, but would get me noticed, I was taken aback back by the emotions that erupted inside of me.
Angry tears rolled down my cheeks, leaving me grateful for working in the telephonic world, as not to embarrass myself in front of her, at first. My tears did not betray me, but my voice cracking with emotion absolutely did. I wasn’t just upset. I was enraged.
The rage was not directed at her, as nothing she said was cruel or mean-spirited. Rather the rage was, and is, directed at the notion of branding. I understand the importance of presenting yourself in the manner in which you wish to be perceived and in order to be offered opportunities, but I felt a crack in the foundation begin to form, when my mentor said, If you keep your head down and work hard, you will never get noticed. Those words ignited my rage.
My reaction has nothing to do with an aversion with going above and beyond what my current role requires, as I routinely arrive early, stay late, and do more than what is expected or asked of me. And I do it well. Very well. I bristled at what she shared, because it spoke to a broader issue.
I find it increasingly difficult to accept personal brands as preferrable to authentic people. While I suppose you coud be both, it certainly seems like the image you convey is more important than who you actually are. I have watched this unfortunate trend play out as an employer. There were times when an applicant with a slickly produced resume and polished interviewing skills landed the position, but once the first impression faded, what was left was someone who looked the part, but in reality, who could not fulfill the part. This proved to be frustrating for all involved.
As my mentor continued the conversation and offered suggestions how to play the game and cultivate my brand, I retreated further into rage and disappointment. I want to pursue a career that uses my skills, talents, interests, experiences, education, and passion to do some good in this world and to earn a fair living to support my daughters and myself, and I want to do so in an authentic, genuine, and honest way. Playing the game and cultivating my brand may be the means to achieve the end I seek, but I just don’t have the heart for it.
My resistance may be my downfall, and I may be somewhat naive. I don’t know. I do know that I will continue to seek out opportunities to learn and grow and work hard, just like my Dad taught me to do. I hold onto the hope that the foundation that I built on my Dad’s words and example will lead me to what I want to do, but I would be lying if I said that I am not afraid that it will not.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story