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Your Differences Are Actually Your Greatest Professional Strengths

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You’re a night owl, a mother, a daydreamer. Or maybe you grew up economically disadvantaged or deep in rural isolation. Whatever your personal difference is, you’ve likely been conditioned to believe it’s a weakness—a flaw. Something to be hidden at work.

I’m here to tell you that what you think is your weakness might, in fact, be your biggest professional strength. Our personal stories influence how we think about our abilities, achievements, and possibilities, and often, our views of ourselves are more negative than the assessments from our peers. 

When You’re Different from Your Peers

I worked with a young leader in private equity named Emily who struggled with reconciling her difference from her peers, and her story taught me a lot about how we view the things that set us apart.

Emily is a bright, engaging woman with a powerful track record of achievement. A graduate of both Harvard University and Harvard Business School, she left Boston to join an elite private equity firm in California. She was promoted early and often and was soon sitting on the forty-fourth floor in a corner office. She is polished, confident, and attractive. She’s perfect, at first glance.

During our first meeting, she confessed she was exhausted. “I’m trying to keep up, but I don’t think I can. Everyone else has more time to focus on sourcing and researching deals than I do. My toddler is teething, and he’s up most of the night. I can’t stay awake when I work late at my laptop. I just keep dozing off, and I know I’m falling behind.”

Emily had looked at her peers and realized three things: First, they were all male. Second, none had children or other significant family responsibilities. Third, they each worked all day, every day. She believed that to be successful in this environment, she had to look and sound like the people around her.

Emily worked hard to remove all traces of her son from her work life. When he was born, she was checking email shortly after they left the hospital and was back in the office within six weeks. She rarely talked about him and had a deep list of nannies on call to help her stay late and start early.

“I can’t afford to be different,” she told me. We later learned Emily’s peers and manager were strongly hoping she’d be exactly that.

“The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.” – Albert Einstein

Personal Differences Help Evolve the Status Quo

Often, people and companies get stuck in routines. They develop a “way we’ve always done it,” and change becomes difficult. One benefit of having people with personal differences on a team is that those differences can introduce positive change that might otherwise not be considered.

For example, shortly after Emily returned to work from parental leave, her team had to deliver a pitch in New York. The three-hour meeting required six team members to fly cross-country and return in one twenty-four-hour period. Emily, nursing an infant, couldn’t figure out how to make that work and, after agonizing about her decision, asked if the team would consider a virtual option for the meeting. Could they pitch via video?

The team agreed, and the pitch went well. It was a long shot, though, and the client ultimately selected a firm with deeper experience in their niche. The team’s physical presence wouldn’t have made a difference. When they heard the news, the team members were grateful not to have spent a dozen hours in the air that day.

We Are Our Harshest Critics

Two years later, eight of the nine team members remember that pitch as successful because, while it didn’t result in new business, it allowed the team to practice their skills at pitching virtually. But Emily has never considered the day a success.

She is the lone team member who views that pitch, and that full episode, as unsuccessful. She tells herself that her proposal, and the team’s accommodation of her request, cost everyone a long-shot win.

Emily is telling herself a story about her difference. Some parts are true. She did ask the team to accommodate her need to be home with her baby. The team did lose the pitch. Those are facts.

But some parts of the story are her interpretation of the events. Her interpretation, or assessment, is different than the assessment of her team members. She believes that the pitch was lost because the team didn’t travel. She believes that the team prefers to travel, that the team puts that long-ago loss in her column, and that she now must make up that loss.

Her colleagues, however, believe the opposite. One senior partner told me, “I wish Emily would rock the boat more often. We’re looking for innovators and visionaries. She’s a great worker, but she does things the way they’ve always been done. Except for that time when she recommended we not travel to a long-shot pitch.”

Emily’s colleagues not only approved of her different behavior, but also hoped that she’d engage in it more. 

“What sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden and it’s not. A lot of the time, it’s what makes you great.” – Emma Stone

Embrace Your Differences

The lesson to take from Emily’s story is that we tend to view our differences through the harshest lens. We assume anything that goes against the status quo is wrong, a mistake, when in reality, breaking the mold is often seen as creative, confident, and innovative. These are qualities that many companies value greatly.

By embracing your differences, you open yourself up to exciting opportunities and force progress by mixing up old habits, which will take you further professionally than playing it safe and conforming ever will. 

Danessa is an executive coach, CEO, and keynote speaker shifting the global conversation on leadership. She has coached hundreds of executives across every major industry and has developed a reputation as a candid, compassionate and courageous leadership partner. She is the best-selling author of the leadership manual, Naked at Work.

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How Your Psychological Blind Spots Keep You Stuck in Life

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Sometimes, life doesn’t seem to make any sense. Albert Einstein once said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Here’s the funny thing. We will say that line about someone else, have a good chuckle, and then DO THE SAME THING OURSELVES! This time, it’s not that funny, is it? I know. I’ve done it myself. (more…)

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3 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself and Live an Optimized Life

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The secret to happiness lies in the way you live your life. People think of happiness as some destination they’ll reach when they’ve accomplished the hundred things on their life to-do list. Happiness is often associated with money, material possessions, or even great relationships. (more…)

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These 7 Daily Resolutions Can Change Your Life

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We all strive to be better every day. Most of us want a new day to bring something new, and we plan for it as well. Of course, the execution is debatable as procrastination is real and it becomes an overwhelming feeling at times. Also, not to forget the customary practice of making resolutions on new year’s eve!  All of us are fascinated by the thought of preparing long lists of resolves to mark the beginning of a new year. Not sure how many people are able to translate these resolutions into functional realities. (more…)

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4 Reasons Why Content Is Pivotal For Mental Health Healing

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One of the most important things for an entrepreneur’s mental health is expressing their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. This is where content creation and writing becomes pivotal. Whether you read something that resonates with you or you write a compelling blog post, the act of expressing yourself through content can help to put a smile on your face and make you feel better about things.

Most entrepreneurs don’t spend as much time taking care of their mental health as they should. Over the course of your career, you will experience a lot of ups and downs; these emotions have the potential to take a toll on your mind and body if you don’t learn to manage them properly.

Here are four reasons why expression through content is pivotal for healing, slowing yourself down, and giving yourself grace when the going gets tough.

1. Content can be a form of self-expression

When you are an entrepreneur, you frequently face feelings of insecurity, doubt, fear, apathy, and exhaustion, just to name a few. Some days it feels like no one is on your business’s side and everyone else has it all figured out. On those days some of us try to look at our website’s analytics to cheer up. 

But an even more freeing task is creating content. You create content to improve your business and reach more people’s lives. But, there is something special that happens when you write with the intention of expressing your thoughts and feelings — you open a door to yourself. 

Content is inherently personal, which means content creators open themselves up when they share their thoughts on a platform. Everything from the title of the post, the keywords they choose to include, and even the content itself helps you to understand who the author of that post truly is. And as an entrepreneur, this can be an important experience because it allows others to empathize with you.

2. Self-reflection will lift you up

As you think through what to write about and how to express yourself, the process of self reflection is a valuable step you need to go through. You’re able to reflect on the blessings you have, assess what you learned from the negative experiences, and create a plan on how to maintain the positive experiences you’ve had. 

There are a few ways that self reflection can help you with mental health healing. The act of reflecting on your experiences helps to create clarity in feelings, thoughts and emotions which will eventually lead into acceptance for what has happened or is happening currently without feeling overwhelmed by it all. This process also leads people towards finding new things they enjoy doing. Self reflection is therapeutic and can be implemented anytime you feel the need to overcome overwhelm.

“Writing in a journal each day allows you to direct your focus to what you accomplished, what you’re grateful for and what you’re committed to doing better tomorrow. Thus, you more deeply enjoy your journey each day.” – Hal Elrod

3. A sense of belonging and camaraderie

It is important to have a support network of people who will listen and understand what you are going through. When you post a blog or upload a video on YouTube, there are others who feel the same way and experience a sense of connection with you.

When you put time, attention and thoughtfulness into your writing, it is amazing when someone reads what you’ve written and comments on it thanking you or expressing how they resonate with what you’re going through. It’s hard to put into words how powerful it feels when someone who has gone through the same experience and reads your words then reaches out.  There is power in expression but miracles happen when people bond over a similar experience.

4. Library of content to share with more people

It can be very difficult to know what content to share with people as the symptoms of mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, etc.) vary from person to person. But as you accumulate more and more content, this will increase the number of articles or videos available for readers to choose from depending on their specific purpose. It also builds your personal library of resources you’re able to share to different people you encounter or engage directly with.

As chaotic and distracting social media can be, it can also be a beacon of hope with the right content. Many people share viral posts, or content that interest them. Since your content is valuable and personal, the more you share it, the more likely it is to be shared with the right audience.

You never know who is watching (reading)

Your content is speaking to someone and even though they may not be actively engaged, their experiences with your work are impacting them. Think about the last time you watched TV: did everyone in the room have something entertaining to say? 

You never know who’s watching because there’s always somebody reading your posts or viewing your videos-even if they just skim through it briefly. This is why creating content worth consuming is critical, not only to get you out of your funk, but also to serve your audience.  Be authentic and stay true to yourself; make every post count as an opportunity for connection with your best self and for potential readers to bond with you.

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