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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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A Simple but Effective Technique to Be More Confident

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Many people want to learn how to be confident in different situations, but it’s not always easy. Maybe we’re too addicted to comparing ourselves or maybe social media has brainwashed us to believe that we should all be rich, famous, and in incredible shape. (more…)

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Knowing Your Message vs Delivering Your Message

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Have you ever sent a text message only to have it misinterpreted by the person reading it? Happens all the time. Have you ever given a presentation that you were totally prepared for only to have it fall flat? Happens all the time. Have you ever had someone ask you something like, “Why are you mad?” when you were not at all mad? Happens all the time. (more…)

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The 3 Most Important Things I Learned About Personal Growth

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When you look back on your life, what do you want to think about? Do you plan to reminisce on all of the good things that have happened and how they shaped who you are today? Or would you rather remember all of the bad decisions, challenging experiences, and mistakes made that hurt or wasted a portion of your life?

In my opinion, I think it is important to reflect on both. While it’s important to remember the hardships we’ve been through in our lives – without them we wouldn’t be where we are now. There are 3 very specific areas that I feel have helped me grow in a personal sense more than anything else in my life so far. 

These aren’t simple lessons in a book or a lecture that you can just absorb and apply to your life. These are things that I’ve learned through experience and reflection, and I’m still learning and growing today.

1. We determine how much we’re worth by what we think about ourselves, others, and life in general.

This might seem like a pretty obvious lesson in life but it’s actually one of the most important because we can determine our own worth by how we think about ourselves and the world around us. If you’re looking for success in any kind of business or social setting (dating), then I’ll tell you right now that it doesn’t matter if you have 10 billion dollars or not – people are still going to judge you based on your thoughts and beliefs alone.

What determines our value isn’t necessarily what we do with our lives (which is often based on luck) but whether or not we believe that ‘our work’ is worthy or not in some sort of grand scheme or universe. We may not always be able to control what happens in our lives, but we can always control how we value ourselves and others.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

2. You don’t have to change your habits or personality just because someone else doesn’t like it – their opinions are THEIRS alone.

This is another one of those lessons that people tend to pick up on a little bit late in life, but if anything that makes its importance even worse! Basically, there’s going to come a time when you’re going to meet someone who has certain expectations of you as a person…but these expectations might not be realistic due to their motivations and personal beliefs. For example, sometimes parents might expect you to be a lawyer or doctor because that’s what they believe is best for their child.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone and so maybe your passion lies in music or writing novels. In this example, if you were also pressured into becoming a doctor – then there would obviously be some kind of conflict going on within yourself as a person. You should never have to give up something that you want to do just because someone else doesn’t like it! The reason why we’re put onto this Earth is to make our own choices and go after our OWN dreams instead of letting others determine what we can and cannot do with our lives .

3. You can’t change your life until you accept that you need to make a change.

When I was younger, I thought that this lesson would be pretty obvious – but as I got older, it really made me appreciate the fact that there are always different ways of perceiving our lives. For example, if someone wants to become rich and famous one day – their mind might simply overshadow any other possibility in their head because they feel like this is what they NEED to do right now.

However, this isn’t always true within our own lives because we think about things too literally instead of having an open mind. If you want to achieve success in any kind of business or social setting (dating) then you should be willing to try out different things instead of staying in your comfort zone. If you want something, then it’s up to YOU to actually go after it – nobody else is going to give it to you!

The three lessons above are some of the main things I want to pass on to everyone because they’ve come at an important time in my life where I need to start thinking about others instead of only myself. It’s great if we can learn to love ourselves first before anything else, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect everyone around you even though they might be your friends and family members!

If you enjoyed this article on the 3 most important things I learned about personal growth, then please share it with your friends and family! Also, check out my other articles on success & motivation as well as life lessons that could help people who are struggling with their life right now on lifengoal.com. Thanks for reading!

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​​4 Boss Level Growth Strategies That Create an Optimized Life

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