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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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Life

The Imbalanced Problem with Work/Life Balance

Balancing is for your checkbook, gymnastics, and nutrition; not for your people’s work/life ratio.

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5 Indicators of Unresolved Attachment Trauma

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Emotional Attachment Trauma

Trauma caused during specific stages of a child’s development, known as attachment trauma, can have lasting effects on a person’s sense of safety, security, predictability, and trust. This type of trauma is often the result of abuse, neglect, or inconsistent care from a primary caregiver.

Individuals who have not fully processed attachment trauma may display similar patterns of behavior and physical or psychological symptoms that negatively impact their adult lives, including the choices they make in relationships and business.

Unfortunately, many people may not even be aware that they are struggling with trauma. Research estimates that 6% of the population will experience PTSD in their lifetime, with a majority of males and females having experienced significant trauma.

Unresolved attachment trauma can significantly impair the overall quality of a person’s life, including their ability to form healthy relationships and make positive choices for themselves. One well-known effect of unhealed attachment trauma is the compulsion to repeat past wounds by unconsciously selecting romantic partners who trigger their developmental trauma.

However, there are other less recognized but equally detrimental signs of unprocessed developmental trauma.

 

Five possible indications of unresolved attachment trauma are:

 

1.  Unconscious Sabotage

Self-sabotage is a common pattern among individuals with unprocessed attachment trauma. This cycle often begins with hurting others, which is then followed by hurting oneself. It is also common for those with attachment trauma to have heightened emotional sensitivity, which can trigger this cycle.

This pattern can manifest in lashing out, shutting down, or impulsive behavior that leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing.

Many people with attachment trauma are not aware of their wounds and operate on survival mode, unconsciously testing or challenging the emotional investment of those around them, and pushing them away out of self-preservation and fear of abandonment.

This can lead to a pattern of making poor choices for themselves based on impulsivity.

 

2. Persistent Pain

 
Chronic pain is a common symptom that can stem from early trauma. Studies have shown a connection between physical conditions such as fibromyalgia, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, muscle aches, back pain, chest pain, and chronic fatigue with the aftermath of chronic developmental trauma, particularly physical abuse.
 
Research has found that individuals with insecure attachment styles, such as anxious, avoidant, or disorganized, have a higher incidence of somatic symptoms and a history of physical and emotional abuse in childhood compared to those with a secure attachment style.
 
 

3. Behaviors That Block Out Trauma

 
Trauma blocking practises are used to avoid the pain and memories connected with traumatic events.
 
Emotional numbing, avoidance, and escape via briefly pleasurable activities that distract from terrible memories or suffering are common examples. Unfortunately, this escape habit stops people from successfully processing and recovering from their trauma.
 
Furthermore, when the pain resurfaces, more and more diversions are necessary to continue ignoring it. This can be seen in compulsive behaviours such as drug or alcohol addiction, emotional eating, numbing oneself through relationships, workaholism, excessive or dangerous exercise routines, compulsive internet or technology use, or any other compulsive behaviour used to distract yoursef from intrusive thoughts and emotions.
 
These actions have the potential to prolong a cycle of avoidance and repression, preventing persons from healing and progressing.
 

4. A strong need for control

 
It’s understandable that some people may struggle with control issues in their adult lives, especially if they felt helpless or vulnerable during their childhood.
 
This can happen if someone had an overbearing caregiver who didn’t let them make their own choices, expected too much from them, or didn’t take care of them properly. As adults, they might try to control everything in their life to feel more in control and less anxious or scared. This might be because they didn’t feel like they had control over their life when they were a child.
 
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experiences are different and it’s okay to seek help if you’re struggling with control issues.
 
 

5. Psychological Symptoms That Are Not Explained

 
Individuals with a history of developmental trauma may experience a range of psychological symptoms, including obsessive-compulsive behavior, intense mood swings, irritability, anger, depression, emotional numbing, or severe anxiety.
 
These symptoms can vary in intensity and may occur intermittently throughout the day. People with this type of trauma may attempt to “distract” themselves from these symptoms by denying or rationalizing them, or may resort to substance abuse or behavioral addictions as coping mechanisms. This can be a maladaptive way of trying to numb their symptoms.
 
 

What to do next if you’re suffering from emotional attachment trauma?

 
Everyone’s experience of healing from trauma is unique. It’s important to be aware of whether you have experienced childhood developmental trauma and how it may be affecting your relationships as an adult. Sometimes, the effects of trauma can be overwhelming and we may try to push them away or avoid them.
 
If you notice that you’re engaging in these behaviors, it’s important to seek help from a trauma therapist who can support you on your healing journey. Remember, you’re not alone and it’s never too late to start healing.
 

There are several ways that people can work to overcome emotional attachment trauma:

  1. Therapy: One of the most effective ways to overcome emotional attachment trauma is through therapy. A therapist can help you process your experiences, understand the impact of your trauma on your life, and develop coping strategies to manage symptoms.
  2. Support groups: Joining a support group of people who have had similar experiences can be a great way to find validation, empathy, and a sense of community.
  3. Mindfulness practices: Mindfulness practices such as meditation, pilates, prayer time with God or journaling can help you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, and develop a sense of spiritual connection and self-regulation.
  4. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT): This is a type of therapy that is specifically designed to help individuals process and recover from traumatic events.
  5. Building a safety net: Building a support system of people you trust, who are there for you when you need them, can help you feel more secure and safe in your life.

It’s important to remember that healing from emotional attachment trauma is a process and it may take time. It’s also important to find a therapist who is experienced in treating trauma, who you feel comfortable talking with, and who can help you develop a personalized treatment plan.

 
 
If you desire to work with me on healing your wounds and unlocking the aspects of you that were never realized so you can achieve more success in your life then head over to awebliss.com and join my weekly LIVE online mentorship calls.
 
 
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