When I graduated college, my mom bought me a beautiful suit jacket and slacks. Just a couple years ago I finally donated the jacket to Goodwill, tags still dangling off the end of the sleeve. I refused to wear it. I refused to ever interview or take a job that required me to wear anything like it. I refused to attend events that had a strict business dress code.
When I started my first design business, my former boyfriend/business partner and I used to argue a lot about cars. “You have to show up in a nice car and nice clothes if you want to get the jobs,” he would say. “Nope,” I would shoot back, “I don’t want to work with anyone who wouldn’t want to hire me because of the clothes I wear or the car I drive.”
When I was in a business networking group last year, the president of the chapter went on a long spiel about how to “be a professional” with a bulleted list of things you “must” and “must never” do. I was irate as I listened to him speak while people nodded along. I was deeply angered by the box he worked to paint around what it means to “be a professional” and “be successful.” I left the group shortly after.
Over the years, people have gone to a lot of trouble to tell me how I should do things. How I need to dress and talk and act. How I need to run my business. What I need to do. What I need to stop doing. A lot of these people I paid good money to tell me how to grow my business or be successful. A lot of them are people I respect and admire.
And most of them, I ignored.
Because I already tried to build my life according to their guides and rules and beliefs. I tried to fit inside the box. I went to college and got the great job with the benefits and the 8am to 5pm schedule. I had the car, the guy, the house, and the matching furniture sets in every room.
I bought into the lie that there was only one path and one way of being. That success and happiness could only look a certain way. I even did a damn good job of it… yet it left me completely empty and miserable.
And it took me over half a decade to find myself again.
It took a lot of untangling of beliefs and voices in my head that weren’t mine. It took a lot of unlearning of things I was taught over the years. And it took a lot of healing and release, letting go of stories and fears and feeling like I wasn’t good enough as I am. That I wouldn’t be capable of happiness and success unless I completely conformed.
After years of this work, here’s what I know for sure:
The things people work so hard to beat out of you, like your flair, your crazy charisma, your sense of humor, your style… you know, the unique things that make your personality your personality… those are the things that will make you the most successful.
All the things people tried to beat out of me, all the ways of being that were “wrong” or “weird” or “not professional enough,” and all the things that make me who I am, those are the things people thank me for today. Those are the things people pay me good money to learn about so they can create something similar for themselves.
People hire me because of who I am, and because I do business the way I do it. That said, people also DON’T hire me because of who I am and because I do business the way I do it. And that’s how it should be.
If you’re not polarizing or alienating someone, you’re dimming your bright, beautiful light. You’re watering your message down and you’re doing a disservice to yourself and everyone around you. You’re doing a disservice to the world because you’re not showing up fully. You’re not connecting deeply. And you’re not impacting in the way only you can impact.
What’s funny is, those same people who tell you you’re wrong for who you are and how you choose to show up, they’re the ones that will want to rally around when you make success happen on your own terms. They’re the ones that will praise your way of thinking, calling it innovative and fresh, simply because you’ve finally checked off a “success” box that they feel is valid… like that having a huge following online, or making a lot of money.
The same exact people who tell you how you do business (or who you are) is wrong, they will be your biggest fans. They will want to learn from you. They will call you forward-thinking and cutting edge. And they will even start to copy you. They will pay you big money to share your “methodology” for success.
When really, you’re just being you.
Doing what you feel called to do.
In exactly the way you feel called to do it.
We don’t change the world and the lives of others from the inside of boxes built by other people. We don’t innovate and create in ways that alter the course of lives and industries. We don’t leave our mark on this planet by conforming to the ways of being and living and loving that someone else defined as “right.” There is no right. There is no lasting legacy inside conforming for the sake of conforming.
The most powerful and courageous action we can take in this life is to take a stand for who we’re here to be, and the work we’re here to do. To commit to showing up fully and truthfully in all areas of our lives and in every interaction.
No matter what anyone thinks.
No matter if it fits cleanly inside the lines.
No matter if we alienate someone in the process.