When I graduated from college, I thought I had my career all figured out because I had a degree in public relations and business management. I had a professional hat to wear. My family, many of whom I did not see often, if at all, came to the small celebration to cheer me on. But I felt fake. Something was not right. I thought to myself, it this it? Does having a degree mean I will truly be doing what I am meant to do out there in that big, bad world? Can I handle Silicon Valley? My big project before graduating was creating a press kit about a flat screen television. I had no idea what one was and thought about the one that the Jetsons had in their home. That kit was my way of showing my professors that I could master the job as a PR professional I wore the right suit (which again just felt plain wrong) and smiled as I got my diploma. I already felt like I was fitting into a box and was not sure if I could fit in that box or if it would be the safe haven that would help me be successful and happy. But I went on for 10 years working in Silicon Valley doing what I thought was the right thing. I was promoting the what behind the products. I was wearing the suits and driving the right car. I was in a box! Could I get out? Was I brave enough to get out? Did I even know how to get out?.
It took me 10 years to realize that the answer was a big NO! When I started my business, Be Cause PR, I thought I still had to show up in fancy clothes and my fancy car to impress my potential clients. Then something hit me over the head and I woke up. Well, I should say I was waking up from a nap and had many more naps ahead of me. As I began to wake up more and more I explained to myself with pride and a shaky voice trying to find the right chord, Cathy, you are who you are. You are about purpose, you have your own style, and you will get clients because of what you believe and how you know you can help them. Period. End of story. This was just the beginning of my soul searching. I still had a long road ahead, one that would have many turns, beautiful scenery, darkness, bright sunshine, and people who would harm me and support me. I may have felt alone on this walk but I was not. At the time I did not know this. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
When I was in a business networking group recently, 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 sad, not mad, as I listened to her speak while people nodded along. I had my arms crossed and my head down. I was bummed out by the box he worked to paint around what it means to “be a professional” and “be successful.” After the meeting I was out of there and never returned.
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 to be honest, I never followed their advice because they did not get me. They did not want to try to understand the way I ticked. They did not want to see how I live and work from the inside out. And honestly, I do not think they got me for who I was.
Because I already tried to build my life according to their guides and rules and beliefs, I still tried to fit inside THE BOX. I went to college and got the great job with the benefits of the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m schedule. I had the car, the partner, the house, and the material things that I thought made me a successful and a whole person. And I had the paycheck and the 401k plan that was supposed to make me feel real and safe. But I did not feel that I was being true to me. I hurt.
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 a decade to find myself again. And of course, I am still working on myself to be true to myself and my clients.
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.
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.
Show up. Do what you feel called to do.
That’s the very definition of purpose.