My daughter is nearing the age of 16, which reminded me of my driving test when I was 16. I failed it twice. One reason I failed it the first time—and I say “one reason” because I’m sure there were other reasons—was because I didn’t use the turn signal enough.
I told my friends my reason for failing, and they gave me advice (because the ones you really want to take driving advice from are the ones who’ve hardly done it). Their advice was this: use your turn signals as much as possible—wear those little blinkers out! So that’s what I did.
On my second test, whenever the road curved, I signaled. Oh, we’re curving to the right, right signal. Now we’re curving to the left, left signal.
Can you imagine what the tester was thinking?! The only time for not using your turn signal is a perfectly straight road…how crazy, wear those little blinkers out! How she didn’t burst out in laughter I don’t know. So, I failed it the second time.
But by the third time, I had learned my lesson—I used the signal just enough—not too much and not too little—and I passed.
Learning to be who we are is like this.
Whenever I give a strengths talk, I start out with a story of when I was also about 16 and trying desperately to gain the approval of the popular kids. I tried some crazy things because what they thought of me mattered so much. I thought I had to become someone else to be accepted.
As an adult, I think this idea is infuriating. While it probably is true that they wouldn’t have accepted me then, that’s not the infuriating part. The infuriating part is that I fell for it.
I made their acceptance of me the benchmark for my acceptance of myself. Because they didn’t like me, I thought something was wrong with me. True, probably lots of stuff was wrong with me, but it shouldn’t have been because they thought so. It should have been because I thought so.
At this point in the talk, a few folks are dabbing their eyes. When this happens, it always catches me by surprise. This is a work setting, after all. And you’re among colleagues.
Then I talk about how often we compare ourselves to others, put on masks and false fronts and fake appearances. We sure can be bad at being ourselves. We convince ourselves we can be anything we want to be, or we try to become all things to all people, because for some reason who we are isn’t good enough.
But only you can be you.
This is when more folks are wiping their eyes or letting a few tears roll down their faces. Some gently pat, some let them run. Then I say that despite our best efforts to cover up, our true and real selves are calling out from within—be you, be you, be the real you—because only you can!
We’re not sure we can trust that voice, let ourselves out. Will we be too much, will we be too little? What is the right amount, enough?
And though this response always catches me by surprise, it really shouldn’t. Something true seems to be happening here, even if it is the workplace.