“Thoughtful Courage” — A Lesson In Finding Your Voice and Sticking With It
This post is about something that happened recently that taught me one of those “I wish I’d learned this years ago” lessons.
All my life (well, most of it), various people have been telling me “you have to be more professional”. Not because I was unprofessional, basically what they were saying was “you’re not quite corporate-friendly enough, Lacey.”
Of course, that was (and is) a compliment to me. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to be “anti-corporate”, but being corporate (or corporate-friendly), in my eyes, almost necessarily requires squeezing any real, genuine personality out of something.
In my eyes, no matter how pleasant and “go with the flow” you behave, you always have to adhere to corporate values which cannot change or flex like human ones can.
I was on a date once with someone who worked in “Strategic Communications”, we were talking about communication and the balance between “saying what you mean” and “saying what you must.”
In other words: “tell them what they need to know, and try to do that with personality”.
She said that she occasionally did proofreading/editing for friends of hers, and that she was pretty merciless about it. At one point she said “I live and breathe corporate policy and guidelines, I have to for my job.” That was when I knew “this is not a fit”.
I just ain’t that kinda person.
This brings me to the seed that sprouted into this post. As I said, I’ve been getting told most of my life that I needed to be more “corporate friendly”. I always resisted it, but some times I fully rejected it. And when I did, I usually got favorable responses from the kind of people I wanted responses from. But that didn’t clue me in quite yet.
Sometimes you can’t detect a pattern because it’s too infrequent, like getting the right kind of feedback, but only once a year.
Last year I quit my day job to go start my exciting new career as a self-employed freelancer. As part of that, I sent out an email to an entrepreneurial mailing list I’m on, letting people know I existed and what I had to offer. I only received one response to that email, but it was the best response I could have asked for:
I just read your email, and it made me think and smile, so I wanted reply to let you know.
I feel a lot of thoughtful courage in your message. And I’m impressed that you’re going outside traditional skill categories to tell us specifically what you like to do and are good at, and helping us imagine how we might need those skills.
I’ll keep you in mind as I meet people might benefit from your services.
Boom. “Thoughtful Courage”.
Like, can you ask for a better byline? “Lacey has thoughtful courage in her message.” It’s one of those things, as soon as it got into my brain, it started to motivate me. That person saw exactly what I was trying to do/be (essentially who and what I truly was), and acknowledged it.
No one else did, but this one person did. That was my affirmation and pattern marker for the year, and this time it pinged on my radar in the right time and place. I had been noticed, and affirmed, so I can and definitely should keep building on that.
Old habits die hard.
Later, while discussing business with someone I was working with, I was encouraged once again that I needed to “sound more professional”. And I listened. I thought “No one is going to hire asemi-experienced freelancer if he doesn’t talk the talk, right?”. So I re-wrote my website.
About a week later I was talking to another entrepreneur associate on the phone about a book he was researching, and towards the end of the conversation he commented “you know, you come across very differently on the phone than your website made you sound, you seem much more genuine to me.”
Cue me smacking myself on the forehead because I knew I’d done it again. I explained why that was the case, and promptly went and fixed my website after the call.
And that was how I learned the lesson, finally.
And now if people tell me I need to “sound more professional”, I can point them to several examples of why “more professional” is not my voice, and that my voice is what sets me apart. After all, I’m me, not Lacey Inc.
So when someone gives you feedback, however infrequent, if it feels like it addresses your goals and values, and affirms the positive thing you’re trying to do, take a screenshot, or print the email, collect them somewhere, and use it to refer back to when you’re doubting yourself. In time, you’ll see that people believe in you.
This article was originally published elsewhere on Jan 19, 2016 and has been updated.