I want to encourage you to embrace your professional diversity.
We live in a world where we hyphenate ourselves when our cultural background includes many influences. We are encouraged to embrace our cultural diversity, understanding that the mix of backgrounds makes us richer, fuller human beings. But we don’t do the same when it comes to our professional diversity.
Let me tell you a story.
I have always loved the cultural celebration of weddings. I love the blending of families and cultures that come together to create something new. I love how the couple has to decide which cultures to keep, and which ones to let go of. I love knowing that no matter what they decide, they are embracing all of the cultural influences that have conspired to bring them together.
Why are we not encouraged to embrace our professional diversity in the same way?
Let me tell you a story.
I studied creative writing in college. I also work in technology as a UX Designer. I also own a software development company where I manage teams of designers, coders, and product developers. I’ve also co-founded a startup and hosted a Twitter chat about diversity in technology.
All of these things may seem so different, but they have actually taught me to embrace my professional diversity. When I take the stage at a tech conference, I am leveraging my years as a poet and how that experience prepared me to engage with an audience. When I build software, I am thinking about it through the lens of the poet, searching for the story first.
Like cultural diversity, your professional diversity is nuanced.
It is hyphenated and it allows you to bring a different (and new) perspective to your work.
We can do the same with our professional diversity. All of the different paths you’ve taken have value. Everything you studied gives you an opportunity to create more meaning in your work. Cultural diversity is often seen as valuable because it brings together of many cultural influences to make an experience and/or person richer. It is meshing together, a gathering of the best of each to make us better, more unique, more whole.
It is 2019. Most of us will not have the same job as our parents did. We will be hyphen-creatives, bringing our work from one discipline into the other and leveraging all that we have to offer. There will be people who tell you to pick one. This might work for you, but remember that almost no one has one job even if they have one specialty.
In 2019, the doctor is also a blogger. The blogger is also a photographer. The photographer might become a web designer just to get her website up and running. We are not chasing jobs. We are running towards one impact, and using every and any tool we can to get there.
Our work has to be multidisciplinary creativity. This is the future of creative work.
Embrace your professional diversity in the same way you would embrace your cultural diversity.
Remember the work that allows you to have your one and only impact.
Your Future Self
I recently participated in a twitter chat for young women and girls. Within a few minutes of jumping in, I got this question:
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young women today?
I immediately responded with this:
As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of self-doubt. As a woman working in tech, I’ve also had my share of doubts. The thing is, we all do. But the truth is, self-doubt kills. It kills dreams, ambitious and great ideas.
How do we work through it?
n US Startups, less than 2% of funding goes to women-led companies. Many of us are struggling with how to be who we are, raise families, run our businesses and still find funding for the work we do. All of this can lead to extreme self-doubt. I know this story all too well. In January of 2017, I closed the doors on my startup and refocused my energy towards my software development company.
I want to share a few strategies that have helped me along the way.
I do believe there is something you can do about it.
1. Use it as an ally
What are you doubting? Are you wondering if you’re smart enough, vocal enough, CEO enough?
Figure out exactly what you doubt about yourself, and turn it into something you can use as an ally. Ask your doubt to have your back.
What does this look like?: When I performed as a poet, I was often terrified to share my whole story with the audience. Would I be judged? Would I be perceived as weak? Would people want to pay their hard earned money to hear me share my really difficult experiences? The doubt didn’t go away, but my relationship to it did. I started looking to my experiences as a strength instead of a negative.
2. Be jealous with a purpose
Jealousy is a big part of self-doubt. We have to think about the fact that there’s someone else out who’s crushing it or someone who got the promotion that you didn’t get. It sucks! Yes, but what are you going to do about i. Hate them? Fester? Beat yourself up about what you are lacking? You could, and then you’d waste a lot more time and be even less likely to achieve that goal you were jealous of in the first place.
Be jealous with a purpose.
When I was growing up, my sister and I would fight over clothes. One day, we went at it over this really cool yellow shirt. Don’t ask me what brand it was or why we were fighting about it, but I do know that my mother had had enough. An hour or so into our yellow shirt fiasco, my mother sent us to our room, shut the door, and said we couldn’t come out until we had resolved the issue. What the hell was this? My sister and I looked at each other and started laughing. Here we were, middle school girls fighting over some yellow shirt. And, now the shirt was ripped and neither of us could wear it.
After we agreed to makeup, my mother sat us down and gave us these tips
- If you’re going to be jealous, use it to get where you want to go.
- There will always be someone who dresses better, looks prettier or has a better body. If you spend your life comparing yourself, you’ll be miserable.
- But, if someone has something (a skill, a strength) you seem jealous of, only put your energy into being jealous if you can use it to learn from them.
- So, next time you see a CEO killing it much better than you are, take a minute to feel horrible and then learn from them. Read the blogs they write, strike up a conversation at the next startup mixer or just email them and strike up a conversation.
- Learn how they became successful. Want to be more confident? Seek someone out who you feel is confident, use the jealousy to learn from them and that will make it worth your time.
- If you don’t use your jealousy to learn from others, you’ll end up using all this energy to feel shitty about yourself. And, that takes away from the time you already don’t have.
3. Realize that your gifts do not belong to you
Your gifts are not yours to hold back.
That might sound counter-intuitive, but I’ve learned this lesson and want to share it with as many people as I can.
I figured this out in my early twenties. I was working as a professional poet and writing teacher and I was scared to publish my work in anthologies and online publications. I loved giving readings, but I did not know if I could put myself out there even more and publish.
Then I realized that even though this was my work and my words, I was being used to tell a story. I started seeing myself as a “vessel” and understanding that my work in the world was bigger than me and was not really about me. This had a profound shift in my thinking and allowed me to get out there and out of my own way. I still struggle with it, but knowing that I had a higher purpose pushed me to submit my work each and every time.
Worried what people will think of your not so perfect blog post?
Want to publish that book but feeling self-doubt creep in?
Asking myself these questions always helps me put doubt in the rear view:
- Why are you doing your work in the world?
- Are you trying to change the way people do something for the better?
- Do you want to help people get healthy?
- Do you believe there’s a better and smarter way to do something?
- Well, guess what? If you hold back that blog post, comment, book or tweet that supports your mission, you’ll be holding back your mission. And, your talents are meant to be shared so we all learn and grow.
Your life’s work is not yours to hold back.
It may have your name attached or your particular story, but you are out there telling a story for all of us, and we all want to learn from it. Are you writing about lessons learned as an entrepreneur? This is not your story. This is one of many stories in the human tapestry of entrepreneurship. If you don’t share it with the rest of us, we won’t have that information or experience to make better choices in the future.
When you struggle with self-doubt, what helps you move on and get things done?