Experiences in the past have indicated something about my personality, and it’s that I may have a more serious demeanor, especially at work. I even had one person that told it to me directly, that I am an intense person to work with sometimes. Having been an outspoken person my whole life, I’ve taken comments like that as a compliment. That sentiment changed slightly in a recent incident. I had a 1:1 teleconference with someone I was trying to make a really strong impression with, and in the teleconference the video capacity was enabled. For the first time, I was watching myself as I spoke, in a way that I thought exuded confidence. I was mentally gasping at the image of myself on screen - I looked SO serious and definitely intense!
Needless to say, there is a bit of a gap that exists between the internal visualization of myself and, when I get the chance to get a glimpse of, the way the world actually perceives me. It’s uncomfortable to face this realization, and quite honestly, a bit unsettling.
Working in Corporate America for half a decade has taught me a thing or two. Number 1, 2, and 3 are as follows: Your image is everything, your image is everything, and your image is everything. Yes, in case I didn’t make it clear, your image is everything. For me, the ideal image consists of the following adjectives: strategic, conscientious, and poised. The challenge, though, is that I am human and made of flesh. So while I can be strategic, conscientious, and poised, I am also passionate and dogged, and I really do care. So at times I have to be dial up certain qualities, in order to balance out the way I carry myself. As a result, I deliberately try to behave more assured, authoritative, and firm. This is reflected in the following ways:
- I am very conscious of something a lot of women fall victim of, something called “Uptalk” – where you raise the end of your sentence with an upward inflection to make it sound more like a question/suggestion, rather than a statement or a demand. (It’s a thing, officially called High Rising Terminal, look it up!) I do everything in my power to avoid it.
- I pay attention to body language. Twirling the hair, sitting in the back of the room, crossing my arms, or sitting in a “minimizing” posture (including slouching, looking down, folding your arms) all indicate the lack of confidence. I do the opposite – I sit in the front, sit back and try to relax, make direct eye contact, and speak up toward the front of the room.
- I keep small talks to the minimum. I have a select group of people that I would consider friends at work, and outside of this circle, I don’t engage in small talks too often. I prioritize being professional and effective over being someone’s pal to chat about the weekend with.
- When the circumstances are so that I have to pick between making progress and keeping the peace or that “good feeling” environment, I usually default to the former. There are good ways, tactful ways, to create a win-win situation and achieve both, it’s true. But when deadlines are real and decisions need to be made, something’s gotta give. For me, making progress usually wins out.
So maybe, just maybe, in the process of upholding that image as a professional woman, I lost touch with the core of my being – the warm, open, caring, and easy-going side of me.
Or maybe, just maybe, in the corporate world, room for an individual to exhibit these characteristics is just limited.
Or maybe, just maybe, could it be because I am a woman, therefore the trade-off exists?
I would definitely be re-visiting this topic soon. What are your thoughts so far?
All photography by Natalie Alvarado (Stylenfuse)