Why Being Yourself Matters: How I Learned to Remove the Mask
Throughout my career, there have been times when I have strongly felt my gender, so much so that it burned. I have been told to "smile more" in meetings. I have been called "aggressive." I have been told I can't do this job because I have a family at home. I felt like I had to hide my motherhood so that it wouldn't be used against me. When I was breastfeeding my son and working, I pumped in bathrooms, on Amtrak, in offices, in my car, feeling proud to support my son, yet distraught with having to hide being a mother. I didn't want to talk publicly about how hard it was to be a working mom. I didn't talk about any of my struggles; I processed everything solo.
I put on a mask to protect myself. In some ways, I don't even fully recognize myself when I look back now. It made me reticent to speak up even when I felt there were important things to say. It made me analyze behavior in meetings, whether my posture or how I presented ideas. It made me think that asking for insights or help with a project was a sign of weakness.
I asked for an executive coach because I wanted to be a better leader and was feeling less like myself. The wall around me protected me, but it removed me from others and I started to lose my self confidence. Only after working with my executive coach did I learn that being my authentic self was the best way to lead, that processing things with other people makes you stronger.
Being your authentic self means being true to yourself while being aware of how you affect others.
Being your authentic self does not mean requiring everyone to accept you exactly as you are. Being your authentic self means being true to yourself while being aware of how you affect others. For me, that means sharing what it's like to be a working mom, embracing who I am as a woman, being vulnerable and therefore strong. I knew that I had succeeded in removing the mask when one of my trusted colleagues said, "I don't know what has changed about you, but you have become so much more relatable and we feel we know the real you."
I am where I am today because many mentors, both men and women, have helped me. Now I try to help others to be self-aware and aware of others, to feel comfortable with who they are, to believe that having it all is possible, if not always pretty. Today, I am open about how it is challenging to be a dual-career couple with a family. That’s something I never used to say at work. I want people to know that it's hard, but better when you have a community of people supporting you.
So I'm not perfect. I'm still working on all of this. When situations such as the “smile more” comment have come up now, I have chosen to respond to the best of my ability. To help women everywhere, you have to use your own voice. I like to say, be yourself boldly. The world needs you.
Be yourself boldly. The world needs you.
This piece was first published in the Wharton Journal in honor of the Wharton Women's Summit 2016. Special thanks to June Wu for being the muse.
This piece was published in the Huffington Post in March 2017 under the title "Learn How to Stop Hiding and Be Your Authentic Self".