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Fighting the Forces That Dim Your Magic

Finding a workplace where your unique gifts will be appreciated

West 52nd Street in New York City

The phrase “protect your magic” is spray painted in neon green on West 52nd Street in Manhattan between the gay bar Therapy and Stiles Farmers Market. The inference that we need to protect our magic presupposes that we know what is magical about us—or at least that we once did—and that is a wonderful starting place. However, it also implies that there are forces at work that dim our magical parts, like the mud that was smudged over Rudolph’s bright red nose so that he’d fit in with the other reindeer.

Our experiences at work can have that effect on us.

Early in my career, I was introduced to the “development plan,” a well-meaning tool designed to help employees identify and focus on areas for improvement to facilitate career advancement. There is also the nearly ubiquitous performance review. During this process, employees are given feedback and often ranked relative to their peers.

In the Strategy + Business article “Managing with the Brain in Mind,” Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute David Rock said, “Performance reviews often provoke a threat response. Another common status threat is the custom of offering feedback, a standard practice for both managers and coaches. The mere phrase ‘Can I give you some advice?’ puts people on the defensive.”

The unfortunate consequence of this well-intentioned feedback is that it can cause us to focus more on where we don’t measure up than where we inherently shine.

I have never forgotten a story told by an inspirational senior executive at American Express years ago. He shared that he had been a middle manager at his previous employer. His boss told him that he had advanced as far as he would in his career. (Metaphorically speaking, some mud was smeared on his nose.) Instead of accepting that perspective, he sought a new environment that would appreciate what he had to offer. Because he was able to see beyond his supervisor’s assessment, he climbed higher than he had imagined possible.

Even if you were lucky enough to ever know, it can be hard to remember the ways that you are magical when you are being told the ways that you are not.

You need to find the right company, culture, leader or position where your unique gifts will be appreciated, but if you haven’t found it yet, keep searching. And until you get there, protect your magic.

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