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The Intersection of Limber and Rigid

How I overcame self-doubt and use it at work

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I’ve recently considered my limber quality a flaw. I would leave a meeting or get home from work and ask myself, why am I such a go-with-the-flow kind of person? I should have been more discerning when stating my idea during that meeting, or even more importantly, why didn’t I speak up?

After college, I accepted a job offer working closely with my manager, a designer for a well-recognized shoe company. My courage to speak up and share my ideas was the antithesis of what it has become today. Frigid instead of rigid in my poise and assertive mind, I started to believe her when she questioned my creative thinking and decision making. I presented ideas to my boss every day, only to reprimand me in her condescending tone, day after day. No, why would you do it that way, she would ask. After leaving that job, I came out feeling broken, a low sense of self-esteem, and incompetent. In conjunction with those sad and helpless feelings, I also felt determined to combat feelings of hostility in the workplace. I never wanted any young, enthusiastic, and bright-minded woman to feel the same way I had felt.

Following that experience, I noticed that I had allowed myself to mold into a shy and reserved communicator. My courage and desire to share my ideas became more challenging. Every team meeting felt as though I was in a dream where I was speaking, but my voice was on mute. I eventually realized that redefining my identity in the workplace needed to become a goal and a much-needed area of improvement. One that took me well outside of my comfort zone.

In the workplace, I determined that being limber was a quality I had obtained and one that made me weak and less intelligent than my colleagues and counterparts. Being limber meant becoming invisible, following the rules, and following the leader instead of taking the lead.

As I navigate what I’ve observed as being a dynamic work environment, being limber is a quality I’ve identified as one of strength and exceptional emotional intelligence. Someone who is limber, is an observer, a good listener, a creative and intentional thinker. And, it’s not to say that those with more rigidness are any lesser. I had equated my limberness with a negative experience I had with a former boss. In my experience, she was condescending, disrespectful, and lacked the qualities needed to manage an individual. That experience taught me a lot about myself, my relationships with my managers, and the importance of my active participation in the interview process. More importantly, I have learned to accept rejection and failure as an ally to change and not the enemy, and I want every woman to know and own that. 

Sharing mistakes and shortcomings at work are not things that feel natural or comfortable for most people. For myself, the idea of sharing what I could have done better that day or week was a source of anxiety for me. However, as I began doing some self-reflection, I discovered ways to use that anxiety as a tool for growth. Today, sharing my mistakes and what I could have done differently is the most prized tool in my arsenal of personal and professional development. 

The common axiom, “fake it till you make it,” is often a response I’ve heard used by people who’ve achieved success in their respective fields and are asked, how did you overcome that fear of the unknown? I assert that statement should instead be, “become it till you make it.” I like to think about it this way, and I think it will resonate with you. When someone encounters a bear, the advice that often given is to scare the bear away; you must stand tall, expand your chest, get big and put your arms up–like a bear. These actions are said to intimidate the bear, causing it to scare away. You do not need more tools than you already have to execute this action. The idea of confronting a bear does seem very scary, but the reality is, you have all of the tools you need to perform the task, and the same applies to a new project. Do not submit to your self-doubt and make yourself small; instead, be kind to yourself, and your mind will follow.

The next time a new project forces you to enter unknown territory, or better yet, you get the idea to propose a new project, don’t shy away from it. Instead, become the owner of that project (simulate the bear encounter). Stand tall, become the leader and owner of that project you’d like to see, and say yes, I will do this.

Here are some tips for getting out of your head and becoming the confident person you are: 

1) Ask yourself, why am I so afraid to do this? If there are areas of the project that are unfamiliar, do some research and take a page of notes. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much information.

2) Sit up, stand up tall, and recognize you are were considered fro the job for a reason. I also challenged you to more frequently own your ideas, advocate for them, and, more importantly, be proud of them. You did it your way, and that is entirely valid.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask for advice — if a colleague or friend has done the project before, ask them for insight. 

4) Recognize that it’s a learning opportunity and expect that you will not know every aspect of the job. Take notes as you go along and log it. 

5) Approach the task as a way to create documentation and establish a process. You will feel even better once the project is complete knowing that you’ve contributed to the overall job and goal in another way. And, it could lead to further recognition from colleagues or your boss.

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