Schools don’t teach you how to communicate properly; it comes with experience. Speaking with such honesty and fearlessness on the other hand can require much more courage and effort for some; efforts that are sometimes responded to with respect or rewarded with recognition. Confidence and transparency are huge assets especially if intentions are in the right place. I see people all the time holding their own. I’m talking about the ones who hold meetings, controlling the tone and the pace. Keeners who constantly raise their hands or speak up with their endless ideas, answers, and opinions, beating others to the punch. Public speakers. Natural speakers. Extroverts. Some might call these folks a ‘people-person’. What’s their secret? Is there a secret? Are you born with these traits, or are these traits treated as skills and require practice?
Every now and then, a pinnacle moment happens in one’s career that doesn’t necessarily change one’s trajectory, but changes their state of mind that protects their integrity, self-worth, and their character; at least for me, it did. This too might not guarantee a propelling career, but it could definitely help cultivate a more fulfilling one.
Roughly six years ago, I was given the opportunity to lead a design team; the team I had been with for the past couple of years. The person I’d be replacing would be moving on and I had been chosen to take over for a one-year term. This type of opportunity was a first for me. I had no experience with leading a team. I also never considered myself to be in a lead role at that point of my career — still learning design and heavily invested in the production end of things. After much deliberation, I decided to take the opportunity. Given that it was a one-year term, I had the option of stepping back if for some reason it didn’t work out.
As much confidence as I thought I had, I was still very much apprehensive about this new territory. I spoke as if I was on a first date, slurring my words and getting worse as I tried to patch up broken sentences and gibberish that came out of my mouth. The room temperature rose every time I was put into a corner of the unknown, feeling like I should know the answers to all the casually asked questions. I tip-toed about what I said, how I said things, and I crossed my fingers that my colleagues understood at least half of what I was talking about. Every now and then, I wanted to hide under my desk or disappear because the past week had just been botched with confusion, awkward silences, and blank stares from my team members. It felt as if this reoccurred time and time again. It quickly became obvious that this new role not only had a new set of tasks and responsibilities but I realized I needed certain characteristics in order to survive.
Fast forward one year and I’m glad to say another candidate was chosen for the permanent position. At the very moment my manager broke the news to me, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I exhaled, relieved because I had come to realize that a lead role wasn’t for me; not yet.
A strange thing happened to me that following year. I felt free. I regained my self-confidence. I didn’t care about how I spoke as long as it was understood. I didn’t care about what I said as long as it was honest, respectful, or had added value. No more slurring. No more pretending. No more nerves. I was back to doing what I enjoyed. I was myself again. Looking back, it seems as if I was partially resurrected through this trial period. It was as if I needed to go through that process in order for this mental shift to come to light.
I’ve always considered myself to be an observant person. Combined with this newfound confidence of mine, I was engaged and spoke up in meetings more than ever. I was opinionated, I argued the impractical ideas, and I praised the great ones. I made sure I was heard not because I was focused on my reputation, but because I genuinely cared about our work.
Our department had always been hyper-focused on processes and efficiencies, pushing our efficiency limits to the max while sustaining or improving the quality of our work. Every so often, one team member would speak just as passionately as the other, and then inspire another to be just as vocal. Week after week, I felt my energy blending more and more with theirs. At times, our meetings were much louder than others, but they always produced some kind of progress or development. At the very least, our meetings always introduced or reintroduced challenges we could do something about or should be thinking about. Those who spoke up created a dynamic in the room that was productive. When it came to the work, nothing was ever unsaid. I saw the potential whenever certain personalities were present.
I may not have my dream job. Heck, I might not even be happy at times, but I’m pretty happy with how I present myself. I used to label myself as an introvert for the longest time. I was shy when meeting people, I felt nervous before job interviews, and I really hated having to do presentations. Nowadays, I’m the guy in the elevator who asks, “How’s it going?”. I’m the guy at the grocery store reassuring the person who questions if the chocolate hummus is delicious. I’m the guy who loves and looks forward to job interviews. I’m the guy who reaches out to professionals I’ve never met before to ask for advice or to see if they’re interested in a collaboration. I may not be the greatest speaker when it comes to presentations, but I’m not as uptight about it as I used to be.
I believe when it comes to a workplace, honest conversations should be easier to have especially when it’s solely focused on the work itself. The fear of speaking out could be overcome as long as your words are spoken with respect and good intentions. Even so, there is no guarantee that being an honest and confident individual will give you a better reputation or a better career, but it should make you feel good about yourself. Ultimately, reaching your career dreams and goals requires much more than having these qualities. However, carrying these traits as you bust your butt through your career not only helps you land your ideal job, but it puts you in a better mental state on your journey there.