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Are you living your life (or someone else's) at work?

Woman looking at reflection in window

In life, there will be times when you will look in the mirror and either won’t recognize yourself or like the person you are looking at.

In my case, this has happened for two reasons:

  • To fit into the culture I was working in, I had to be someone other than who I really am.
  • I had become so conscious of losing what I had achieved, I became so risk adverse that I was playing “not to lose” instead of “playing to win.” I refer to it as “when you let your blessing become burdens.”

In the first situation, I was wearing a mask when I went to work so that I could look, talk and act the part. The longer I wore the mask, the more I started realizing I was not taking it off when I got home.

One night, I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize who I was. My breaking point came the next day when I met with the mentor the company had assigned me. He was very senior within the organization. He told me he thought I should start going by “Jim” instead of “James” because he liked it better. I snapped and responded, “If you like it so damn much, why don’t you change your name to Jim.” Needless to say, that was the day my mask came off.

As I told people what happened, I found that almost all of them were also wearing masks. Me being myself allowed them to be themselves. The word “authentic” became part of my personal brand. Once I became a general manager, I focused on people bringing their authentic selves to work as long as they were respectful to others.

I also started freeing up people to work on one project, whether in the company or community, they liked doing. Productivity went up and stress went down. Some, for example, started a high school internship program.

During performance reviews, I stopped asking people only about their goals and started asking them what they liked doing. Note: All jobs will have some things about them you won’t like, but will have to do. In addition, there will be some things you will have to do to fit in, but you don’t have to lose who you are to do so.

A material guy

In the second situation, when my blessings had become burdens, I found the more career success I had, the more my material possessions increased. I was spending more time thinking and worrying about keeping them. They had become my identity and I had become way too materialistic.

It dawned on me when I was participating in a strategy session. The strategy would expand my role into an area that was completely new to me. My boss asked me if I was up to the task. I naturally responded, “Yes, I am.” However, in the back of my mind, I started wondering if I was — and if I wasn’t, I might lose my title and material possessions. I had never thought about failing before. My strengths had always been my adaptability and confidence in my ability to learn. My possessions had become walls, and I couldn’t look past them.

The mirror test is one that you should take at least once a quarter. If you don’t know or don’t like the person you are looking at, you are not being true to you.

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James Dallas is president of James Dallas & Associates and the author of Mastering the Challenges of Leading Change: Inspire the People and Succeed Where Others Fail.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.