Be seen, even if you don’t feel worthy

June 20, 2023

The topic for this month’s delayed T-SQL Tuesday is career advice. Specifically, asking what the best we’ve received is.

I have three kids, aged 25, 23, and 15. So I’d like to say I’ve spent a bunch of time thinking about this. I also mentor various people, so again I’d like to say I’ve spent a bunch of time thinking about this. And I have. Except that when asked the general question about the best career advice I’ve received – I don’t have the answer right in front of me. And please don’t ask me to tell where I first heard the things I’m about to say. They’re things that have formulated from a lot of conversations over time.

They say that your ideal job is the intersection of the things you’re good at, the things you enjoy doing, and the things someone will pay you for. This came up in a recent conversation I was having with Jo Marshall (@culturisebyjo) from Culturise recently. She’s involved in a program called “What The Future” in the youth employment space, which is about translating lived experiences into work opportunity. We talked about the fact that an expert musician isn’t necessarily an ideal teacher, because they probably had everything come to them naturally. She asked me if I could teach her to play guitar – she’s heard me play and obviously realises I’m not an expert musician at all – and I explained that I could get her started on the things that I found helped me when I started. There are plenty of things that I can’t teach her, because they’re beyond me too. But I can probably get her to ‘camp-fire guitarist’ level.

The interesting thing about comparing ‘lived experience’ with ‘expertise’ (making sure to put quote marks around ‘expertise’, because everyone has different opinions about expertise) is to recognise that you don’t need to be an ‘expert’ to have a usable skill. Your unique perspective, your unique experiences, your individuality may be exactly what someone needs to make a difference in their own life. So don’t devalue yourself just because someone else is better. Your mental health will thank you too.

When I think about my own career, and some of the people that I’ve helped along the way, a thing I’ve learned is to be seen, despite your fears and insecurities (which can be helped if you grasp that last point about not devaluing yourself).

This advice is often given about presenting, but actually goes a lot further. When you get on stage to give a presentation, even if that stage is just the front of a meeting room, or the chair you’re sitting in when asked a question, your nerves jump up and cause you stress. This is just what happens. It happens to all of us. Over time, we get used to the feeling, so that the stress is less. We might even start to enjoy the feeling. But there’s always going to be a bit of adrenaline kicking in. Probably.

These feelings are something that I talk about a lot with mentees. We talk about every kind of fear that presents itself when you start presenting. I’ll let you list your own. But they occur before you’ve even thought about the idea of presenting, and they continue through the preparation time, to the day of the presentation, and continue on afterwards as we wonder what people think. They range from things that are small and quite likely to happen, to things that are a huge deal but very unlikely. We talk about what might be the worst that could happen in each situation, to try to nullify the fear.

Almost all of the fears that people list for me relate to the fact that they are going to be incredibly visible there on stage. They are going to be the centre of attention, whether it’s three people in a meeting room when they’re asked their opinion, or whether it’s ten thousand people when they step onto a larger stage, and every mistake might will be noticed. They feel visible because they are visible. That’s the point of doing what they’re doing. The focus is on them because it’s supposed to be on them. (I tell people not to make presentation slides the focus of their session, because they are supposed be the focus – them, the speaker. Otherwise they don’t need to turn up.)

But getting seen is the career advice. People get into presenting and find their profile grows, their influence expands, and their career takes off. They might not change jobs, but their expertise gets recognised. They may not be an expert in their own eyes, but their lived experience starts to shine through, and they are seen differently by their colleagues, bosses, clients. The same happens when people write books or articles. We have the expression “they wrote the book on that”, which is about the perception of expertise. The person’s name is out there on a book. And their reputation develops.

Because they’re letting themselves be seen. Their personality is seen. Their great attributes are seen – hopefully kindness, helpfulness, compassion, their love for people rather than technology, their confidence, and more.

An employer, or a potential client wanting to find someone to do some work, finds themselves needing to know who to approach. Who to offer a job to. Sometimes, they get the information through an agency, who is hopefully persuading people that you’re worthwhile, showing off your profile. Along with everyone else on their books. Isn’t it better to have some of your own influence on your profile, so that your potential future boss can assess you for themselves?

So yeah – the career advice that I’ve seen out there… understand your value, and let it shine. Be seen. Get yourself out there.


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