Pushing Past Perceptions
"We work in a hyper-masculine institution. The women who move up have to act like men."
"Don’t ask so many questions, it makes you look indecisive."
"Some people are born leaders. Then, Nika, there’s you."
These statements, word-for-word, have all been uttered to me since I started working.
I spent the first half of my career performing. Except the stage was not in a theater, it was in the office and at staff meetings.
I made resolution after resolution to speak louder, be more authoritative, and care less about how people felt. I tried to conform to workplace standards that seemed to be in direct opposition to who I was.
This eagerness for change came from a place of perceived deficiency. I wanted to be somebody different, without even thinking about whether this new version of me would be authentic and valuable to the work I was called to do.
Instead of questioning the validity of these unsolicited comments, I took them as truth. I collected feedback, observations, and assessments from other people and accepted their words as confirmation of who I was, or wasn’t. Breaking out of the spell of other people’s opinions was only possible through self-reflection.
The Tibetan Buddhist monk, Rinpoche Dzigar Kongtrul said, "self-reflection is the gateway to freedom."
Leading an examined life can help us make choices that express our true selves. Reflection can even decrease anxiety — if we know who we are and are OK with it, we care less about what others think of us and stress less about acting or looking a certain way.
There are many ways to practice reflection, from meditation to personality tests to counseling to being in solitude. An easy way to start a reflective practice for the new year is to write out your answers to these questions:
What do I frequently say that I "have to" do or "should be" doing? Are these things bringing value to my life? How?
How do I measure my worth? What are the limitations I place on myself?
What is the one value that I want to focus on this year? What behaviors will signal to myself and others that this value is important to me?
Whether we want to strengthen or alter aspects of ourselves, reflection can help us gain — and even transform — perspective. Growing from experience means first comprehending it. We can follow the path where we find value rather than following the crumbs of other people’s opinions. By viewing ourselves as we are now, we can have a more accurate launching point from which to lead a life of our own design.
Now, I am incredibly fortunate to have a career that aligns with the qualities that I value. But I wasted so much effort trying to conform to invented standards. It took time to fully embrace the idea that I could lead from a place of natural strength rather than masquerading as someone else. Self-reflection took my story out of other people’s hands and back into my own.