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Beware ‘The Bewitched Fallacy’: Developing A Strong Professional Persona Does Not Mean Becoming Someone Else

29 May

Ever heard of the TV show, Bewitched? If you’re 35 or younger and are not an avid fan of old-school television shows from decades past, chances are good that you have no clue what I’m talking about. Bewitched was a popular sitcom in the 1960s and 70s that had as its main character a witch named Samantha who had the power to transform herself and other people (most particularly her husband, a mortal) into someone else with just a wrinkle of her nose. When a situation wasn’t going well for Samantha or her husband, Darrin, she swooped in (no broomstick needed), wrinkled her nose a bit and, poof, everything, including her husband’s entire identity was transformed. Out with the old, in with the new.

To tell you more about the show would dilute its relevance here, so I’ll cut to the chase: While you do need to cultivate (and continually hone) a strong Professional Identity or Brand to maximize your career success and satisfaction, to achieve this goal does not require you to let go of who you are, to toss your core self and values to the wayside and assume the identity of someone else. Leave that type of complete transformation to the fictitious witch on Bewitched.

The Internet is chockfull of great advice on how to become the consummate professional: 

Learn to read non-verbal cues.

Be an active, fully engaged listener.

Learn how to ‘brag’ in a way that garners respect, not looks of disdain.

Speak with confidence.

Learn to handle conflict with grace and empathy, not anger.

Be authentic in your relationships.

Maintain clear personal/professional boundaries at work.

Much of the advice from leadership development experts (myself included) that you find in articles on The Huffington Post, The Muse, Forbes and many other high-quality online publications is important, and I hope you find it useful.

At the same time, given the morass of advice that’s out there, I also hope you are not getting the impression that cultivating a strong professional persona, one that sets you on a course to career success in a challenging economic climate, means bidding farewell to your former self, the identity that makes you, YOU. Please don’t fall victim to the ‘The Bewitched Fallacy’, namely, the notion that your charge is to erase everything, start from a blank slate and cultivate a whole new person with a set of skills, personality traits, behaviors, qualities, etc. that mirror a ready-made, generally accepted template for the ideal professional.

On the contrary, the advice is meant to help you become your best you. The goal is for you to refine and integrate any advice you receive in a way that is right for you, that positions you to be true to your core values, to capitalize on your best unique traits, qualities and inherent skills, and to improve upon those qualities that don’t serve you well. You need to do this in your own way, according to your own timeline and with the type and level of support and guidance that specifically works for you. Strong communication, listening, interpersonal, stress management, conflict negotiation and many other skills are essential, but it is how you cultivate, combine, put into practice and continually hone these and other skills, behaviors, attitudes and relationships in a professional context that constitute your unique professional brand and distinguishes you from others.

Here are some suggestions to help you become your BEST YOU throughout your career:

  1. Gain clarity about and stay true to your core professional values. Your professional values are what gives you a sense of meaning and drives your professional decisions, behaviors, perspectives and relationships. Your values reflect what is most important to you and fuel your desire to achieve your goals. They enable you to work in service of how you want to be perceived and experienced by others. They help you develop and maintain an accurate sense of yourself. Staying true to your values will enable you to take the skills and knowledge you gain, the experiences you have, the guidance you receive, and the qualities of other people who you admire most, and shape and make them an intrinsic part of you.
  1. Learn to relish and proudly let others know that you will always be a ‘work in progress’ (just like they will always be, regardless of their seniority and accomplishments). Developing and capitalizing on your Professional Persona has no end-point and that’s a good thing. We are so fortunate to be a species that has a never-ending capacity to grow and adapt and become an even greater version of ourselves. It is up to you to recognize how lucky you are in this regard and take advantage of it.
  1. Don’t aspire to become [insert the name of the business leader you admire most]. While it is certainly helpful to gain insights and learn about the experiences, qualities, skills, leadership style and other facets of the business leaders you so admire, be careful that you don’t lose your sense of self and set your sights on becoming their clone. They are not the embodiment of success that you and all others should aspire to become. They are simply neat people who have developed a strong professional brand that serves them well in their career. Your charge is to take the best of what you learn from speaking with, observing and reading about others and figure out how to adapt and apply it in a way that suits and furthers your unique values, qualities, skills, etc.
  1. Welcome support and guidance from others from a position of strength, not weakness. So many of us are taught from a young age that we need to figure it all out on our own. We have this entirely misguided sense that if we need support and/or guidance from others, it must mean that we have failed, that we are inadequate, that we must turn our entire sense of self-worth and professional development over to someone else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To be your best professional self, you need support, and you also need advice that you can tailor to fit your unique identity.
  1. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Feeling stuck, overwhelmed, confused, discouraged, insecure, and the like is all part and parcel of professional (and personal) growth. Don’t compound these already negative, uncomfortable feelings by getting angry with yourself for having them. Do your best to be extra patient and kind to yourself when you’re struggling and don’t hesitate to reach out to others for support as well.

What other advice would you add to this list?

I wish you all of the best.

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