At the risk of embarrassing myself terribly, I decided to tell you all a little bit of my “swan” story. Hopefully a little insight into my path will inspire you a bit on yours….
You see, when most people meet me now they are surprised when I tell them things like:
- I used to weigh 185 pounds
- I wore the same “outfit” of cargo pants and t-shirts for almost 2 years (because if Albert Einstein owned all the same clothes, then it must mean you’re smart to do the same?)
- I had a hard time getting a boyfriend
- In school I was teased so mercilessly that the faculty made an exception so I could eat in the faculty lounge
- Unlike most people I don’t have “friends” from growing up, or even college. Somehow I wasn’t really likeable enough to maintain anything more than acquaintances.
But don’t feel sorry for me – pretty much everything in the above list was my fault. I wasn’t unattractive, but I made no effort in my appearance (and in fact I used to say things like “it doesn’t matter since people should judge me for what is on the inside, not what I look like.”). But mostly, I was kind of a bitch. After growing up as such a misfit and outcast, I clung to the fact that I was smart. This was how I defined myself, and I took pride in the circumstances where I might have known more than someone else. I was not the type of person you wanted to be around. My deep-rooted insecurity drove everyone away (and if you were one of those people, please know that I am sorry).
However, I like to think that things are different now, and I have made the transition from this overweight, less attractive girl, to a mature and pretty woman. I am proud of the way I have evolved – I have self-confidence and I am good friend to the people in life.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, because I see so many of my obstacles and the milestones of my journey in the paths of others. So my hope is that for those of you who have emailed me about your career, management or leadership advice might also find some inspiration on the personal progress I have made as a person.
I could probably write 20 posts on this topic, but I figure I will start with a high level summary of some of my major changes and realizations over my metamorphosis the last 8 years or so.
First impressions (well, all impressions) matter.
As you can guess from my list above, I truly believed that my looks shouldn’t matter. I can’t really remember if I truly believed it, or just wanted to believe it, since I had so much trouble attracting the attention of others. I would glare enviously at the pretty girls; the ones that were all pulled together that caught the attention and eyes of everyone in the room.
After leaving home I allowed myself to gain so much weight eating sugar cereal , m&ms, and hot dogs – I don’t think I even realized it until I went to the doctor and was told I was obese and that the extra weight was causing health issues. It was only then that I had a wake up call and actually started making an effort to get in shape. I ended up having surgery because I had developed sleep apnea in part because my tonsils had become infected and swollen. Having an adult tonsillectomy is very painful, and I couldn’t eat solid food for nearly 3 weeks. After that operation, I lost quite a bit of weight and when I got back to work several people told me how great I looked (and that was very motivating).
I started caring more about my appearance, dieting and working out. And as I lost weight, I started to get more into sports and fashion. When I went to work I no longer resorted to cargo pants and t-shirts, but upgraded to jeans, tops, and sometimes even a skirt or dress. I developed a love for high heels, handbags, and a few years later started wearing makeup. As my style evolved so did my style at home. I upgraded from the mattress on the floor and futon in the living room, to a bed frame and real couch. I painted my walls to be non-white and hung some pictures – what once looked like a bachelor apartment (with a computer that cost more than all my furniture put together) started to look like a real home. And all of these changes made me happier. I walked with more confidence in my new wardrobe. I enjoyed being in my living room and lying on a bed with 600-thread count sheets.
Why does this matter? Why should you care what you look like, and what your apartment looks like? Well besides making myself a lot happier I also learned that the person I project affected the people around me – especially their initial judgments of who I am and what I stand for. Unfortunately, the world is not a utopia and people will judge you – so if you know that, then why not have the greatest chance for success of making connections by making sure you look appealing, pulled together – like someone they would want to know. And if you are single, as I was, having a welcoming space is certainly a plus when dating and getting to know someone – it is a reflection of you so make it a good one.
Think positively and be positive.
Try to see the glass half full – in people and in situations. I know I have written about being positive at work before, but a lot of those same lessons hold true in life. People like to surround themselves with people that make them happy. Think about the people you like spending time with? How do they make you feel? Do they give you compliments, or help you with things? Most likely they don’t complain a lot, or put you down – they make you feel good and like a good drug or some candy it makes you want more. Obviously there is a lot more to it than just listening, paying compliments or helping someone – but a big step towards being someone people like to be around is learning to be happy. And not fake happy, but genuinely happy. For me, getting to where I am happy most of the time took years.
I still have to work at being positive. But since I made this change, I have noticed that it is easier to make and keep friends, and I can have as full of social calendar as I desire (and trust me, previously I would call every number in my contact book hoping I could convince someone to hang out with me on a Friday night). It isn’t easy for me, I am naturally very cynical, but it is something I have made a lot of progress towards. I am still working on smiling more, seeing the best in people, listening more than speaking, and trying to see the best in everything. I will get there eventually and trust me all of the work is well worth the effort.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are, hard work can make all the difference.
While I considered myself smart as a child, I have since encountered so many people that are far more gifted and intelligent that I could ever be. I have been so privileged to work with amazing people and I am constantly amazed by the brilliance that surrounds me. It is true; sometimes I look around and think, “wow, I really have all these people fooled – somehow I managed my way through the door.” Of course, though, it isn’t luck or intelligence that got me where I am today – it was sheer determination combined with many long hours and weekends filled with work.
I believe that you can learn anything that you put your mind to mastering. My mom was a single mother, working as a waitress; so growing up I had to care for my younger sister, and started working as soon as I had a work permit to help with expenses. Early in my life it became clear that the only way out of my situation was to make it happen myself. So at age 14 I created a plan (one that I still haven’t achieved yet – let’s just say I was ambitious), but it has given me goals to work toward and something that I still revisit. But every success I have had, every accomplishment has been the result of hard work + luck + and the help of others. I wouldn’t chalk up much of it to my smarts.
So if you really want something, grab the bull by the horns and make it happen.
In life it is all about relationships.
Keep secrets and never say anything bad about people (it will can and often will get back to them). I used to want to share gossip or stories with people because I wanted to have something to say. I wanted to win someone’s friendship and allegiance by betraying the trust of someone else. Let me just say, what the fuck was I thinking?
Relationships matter more than being right or getting your way. You may not remember moments, projects, or details, but you will always remember people – who they are, what they did for you, and how your memories together. Put a premium on making those interactions good ones. Strive to listen more than you speak, take an active interest in others, and ask a lot of questions. Another great tip a good friend of mine, Nicole, shared with me was to remember 2-3 things that are important to each person and then every time you see them ask them about these interests – they will enjoy talking about them and appreciate you for remembering.
Growing up with a mother as a waitress, you learn to treat everyone you meet with respect – that person is someone’s mother, daughter, father or son – and even if someone doesn’t return the gesture; cut them some slack be the bigger person and as they say “kill them with kindness.” I wish I was better at this myself, I let people ruffle my feathers and get under my skin a bit too easily – but I keep reminding myself to pivot, thing positively and be the person I want to be.
You are beautiful, so embrace it.
My mother believed in allowing us to express ourselves, so back to school shopping was $5 at the goodwill – I could buy whatever I wanted and so frequently this involved anything with faux fur, lace, sequins, or glitter. After being teased mercilessly growing up, when I went to college I went in the other direction – to one point in my 20s where I had 7 pairs of the same cargo pants and t-shirts and wore the same things everyday. The thing is – I didn’t really have style, I had potential, but it was hidden under mousy brown hair and manly clothes.
One day I met a guy named Pete, and he was super fashionable and stylish – and he gave me a make over (and we are still friends and he still teases me about my “old” ways). Between him, and a hairstylist name Shelly, I was able to not just develop a sense of my own style – but I would even say that I was able to transform myself from plain jane to just plain pretty.
Armed with money and some fashion magazines most people can make themselves more attractive – and I am living proof.
Live your life for you.
Each day you are the one that has to live with yourself. Make sure you are proud of your decisions and actions. Learn to love who you are as a person (and if you don’t figure out why and start making changes now). I found once I thought that I was a pretty awesome and a good catch, it was very easy to get a date (and good dates that actually really wanted to be with me, not just get some action).
When it comes to your career, focusing on yourself – your confidence, your charisma, and your impact on others will make you more successful. Inner work and improving who you are as a person will carry over into all aspects of your life. You are thinking about that promotion, or the company you want to start, think about the inner part of yourself too – since any improvements you make there will be carried forward in everything else you accomplish.
Of course there are so many lessons that have helped form who I am today, and I still on that path of self improvement – even now I can tell you 10 different skills, traits, behaviors I am working on improving and evolving. So I am not expert, but I will tell you this – no matter who you are, or what you do – you can be so much better than you are now. And I am on that journey with you