Working from home prompted lots of change. Most notably, we no longer needed to pay much attention to what was happening to the bottom half of our wardrobe.
I only recently discovered a hidden downside from that trend. Getting ready for a recent public, in-person event, I went to put on high heels and found my feet couldn’t fit into my shoes. This surprised me. Why? My weight hadn’t changed, and I am certainly not getting any taller! A podiatrist friend explained how your feet could adjust to the type of shoes you wear, and so over time, my feet had broadened.
Of course, as children, we are used to our feet growing. But as we get older, our shoe size usually remains the same. And on occasions, we may find a shoe style we like so much that we buy multiple pairs or feel sad when our favourite shoes are beyond repair and need throwing away.
All of this is a lovely metaphor for careers. Just like shoes you don’t want to throw away, you can become too comfortable. You can shy away from shifting your style and trying something else, and therefore miss out on an experience that could be pivotal in your career.
You can hold on to a career identity that is no longer serving you. This situation often arises when someone is trying to leap to a different career.
For example, if you are a specialist who is known for their technical expertise, and you want to lead large teams, you’ll need to build your positioning as a leader. If you are a corporate leader and you want to start a small business you may need to get comfortable with an internal shift in how you see your career. Likewise, if you are moving to a role with less responsibility and profile.
We all have an identity that we associate with our career, and that identity at times needs to change.
You can think of your career identity as like shoe shopping. Not all the shoes you try on will feel like a good fit or feel like you. But, over time, you’ll eventually find the right fit and style. It takes time. Keep trying on more shoes, and remember that sometimes the initial discomfort goes away when you wear them for a bit longer.
However, if you are finding the discomfort isn’t going away, ask yourself: Do I need to wear the shoe for longer, or am I trying to wear a shoe that doesn’t fit?
You need to select the shoe that works for you – that aligns with your purpose, values and who you are. Don’t let the market, other people’s expectations or what’s in fashion dictate the style, colour or size you select. If you do, you’ll end up becoming something you don’t want to be – losing your sense of self. Research from Kellogg University shows that when you stop being your authentic self, it causes psychological distress, which can have ongoing emotional and physical ramifications. So, in the words of Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.
Now’s a perfect time to do some work on this. I’d encourage you to set aside time to reflect on your career identity so you can determine what’s working for you or what might need to shift. To help you do that, here are some key questions to answer:
- Which elements of your career identity may need to shift, and in what way to help your career?
- How do you feel about shifting and reshaping those elements?
- What actions will you need to take to do that?
- Does this worry you in any way? Why?
- What can you do to overcome those concerns?
- How will you know your new career identity has landed well?
Understanding your career identity is about understanding how you see yourself, as well as how people see you. It’s a critical part of career success because when there’s a disconnect between the two it impacts how people connect and relate to you, as well as how you feel about yourself.
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.