Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Everyone has that one piece of critical feedback that annoyingly seems to follow them everywhere. And rather inconveniently, the behaviors behind it typically take years of work to address. I thought I had put mine mostly behind me, but I recently discovered just how much work I still have left to do.
From the earliest days of my career as an organizational psychologist, I’ve been told that I can come across as a bit impersonal in work settings.
The first person who gave me this piece of constructive criticism was my very first boss. Incensed at the mere suggestion that it could be true, I decided he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Obviously, my outer behavior wholly reflected my inner motivations to be exceedingly warm, courageously vulnerable, and might I even say, desperately charming!
But over time, as other people started to tell me the exact same thing, this conviction began to fade.
I realized that I had two choices: I could continue to dismiss what I was hearing, or I could accept that the way I was coming across in professional settings was not, in fact, the way I thought I was coming across. It seemed wise to choose the latter.
Desperate for answers, I approached a few trusted coworkers I knew would tell me the truth. And though it was difficult, they helped me see what I couldn’t. Apparently, as an extreme data geek, my tendency to lead with —and sometimes hide behind — scientific research made it difficult to connect with me.
Though I’ve always found the words “studies show . . .” to be the two most charming, persuasive, and personal words in the English language, others evidently didn’t share that belief. Add in my perfectionism and introverted nature, and I began to understand why people weren’t seeing the human side of me at work. It was there, but I sure wasn’t showing it.
Armed with these insights, I had another major decision to make. If I wanted to reach my goals as a writer, speaker, and business owner, did I need to change the way I was showing up (gasp!)? I examined the most successful and well-regarded leaders in my field, and to a person, they are masters of personal connection, be it on the page, on the stage, or online.
I realized that if I didn’t start to tear down the walls I’d built up around me, I’d never be able to make the contribution I wanted to make. So, over the last decade, I’ve worked hard to reveal my inner Brené Brown — to show the imperfect, vulnerable human hiding behind “Tasha the Author” and “Tasha the Researcher.”
(The simple fact that I’ve devoted the last three years to studying the topic of self-awareness has only reinforced the urgent importance of addressing this limitation).
And though I’ll never fully understand why it’s so difficult for me to just be me, I am proud of the progress I’ve made.
Flash forward to a podcast interview I did this week. A few minutes into the conversation, the host stopped me. “I feel like you’re giving me answers as ‘Tasha the Author,’” he said, “Why don’t you just try to be…Tasha? People can’t connect with your work until they connect with you!”
I let out a knowing sigh. “Guilty as charged,” I admitted, deciding it was as good of an opportunity as any to share my personal struggle of being too impersonal.
The process of gaining insight into who we are and how we come across —and changing the behaviors that aren’t serving us — is indeed a lifelong one. It can be frustrating, difficult, and messy. We can hit obstacles or setbacks and feel daunted by the work it takes. And as I was recently reminded, just when we think we’ve finally put something behind us, we might discover that we still have a way to go.
But the fact that we are never truly “finished” becoming self-aware is also what makes the journey so exciting. No matter how much insight we’ve achieved, there is always more to be gained. As author Marianne Williamson once said, “It takes courage . . . to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose . . . the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.”
We can choose to be content with this dull pain, or we can take charge: courageously seek the truth on our own terms, make sense of it, and work on what we need to work on. We can become braver but wiser.
And even when we learn that we’re not quite where we want to be, we have a renewed motivation to strive, to improve, and to reach our most important goals.
Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist and the author of Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life.