Right of Passage
In my former life I was a short-lived Automotive Designer turned Industrial Designer. My place of employment at the time turned out to be the most trying and defining experience of my professional life. Those dog days helped my accept and get comfortable with who I am professionally today. Luckily, I didn’t do this alone, I had the help of a fantastic mentor.
This experience really became a measuring stick of excellence in work ethic, management, and work culture. I was the first hire of a design group that would later be made up of an international dream team of researchers, designers, and managers. Every other team member cast a big shadow and for the first time in my life, I felt like the youngest sibling of a family. Every other team member was senior to me and each had a swagger to them that no matter how hard I tried, I could not match. I needed their acceptance, their affirmation to define how good I was at my job.
Learning to Accept
My mentor called me over and asked me if I had time to grab a quick coffee with him. As we headed over to the nearby McDonald’s for the ritual Small McCafe Mocha with 1 pump of syrup, I thought: “Uh oh, what did I do wrong now?”
By now we had been through this routine for a couple years, where he would sit me down and ask me to reflect on the feedback he would provide. I was equally disappointed at myself and amazed at how he would constantly find a new area of improvement to “pick at.”
This talk was different. I will never forget this conversation. Of course, there were new frontiers for me to improve upon but the focus of this talk was quite the opposite and frankly its the part that stuck. “ By now you should know who you are, and who you aren’t. It’s ok to accept it for whatever it is — not defined by ‘good’ or ‘bad’.” It felt almost like my mentor had given up on me as he continued: “we need to be focusing on your strengths — play them up!”
The rest of that discussion isn’t really important. Everything was different in my career after that conversation. I had nothing to prove to anyone else but myself. I had the confidence to accept my shortcomings and recognize my strengths, I finally allowed myself to; this really became the root of my self-confidence.
This moment meant something because of all the hard work, failures, successes (acknowledged & unacknowledged ). Confidence, real confidence now made everything possible. I have the confidence to approach challenges as opportunities rather than a hurdle; because I am not afraid to fail. The lack of confidence is something not visible but it can be sensed. Now that I had it, I can discern the difference not only in myself, but also others. Most of all, confidence has to be earned through a right of passage for most if not all.
In conclusion, I understand now where that swagger comes from. It’s the confidence you achieve through your right of passage and when you surface it teaches you a new approach. Learning new skills never stops, just the approach makes it easier to pick things up.