We all go through different phases of maturation. How we grow and evolve shapes how we view the world and how we function within it. And the things we discover about ourselves along the way help us work, collaborate, and lead better.
In my 30s, I would preach the good word, “Life begins at 30.” I truly believed it (and still do). By then, we’ve shed the drama of our 20s, we’re more centered and aware of who we are, and have some sense of who we want to be. We move out of the murky forest characterized by our 20s and into the beginning of a path that we choose (at least that’s the hope).
If you’re doing it right, by the time you hit 40 (and sooner if you’re lucky or your parents raised you without a speck of insecurity), you care less about what other people think and you are more focused, deliberate, and thoughtful about your decisions. One phrase that I hear often describes this — the idea that we suddenly embrace ourselves or become comfortable in our skin.
But what does it mean to be ‘comfortable in your skin’? And how does it really change or enhance who you are in business and who you are in your world?
You stop being so hard on yourself. You just stop: stop worrying about being “less than” or “not enough.” You let go of that competitive voice that says, “This person is so much better than me,” which is followed by a threatening panic. You start to realize that we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves, we should be celebrating ourselves: what we have to offer, what we bring to the table, and what makes us unique. You see and embrace your strengths and your weaknesses. When I finally owned what I’m good at and what I’m not good at, I realized that other people lift me up and I can lift other people up. And you can be better: a better colleague, parent, and partner. When we each use our gifts and allow others to use theirs, real team work and collaboration happens because everyone brings something to the table.
You’re not afraid of the hard stuff, like confrontation and criticism. You learn that the uncomfortable moments are often the ones that bring the most growth and some of the best solutions. We spend so much time tip-toeing around each other, being afraid to offend or be offended, that we miss opportunities to learn, evolve and fix things. You start embracing confrontation: having real conversations about differing opinions or ideas. Confrontation doesn’t mean conflict, it’s simply the coming together of two distinct ideas and coming out on the other side with something better. And when you get criticism, you use it productively. Rather than feeling bad or getting mad when I get negative feedback, I take it for what it’s worth. That feedback can help me be better and grow. I stopped reacting with insecurity, and started seeing the opportunity.
You trust yourself. When you’re comfortable in your skin, you start to settle into what you can do, what you should do, and what you want to do. All of a sudden, you’re fearless. You can take risks, assess situations, and confidently choose the more difficult — but potentially more rewarding — path. You have the confidence to commit to ideas and dreams, and you do so without hesitancy. Time is precious, so when you want something, go for it. And when things change, or you get new information, you realize that it’s okay to move on or switch directions, and to do so without shame. You stop being afraid of failure, and start being excited about conquering the rocky roads and hurdles.
You’re you. You stop worrying about what other people think of you. I read a great quote once that said, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” At an early age, we’re taught to be afraid of being different. We’re encouraged to look like, act like, and be like the kids around us. Forget all that — just be different. Every day, I see people embrace differences by speaking up and speaking out on behalf of themselves and their values, and they soar. If you worry whether your clothes, your body, and your ideas are acceptable to others, you stop being your real self. Truly, when you let go of what others think, you free yourself up to be you. And when you put your best, authentic foot forward, you excel.
For all the good I see within people, I still see them get hung up on their imperfections. But it’s these imperfections that make them perfect, and perfectly who they are: unique, interesting, flawed, textured, and fascinating. What we celebrate shouldn’t be the biggest, brightest, or prettiest things, it should be the stuff in the middle — how we think, work, communicate, and connect. These are things we all possess and until we explore them and embrace them, we’re short-changing ourselves and everyone in our lives — professionally and personally.
When you fully embrace all that being in our skin means and hold yourself to it, your life is better. You naturally become more patient because you’re not hustling, or trying to be things you’re not, or worried about catching up with other people. You’re just you. And when you’re patient with yourself, you’re more patient with others.
In 2014, let’s really embrace what it means to be comfortable in our skin. Let’s tackle each day with our gifts, our flaws, our strengths, and our weaknesses. It stands to reason that life will be so much more interesting and more fun when we do.