This past October I had the pleasure of attending the Forbes 30 Under 30 conference, where I was fortunate to hear lots of talented and creative people talk about their experiences in life, business and technology. One that really stuck with me was a panel discussion that included Antoni Porowski, more specifically a recounting of his preparation for his audition for Queer Eye, that, I felt, perfectly encapsulated the struggle people (myself included) go through when transitioning to a position of leadership/influence.
First, a quick recap of Antoni’s story. It was a few months ago, so the details are a bit foggy, but this is the jist of it: He gets the chance to audition for the show of his dreams and of course he wants to knock it out of the park. So he thinks: “Maybe I should mix it up a little to give myself an edge?” Maybe bring a higher level of energy? Or more low key? Maybe completely change his hair style? Hair color? What about a different accent? Different outfit? In short – questioning himself. Luckily for Antoni (and us as viewers), his manager sat him down and said “Antoni, just be yourself. That’s what got you here and you need to have faith in that.” And according to Antoni, that’s all it took to ground him for the audition and give him direction for his entire career. That easy, right? Not so much.
As we all know, no matter how effortless some of us make it look, ‘just being yourself’ takes a great deal of strength and confidence.
As such, a lot of us struggle to maintain our authentic selves when growing from worker bee to queen bee of the team/group/company. I know I have witnessed it, and have struggled through it in my time as an Art Director/ACD, where my role was one part visual creative, one part copywriter, one part manager. About 60/40, manager/worker. It was always tough to strike the right balance between guiding my team members effectively and just taking on tasks to do myself because I thought that was easier (spoiler alert: it’s not!). This resulted in me being overworked, stressed out, and trying a bunch of different managerial tactics that were what I thought good leadership looked like. Ultimately this energy and off-brand behavior filtered down to my team, with negative affect. After a particularly trying day, I was so fried and knew something had to change.
I sought the guidance of a mentor, who much like Antoni’s manager, sat me down, told me to chill out, be myself and proceeded to inform me of the nuances of my personality that I could double down on to bring my unique voice to leading my team.
After hearing this from somebody I trusted, it really resonated with me and has been my compass moving forward in my career. Sounds familiar right?
So while we all can’t be NYT best-selling authors/iconic public figures, all of us can certainly relate to Antoni’s growing pains and conflicts. Remember that you are not alone in these feelings and struggles, and they are perfectly common. We all go through them. And that even if you don’t have a mentor in your field, the important thing is to lean on people that you know well and trust. The goal here is to realize YOUR voice/perspective/style and how that translates to a leadership role.
Let your freak flag fly.
After all, amazing creativity comes from our individual weirdnesses. Embrace yours and grow forth.