Fashion victim

Like a lot of people who have worked in a large organisation, I am grateful for the freedom I have now that I am out of it. There is a strong pressure to conform with the corporate culture, to dress and behave in a certain way, even to think in a certain way. Getting anything done often means wading through layers of bureaucracy and you feel people care more about getting the boxes ticked than making something happen for the customer. In short, it feels like a you are doing your job in a straitjacket (cunningly disguised as a smart suit) and it gets tighter and tighter the longer you wear it.

When we leave corporate life and seek to start our own business, we naturally look for advice and instructions on how to go about it. Here is where we can make a fatal mistake, discarding one straitjacket only to fashion a completely new one for ourselves, which we put on with enthusiasm.

You see, the problem with life on the Mothership is that we spent most of it pretending to be someone we are not. In a desire to fit in and be accepted, we aped the style required by the culture. The more senior the role, the greater to pressure to conform to the prevalent stereotype, which is typically a hard-nosed, goal-oriented, results-driven extrovert (I realise I am generalising enormously but I bet a lot of you are nodding in agreement).

If, like me, you are a bit of an introvert, someone who likes to consider their words before speaking, think before acting and look at the bigger picture, then you have to fake it. If you are someone who is driven by purpose, holds to your values and see things differently, you have to finesse your way through your career by pretending to be someone else.

That’s why we found it hard. It takes emotional energy to be someone you are not, to wear that mask all day every day, and the longer you do it, the more energy it takes. Eventually, you get to the point where you just can’t hack it anymore and you leave, or you stop pretending, which is the beginning of the end anyway.

But After the Mothership, you are free! You don’t have to pretend anymore, you can be yourself, follow your purpose, live your values! But first of all, we have to make this business thing work, so we follow all the advice on how to be an entrepreneur and run a small business.

And that’s where we make the mistake because all that stuff is written for another stereotype, one who is surprisingly like the one you had to conform to on the Mothership. Extrovert, confident, quick-talking, action-oriented, go-getting … the blood is probably draining from your face already.

So we do what we are told. We go to endless networking events, we hone our glib ‘elevator pitch’ and parrot it at everyone we meet, we ‘work our network’ through a million cups of coffee, we focus on the numbers and ‘drive’ our sales process. And there we go, we’ve made a new, even tighter straitjacket and slipped it on in no time. We even wear the same suit and shiny cufflinks!

This is not the way to be successful. Being someone else never really worked for us and now it works less than ever. It’s draining, it’s depressing and it’s completely counter-productive. It stops people from seeing the real you and that’s who they want to buy.

So, ignore all that entrepreneur nonsense. It’s not meant for people like us. We have a different way of working and a different way of being. We need to find ways to work that suit our personality and style and get us in our flow. Purpose-led. Values-based. Coming from our heart. And as comfortable as an old jumper and a pair of scruffy jeans.

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