Last week I was writing some bios for a website I’ve been working on, and I ran across one that struck me as odd. One of the team members had written down Time Management as a key element of his working style and a source of advantage for himself.

And this guys was ALWAYS late. Like, to every meeting. So what was going on?

To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe:

To be able to show yourself at your best, you have to know yourself at your worst.

It got me thinking: If you don’t spend the time to explore your authentic self, how will you be able to project anything other than a caricature?

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When I first started working in advertising, I got some criticism that really irritated me. After a client meeting, my boss told me that I was not “bringing my audience along with me.”  I was part baffled, and part offended, because I had always believed that my presentation and performance abilities were strong enough to carry my audience along to the strategic point that I was trying to make. How could they not see the logic and beauty in what I was saying? So I retreated a little to lick my wounds, and thought about it.

And then a year later, it happened again. I got the same feedback. And as much as I wanted to believe it wasn’t true, I had to face up to the fact that I was definitely doing something wrong.

So I spent some time reviewing things, and working with a mentor, and I slowly realized that in those moments when I thought I was doing great, sometimes I was actually coasting. I was using the force of my personality to push across my ideas, and not listening to the feedback I was getting. I had gone into a ‘broadcast mode,’ shutting down my ability to empathize with my audience, and so I didn’t notice that I was losing some of them — missing the signs they were giving me that they had a problem or barrier, and I needed to stop and check in with them to get us all on the same page again.

And once I thought about it, I knew exactly why this critique bothered me, and made it difficult for me to address — My ego. It was painful for me to accept that one of my biggest strengths, my presentation skills, had a flaw in it.

But the beautiful thing about flaws is that you can learn from them and work on them. And I was coming from a place of strength in presentation-giving overall, so I could bring some resources to bear to help refine that skill. I decided to use my confidence (which helps me project my ideas) to encourage myself to be vulnerable in front of my audience. To open up my eyes and ears, and look for weakness — for people that were not on-board with what I was saying. Those voices and criticisms could help me if I could accept them, instead of bulldozing over them. Things got a lot better after that, but it stays with me, and whenever I’m giving a talk I still have to remind myself to listen as well as speak.

Self-exploration was the key for me. I wouldn’t have gotten to the point I am today with my presentation skills if I didn’t take the time to do my internal homework.

I have to know myself, so I can show myself.

Do you?


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