At the risk of exposing all my professional insecurities, I am going to share with you a personal story in the belief that it will help you. Since the time I was 14 years old, I have been owning, selling and buying businesses.
Throughout this professional journey, I have had the privilege of having great mentors—wise individuals who gave me guidance on everything from what words I should use and not use to negotiate a deal, to what clothing I should wear and not wear, to how much I should drink and not drink, to sharing (or not sharing) my views on religion and politics. I was always told that at my age, I needed to always be proving myself, and if I let myself just be myself (wore jeans, took the tequila shots and made bad business jokes, etc.), it was going to be harder to get what I wanted. So as a result, I became what I thought I should be.
The interesting thing is that it worked. I wore the business suit, skipped out on the party and held my tongue. Instead, I opted to be bored in my hotel room, started using fancy words and just kept my mouth shut even when it took everything in me not to express my opinions. As a result, by following the traditional professional business conduct, I created a pretty good, positive cash-flowing business, and developed strong professional relationships. I got everything I wanted, right?
The problem is that I wasn’t happy. I earned everything I sought after but resented what I had. As one of my friends pointed out, what I created was “two worlds and two personalities.” The first was my personal world, where I was free to be wild, risky, brave, vulnerable, feisty silly me; and the second—my professional world—where I was reserved, intense, passive and compliant.
This split personality came to a head about two years ago when I was mentoring a few young advisors in their careers to do the same things I was mentored to do, fully knowing that I was likely helping them to create the same miserable predicament I was in. As a result, I decided to change my approach.
To change things, I went to my greatest mentor, my grandfather, who had built an international engineering business. He said: “The problem with you, Angie [and young people in general], is that you have the curse of unlimited potential. Along your professional journey, you are going to start believing you should be like everyone else. The difference between truly successful young people and those who never reach their potential is having the strength to just be authentic, and the courage to protect your brand.”
What I learned from him was that young people (and everyone else) have two jobs for their professional careers. The first is to have the courage to be yourself, regardless of what people think about you. Seems simple, right? It took me a little while (and I still struggle with it at times), but when I stopped caring about who I thought I should be and started being who I really was, my business grew 400% in one year.