It’s very easy, especially when you’re young, to accept your managers definition of you as a true representation of yourself. And that can shape the way you present yourself when trying to get promoted or looking for a new job. In other words, how you define yourself is based on the terms and skills originally applied to you by your superiors.
Let me give you an example:
In one of my first jobs my manager told me that “you’re not very creative, but a hard worker”. Today, I have enough experience to interpret that as one person’s opinion, and also likely a result of what that manager wanted to see in an employee. If that would happen again I would be able to understand what the statement really meant on a couple of levels:
Firstly, opinions are not the same as facts. Creativity, for instance, probably has as many definitions as there are people. You can also be creative in a variety of ways. There is not one set way of determining if a person is creative or not. Here’s a good read on different perceptions of creativity. When someone is giving you their opinion, it’s that and nothing more. Your next manager may have a totally different opinion.
Secondly, your manager sees only the part of you that he or she is interested in, and always in their own context. To some managers it’s important that employees don’t challenge them in certain areas where they want to be the leader. To the manager in my story it was very important to be the only creative person in that company, therefore no one else could have that skill.
This I know today, but back then I took the words at face value and saw myself as “not creative, but hard working”.
So when I started a new job, where there was a need for creativity in my role (and no boss who saw that as a threat) I was reluctant to embrace that role. I held back ideas, and was reluctant to suggest solutions. It took me quite a while to realize that I was and am a very creative person.
Listen to learn
It’s very important that you define your own idea or image of yourself, your capabilities, your strenghts and your areas of improvement. That way you own the definition of yourself and can filter what others are saying about you. By all means, listen to colleagues, managers and others in your professional live, when they describe you. And be humble enough to really listen and adjust if and when they describe something about you that isn’t working. But you are the owner of your self-image, and you decide how to describe yourself as a professional. Never hand that privilege over to anyone else.
If nothing else, there is a very real risk that somebody else’s definition of you will hold you back.
To a large degree what I’m telling you can be applied to your personal life as well. You are in charge of the definition of you there also. What I said above about listening to others will help you in your personal life, but never let anyone else define you.
You are the only one capable of doing that.