I was interviewed by a student the other day who was working on a project about women in sports. Towards the end of the interview, she asked me a very simple question: “What advice would you give to someone breaking into this field?"
My answer was simple. "Be yourself."
I've thought about that answer a lot since then, and occasionally I doubt what I said. Why didn't I say something about networking? Or resumes? Or top-down management? Or something of actual career-related substance?
But then, I realize that there is no better advice I could ever give, or would ever give.
I may not be successful in the traditional sense -- at least, not yet. My title is low on the organizational chart and my pay, while sufficient, is simple compared to many others in my field.
But regardless of what some might see as a lack of "traditional" success, I am successful in many other ways. I have a job that I love (97.5 percent of the time), a job that pays the bills and isn't putting me in credit card debt. I'm also blessed to work with some pretty amazing people and watch my teams compete on some of the largest stages in college athletics.
I've worked hard for new opportunities and am thankful for the managers who have given me a chance to grow my skills. At the end of the day, no matter how many hours I've worked, I am fulfilled. That, to me, is success.
But the truth of the matter is: I wouldn't be where I am today without my personality. I pride myself on my cheerful demeanor and my work ethic, but I am also introverted, demanding of others, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I am often emotional, too organized for my own good, and I cheer in the press box. Sometimes I laugh or curse when I shouldn't.
I am far from perfect, but I am not afraid to be myself.
Nevertheless, this isn't about ME. It's about YOU.
YOU are special. YOU are unique. There is no one else on this earth who thinks exactly like you do or looks exactly like you do or dreams exactly like you do.
Are you a little weird? That's okay. Are you self-conscious? Hot-tempered? Quiet? Loud? Emotional? Apathetic? Awkward? All of those things are okay, too.
I mean this when I say that if you are your authentic self and you work hard to do a great job, you're going to be successful. No matter what. Good managers love to work with good, genuine, positive people. Good managers also love to hire hard-working individuals who want to give their very best effort.
It's also important to remember that 1.) Everyone has a personality and that 2.) No one is perfect.
Your awesome manager? He or she isn't perfect either. Chances are, they are hot-tempered or shy or question themselves just like you do.
Be proud of who you are, because there is no one else on this planet like you. Even if someone has the same exact experience and the same exact résumé as you, your personality is what will determine if you are a great fit for an organization.
So don't be afraid to be yourself. I bet you're pretty great.