Fun question, no? To start to answer it, I realise we need to start to deconstruct the ‘me’ part. Otherwise, how can we take a stand?
I discovered, or came to see, aspects of myself when I started to work on the brand identity of Out of the Clouds (my podcast and meditation platform). I was very amused to find that my graphic designer, Brian, had combined a French italic version of a font called Sainte Colombe with a version of Helvetica (which, for those who don't know, comes from Helvetic meaning Swiss) that he called Swiss Intl (international) Light.
I giggled. It felt like this sums me up. I’m half French, after all, and left Switzerland at 24, embracing the world as my oyster. I don’t feel very Swiss, or French (at all). I feel more British, and Italian, or rather, a citizen of the world.
Meanwhile, the logo of AVM Consulting, which was designed in 2017, by another trusted designer, features a beautiful serif font with very Roman lettering. No wonder it feels like me. Swiss, Intl Light, world citizen with French roots and a passion for Italy and its capital.
At the time, when I chose the final logo (which you can find at the top of this webpage), my designer noted that the lettering nodded somewhat to the famous Vogue logomark. Similarly, though a few years later, Brian shared that the result of our work had an editorial feel (check it out for yourself here). Strangely prescient? I had no idea at the time that I’d be writing a newsletter, writing long-form blog posts or a weekly digest.
Recently over dinner on my birthday, my friends and I got chatting about what makes up the Swiss identity. Being (at least) bilingual was the answer that a student shared with my university professor friend. That's a big part of who we are, especially to others.
I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s true that every Swiss person I know speaks at least two or three languages. And being bilingual in English is certainly a big part of my identity - another piece of the puzzle exposed.
Before these various graphic design projects, I was suitably grilled by the designers, who were seeking to understand in order to ‘translate me’ into these visual attributes.
Over time, I’ve realised that however forthcoming I am and however willing the other party, sometimes, they just don’t get me. Thankfully I’m not alone in this. I remember one disastrous presentation after another, with a team that was as friendly as they were good, but the magic thread between my client and these designers just didn’t connect. At which point, it’s worth abandoning, forgetting about the sunk costs and moving on.
So, how to define who you are? A worthwhile if very difficult exercise to unpick your most special attributes is to write a short, original (i.e. not stuffy) bio. A couple of paragraphs. Or a couple of lines even. Mine, after some kind of natural erosion (the unnecessary words fell away), boils down to this:
Swiss Intl light, likes to make magic happen.✨
Now I wonder, does that feel like what you know of me, or does that tie in with whatever impression I may have given you?
I’ve always thought of us humans as beautiful faceted gems or prisms. In my mind, none of us can ever show all the facets that make up ourselves, at least not at one time.
In entertaining solo conversations on this topic (I’d suggest using a journal for the process) we get to develop a deeper awareness of what makes us. It takes a while to tour it all, multifaceted beings that we are. Like cities, we need to tour the good and the bad. We need to see the darkness and the light. It can feel difficult and other times, exhilarating.
A specialist in neuroplasticity, Dr Rick Hanson, PhD, coined this phrase which stuck with me: “We are Teflon for the good and velcro for the bad.” It’s a way of remembering that we are wired to remember the bad more than the good. Originally a survival mechanism, this is known as the negativity bias
One of the ways we could think of showing up as this 'full self' is by taking the time to reflect on what we bring to the table: the good. And that of our teams, just as acknowledging our challenges.
Our many parts can seem opposed and yet, in my experience, there is always a thread, some connecting tissue that brings them (us) all together.
Perhaps this is the magic; from that deep sense of knowing who we are we can be free to reveal more with others.
In my experience, I noticed that as I recognise aspects of myself, I get to claim them too (when that comes in handy of course). They become part of ‘brand Anne’, not that I love that branding talk, but it’s one way to discuss how we present ourselves to others, how we build our own sense of identity.
Recently I asked clean beauty pioneer and CEO of Furtuna Skin Kim Walls what was the sweetest thing that’s ever happened to her. Her answer was very poignant:
“Truly the sweetest thing was there was a time in my life when I completely gave into who I am and all the things that have made me who I am, including the things I wasn't proud of. And I have a relationship where I'm fully present and a moment where I felt fully accepted for all of me.”
This leaves me pondering: what could we do to be seen more fully or to dare showing more of ourselves? If you wonder why this is useful, isn’t everything easier when people understand each other more deeply?
Mindfulness teacher and author of Say What You Mean, Oren Jay Sofer, sums it up the stakes with this great question:
‘If we’re not clear about what’s true for us, how can we communicate effectively with anyone else?’
Here are a few questions to ask ourselves, or rather to journal on, to help us on our way. By the way, I must admit that I spent fifteen minutes answering these questions and journaling about them myself this morning and some interesting stuff came up. So I really recommend you take the time and give this a try too, starting with:
- How am I showing up?
- What am I showing to others about who I am?
- Who do they understand me to be?
- What are they missing (perhaps that I’m hiding) to get a fuller picture?
- Is my behaviour consistent with what's important to me, my personal or professional values?
- Are my words reflecting my beliefs, or am I bowing to social pressure, to be a slightly different person depending on the occasion?
Finally: to be, or not to be me, meaning how much of my full self should I present to others at work?
There’s no simple trick or process to follow to guide you towards your answer. Whether you are shy, extroverted, passionate or reserved, calm or exuberant, your character traits often play a large part in how you communicate and present yourself in a professional environment. But you, I mean we, have a choice: we can either cultivate self-awareness and decide who we want to be for those around us, or we can let ourselves be carried by the current.
This, you may realise, involves having an honest conversation between you, and you!
You can hire me (or another coach or therapist) to guide you through it, but the bottom line is that it all comes down to the conversation you are willing to have with yourself.
After all, as writer Susan Scott rightly says: “All conversations are with myself, and sometimes they involve other people.”