This week will go down in the record book as a memorable work week. I was debating a bit on the adjective that best describes it, and “good” didn’t quite cut it. It was “memorable” because I received such a wonderful compliment on Wednesday that it had me floating through Friday. I’m hesitant to type that my week was “fabulous” or “fantastic” because the work highs come far less often than the lows and I don’t want to let it blindside me. In my work environment, I often have to balance confidence, humility and ego.
In last week’s post, I mentioned a presentation I made that went over fairly well at a meeting with some very important people from agencies that are very important to my agency. What I didn’t know, but was told on Wednesday, was that during my presentation, one of the very important attendees, sent a text to my director (WHAT!) indicating how thrilled he was with the information I was presenting. Another executive director told my director that she was so proud of me because I presented the information in a way that the stakeholders, who were not as familiar with the topic, could understand and get this…on top of that, she was so proud of me because I am a social worker like her. I say, “What!” That tidbit about getting those stakeholders to understand is important because they are decision makers that have a lot of influence. The other tidbit about being a social worker put a smile on my heart. I could end this blog right here, but as you’ve guessed, I will continue. My director came over and shook my hand after telling me this. I was beaming from ear to ear.
Although I work in public policy and not in direct practice, I am fortunate to work in an environment where mostly (but not entirely) counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists are leading the work of mental health public policy in my division. Creating systems change to ensure that resources are adequately and effectively delivered to citizens in entities such as state government is difficult, but we take a stab at it everyday.
I am privileged to work with some very smart, educated people who have no qualms about sharing their knowledge. I’ve learned so much from them. However, on occasion, the “sharing” can feel downright, overbearing, self-righteous and egocentric. What I’ve learned is that I (you) can’t be intimidated when working with smart people (or perceived smart people or anybody else for that matter). You have to use your voice. I’ve definitely seen egos flying around the office, and let’s face it, we were hired because of our knowledge. Ironically for me, most of the staff, including myself, are identified as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs- yes, we have an acronym) and we are required to collaborate on a host of things to make decisions that affect citizens. However, having the type of negative attitude I noted above is off-putting and unproductive. I believe there is a way to operate without resorting to that.
I sometimes find myself on this thin line of balancing confidence, humility and ego. I lean towards the belief that the work (whether hard work or lack thereof) you do and the integrity you demonstrate will speak for itself. I’ve since come to realize that in some environments, that is simply not enough. I value humility, have integrity, and don’t like to compete with people (only myself). However, sometimes, you do have to “toot your own horn” and give yourself credit, especially if you want to advance. Despite what you think, directors, managers and/or your colleagues, may not even notice all that you’re doing. Those who are in competition with you for advanced positions will usually not speak on your behalf. What is at stake is higher pay and possibly more prestige, which most people want for themselves.
The reality of many agencies (I’ve worked at private, nonprofit and governmental agencies) is that higher positions are few and far between which causes workers to feel pressure to stand out, and possibly (and I’m not implying “likely”), do unethical things to advance. When I describe work situations to my good friend who’s employed in the corporate world, she says it sounds pretty “cut throat”, and at times, she is right. I won’t even go into the politics either. The professions that I mentioned above are all required to abide by a set of ethical standards, but they are not immune from this type of pressure. It’s the scarcity of resources factor that many learn about in social science classes like sociology that drives this behavior. Whatever the case, I don’t think it’s an excuse to compromise integrity and behave badly.
I’ve managed to balance confidence and humility without compromise, while still being recognized for my work ethic. At the end of the day, I had to hone in on using my voice to shine the spotlight on myself at times, so how did I do that? I’ve spent some time thinking about my accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. My “thinking” includes journaling, planning, and visualizing where I see myself. I ensure that I have a thorough understanding of what I’m expected to know, which means I do research and study. I read all the time and when I’m not reading for work, I’m reading for personal growth or leisure. I usually practice speaking about myself before interviews, presentations or other venues, but I find that the more comfortable and familiar I’ve become in my current role, that I don’t need to do that so much before presentations and other meetings. I strive to be authentic, which makes it more comfortable. To this day, it is not natural for me to go into a soliloquy (slight exaggeration) on the highlights of my resume upon first meeting someone, so I have to work at it. I know I’m not alone in this. There are cultural, social, psychological, and other factors that come into play as well.
At the end of the day, I do think it’s possible to be both confident and humble. On one hand, I don’t want to come off as a “know it all” (with the attitude), but I want people to know that I am adept at doing what I do. Truth be told, I don’t ever want to think too highly of myself that I stop learning. I view the people I know, who do think they know it all, as very sad. They become stagnant and I worry about becoming stagnant. And as much as I love compliments because it serves as validation to a degree, I don’t want compliments to fuel my motivation or cloud my thinking. I want to be clear and grounded so that I can keep producing quality work.
I’m thankful that I’m starting to see some fruits from my labor and that I received some recognition for it. I admit it feels great, but it doesn’t end here.
I hope that this information encourages you to discover new things about yourself and use your voice.