Updated: Aug 21
Having a strong sense of self helps you deal with rejection, discrimination, and workplace politics.
Very often in corporate workplaces, minorities can question their place, talents, and values due to microaggressions from their colleagues at work. I experienced this anxiety first-hand, in the spring of 2017, after a discouraging conversation with HR regarding my recent promotion.
What I thought would be a check-in to see how I was adapting to the new role didn’t turn out as expected. The HR representative informed me that some of my colleagues were offended by my confidence and new attitude since my promotion. Since being promoted to a more supervisory role, someone had complained that I was “too bossy” and “walked around like I owned the place.”
I frantically texted my mentor. After a short conversation, I began to realize that maybe my “confidence” wasn't the real problem. After all, my confidence was not new to me or my company. It seemed, judging by the word choice of my HR officer, that perhaps I was being unfairly judged by my co-workers, who weren’t used to seeing women of color advancing in that particular workspace.
I was hurt, offended, and angry that my HR department would treat what sounded, to me, like personal biases as fact without considering my history of always being my full self in the office.
After this incident, with the help of my mentor, I had an important moment of reflection which, today, informs my beliefs about the importance of having a strong sense of self at work. Developing and actualizing a strong sense of self, specifically in your workplace, will help you to face these experiences head on without questioning your values or achievements.
Here are four tips on how you can build (or improve) your sense of self at work.
“We sometimes confuse having a strong sense of self with being perfect, but it’s quite the opposite.”
Know Yourself, Know Your Worth and Take Internal Inventory of Your Values, Beliefs, and Desires
Take some time to learn and understand your wants, values, strengths, and weaknesses. We sometimes confuse having a strong sense of self with being perfect, but it’s quite the opposite. My strong sense of self comes from understanding not only my strengths, but also my weaknesses. I was able to get the promotion I was working towards because I learned what I was good at and where I needed to improve. Learning and improving your strengths and weaknesses will take time but will ultimately help improve your sense of self, confidence, and how you interact with others.
Learn the Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Criticism
Be thoughtful about criticism received by considering who is offering the criticism and what the criticism is stemming from. Personal biases and insecurities can come in the form of destructive criticism, impacting your energy, confidence, and performance. In your career, you may receive destructive advice that is designed to diminish your performance. If a piece of criticism seems malicious, far-fetched, or vengeful, ask for a second opinion from your managers, leaders, or mentors.
Challenge Yourself to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
This one takes a pinch of practicing, a cup of courage, and a shot of self awareness. What is holding you back from getting that promotion, new job, raise, etc.? This can be a skill, lack of proactiveness, or leadership level. Once you have a better idea of who you are, where you are, what you want, and where you want to be, then it is time to take action. I wanted to be in a more client-facing role, but I disliked—and honestly was not good at— public speaking. To become more comfortable with public speaking, I challenged myself by doing small things like asking and answering questions in team meetings, signing up to lead internal trainings, and attending more networking events. I became a better, more confident public speaker and received a promotion soon after. Challenge yourself by taking small steps each day to bring yourself closer to your goals.
“.....growth isn’t instantaneous. While practicing the above, also understand failure is part of the process.”
Be Kind to Yourself: Affirm, Rinse, and Repeat
Most importantly, remember that growth isn’t instantaneous. While practicing the tips above, you should also understand that failure is part of the process. People with a strong sense of self treat themselves with compassion and understanding. Three months before my promotion, I was rejected for the same role. Instead of feeling discouraged, I was confident I would get the job when I gained more experience and better prepared for the higher position. I took the feedback from my interview and worked on improving my weak point based on their recommendations.
When building or improving a strong sense of self, practicing self-love and self-awareness is imperative. For me, it is repeating helpful mantras that keep me mentally strong or sometimes simply avoiding negative thoughts or words. Rather than thinking, "You're so stupid for thinking you could do that, " try saying, “You’re so courageous for going after that, we will get it next time.” This forces you to think positively and be optimistic about the future, rather than harping on the past. It also creates a sense of responsibility and ownership as you work towards practicing self-love and self-awareness.