I just read a fascinating short blog entry about being yourself in the face of others' expectations. The section that caught my eye was this one:
The ability to just be yourself is a lot harder to come by than we might think. And one of the biggest obstacles can be race. Specifically, racial stereotypes.
I’m not particularly meek, yet at almost every job I’ve held, people have thought of me as a shy and quiet Asian girl. Because of that, I’ve always had to project an exaggerated version of my personality, just to be perceived as normal.
What kinds of racial stereotypes do you find yourself battling on a daily basis? What elements of your authentic self are you suppressing? How is race getting in the way of your self-expression without you even knowing it?
Wow. Think about it... is it more true to yourself to simply be yourself, or to adjust the way you present yourself to the world so that you are correctly interpreted by those around you? It's not just about race. It's about religion or lack thereof, it's about gender and sexuality, it's about family and parenting, it's about our chosen professions (insert lawyer joke here)...
I once worked for a judge who let his clerks wear whatever they wanted in chambers, but not when a criminal case was in his courtroom -- then the clerks had to wear suits. He wanted to make sure that we not only gave the defendant a fair trial, but that we gave the appearance of fairness and professionalism. He knew that his clerks would perform the same considered legal analysis in a t-shirt and shorts as in a jacket and tie, but he also knew that sloppy attire could be misunderstood as a sign that we didn't care about the proceedings. And so he took steps to ensure we never gave out the wrong messages.
What do I try to communicate on a daily basis, without even realizing it? I don't wear makeup, but that doesn't mean I don't care about my appearance. I'm a lawyer, but I'm not an ambulance-chaser. I'm between jobs, but I'm not sitting on the couch all day eating bon-bons. I'm not who you might think I am.
How about you? Do you make adjustments to the way you express yourself to make sure that you are correctly viewed by others? What stereotypes do you think people place on you before they get to know you? Do you adjust your self-presentation to correct for that?