No dressing? Not even on the side?
I used to have this conversation with waiters incessantly: I'd be on the road in an established restaurant, order a salad, and request that it be served with no dressing. Each time, without fail, I would get the same response: “Are you sure—our dressings are made in-house,” or “The chef tailored this dressing specifically for this dish,” or any number of similar responses that made me sound like a crazy person for suggesting that a salad could possibly be digested without it! I finally got so tired of the dialogue that I began ordering dressing “on the side” before leaving it untouched.
It recently occurred to me that my salad challenge was just another example of how easy it is to slip into behaviors that others expect.
Why do we need to compromise ourselves?
Just recently, I enjoyed the honor of delivering the keynote at the California Bankers Association's annual Women’s Banking Forum. The theme I chose to speak on was "Staying True to Oneself” and owning your personal brand – which deeply resonated with the participants.
One of the stories I shared was from a series of discussions presented by Andy Stanley—a top leadership communicator, author and pastor in Atlanta—called “The Comparison Trap.” Andy masterfully describes the widespread modern affliction of “er” – explaining that we too often value our self-worth by how we view others.
We secretly hate it when someone is rich“er”, or tall“er”, or pretty“er” and we all strive to be “er” in comparison to our peers. It seems to be innate human behavior to feel content when someone appears inferior to us. We especially want our children to be “er.” This “er” affliction is ever-present in the business world. After all, organizations use performance evaluations to score us against each other. Even though our evaluations list strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement, the grader always has a standard of measure based on a perceived “better” performer in each area.
In her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd shares the self-discovery process of naming one’s various “false selves” – the ego-driven masks we take on to conform to the expectations of others. One of the most poisonous false selves is the “Tinsel Star,” when our behaviors focus solely on eliciting accolades and dazzling others. Of course, the Tinsel Star is lost and ineffective without some semblance of “er” compared to those around her. As Monk Kidd writes, “When we adopt this particular ego mask, we invest ourselves in the notion that those who shine the brightest are loved the most. This comes from the distorted idea that meaning and acceptance come from what we do, not who we are.”
When I started the Signature Program and Network a few years ago, it was my first experience as an entrepreneur completely on my own. I woke up each morning terrified of failing, with a knot in my stomach. I wondered if my idea would work – whether it could be actualized as I envisioned it, and if it would make a meaningful difference for those who came through the program.
I shared the Signature Program model to countless heads of talent around the globe, and each one always talked about another program that I should look to for comparison. I spent my weekends tirelessly researching all of those “competitors”— avowing to stick to my principles: This program is different, and it is great to be different. But the knot in my stomach wouldn’t go away. I was worried about being “er.”
Then, I read a quote from William Faulkner, “Always dream and shoot higher that you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” And that seemingly simple line absolutely changed my measuring stick. Now I measure against the stick of “me.”
This is the core of Andy Stanley’s thesis – the one that so resonated with women leaders of the California Bankers Association: Get out of the comparison trap!
Now, every day I get up, look in the mirror and say to myself, “How did you do yesterday? Ok, now go out today and be better than yourself.” I work at being true to myself.
And today, when I order my salads, it is always “No dressing, please.”