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There was a time when Kristen and I thought we wanted to be corporate coaches.
In a way, this made perfect sense. Both of us had intimate experience with the mind-numbing bureaucracy of corporate America. We knew what the cube-people were secretly feeling — trapped, suffocated, bored, purposeless — because we had so recently been cube-people.
We had a vision of being “corporate ninjas” … we’d go in to stuffy offices and quietly, stealthily, and methodically shift entire cultures. We’d inspire people; we’d make it so that work was actually invigorating, purposeful, and fun. Leadership would be left a bit dazed and blinking by the overnight change, but they’d get used to a new and improved way of operating.
This is a story about how none of that happened, and how I got publicly insulted to boot.
THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN A HOME RUN
Kristen and I teamed up with another coach to plan our first gig. We were going to give a presentation to a room full of consultant-type-engineers about how to intrinsically motivate their employees. (In a company where “motivation” mostly equated to dangling bonuses in front of people or just making threatening demands, this would have been huge progress.)
Lara, the coach who partnered with us on this presentation, is one of our favorite people. On top of being a genuinely awesome human being, she’s a little older, a whole lot wiser, and has experience in corporate America. She brought credibility to the table that we, even as talented coaches, couldn’t have (frankly, because we were too young).
The HR Director who sponsored our presentation was really into the idea, surprisingly enough. She was a rare leader, the kind of person who had been coached herself, and who was genuinely excited to revolutionize the way her team interacted with each other and motivated their employees.
So you’d think that with the support of another wise coach and an enthusiastic HR Director, this would have been easy to hit out of the park.
IN WHICH RACHEL GETS KICKED OFF THE TEAM
We practiced, we planned, and we met with the leadership team. Over and over again, we practiced and planned and met to ensure we got this thing right.
A few days before the big day, we had a full run-through with a handful of people from the leadership team.
They gave us the feedback, later:
“We liked it, but we only want Lara and Kristen to do the presentation.”
Umm … say what?
“Rachel … she’s just too passionate for our group. She’s too direct. We don’t think people will respond well to her presence.”
… Are you serious? I’m being criticized for having passion? And for not beating around the bush? What, am I supposed to like … care less?
Lara was furious. Kristen was shocked. Both of them refused to do it without me. The Director of HR insisted that I remain, despite what the leadership team had said about me.
I MADE THEM DO IT WITHOUT ME, AND HERE’S WHY
It’s true. I’m a very passionate person. It’s how I’m wired.
I get fired up easily. I’m intense, when it’s called for. I’m definitely direct, and I love to tell it like it is. These traits aren’t something I try for; they’re part of my very essence as a human being. They’re a big reason why people like Kristen and Lara appreciate me and call me a friend.
It didn’t feel good to be publicly rejected for being myself.
Quite frankly, it made me feel like shit. After I found out they wanted me gone, I sat on the couch feeling sick to my stomach and ugly crying.
At that moment, I realized I had two choices:
I could compromise who I was for the sake of outdated people who didn’t get me and my passion … or I could hold on to my integrity and go find some people who would get me.
IT WAS AN EASY CHOICE
I could have made this my battlefield. Lord knows we need people who are willing to revolutionize corporate America (the fact that I got criticized for exhibiting too much feeling is fantastic proof of why we need coaching in corporate).
But I realized that if I took this on, I’d be fighting an uphill battle forever.
I’m not the right person to carry that banner. Because the old, stuffy men who insulted me were right about one thing — corporate America was never going to love me.
Why would they? There’s too much at stake to invite someone loud, direct, and passionate into their midst. There’s a chance I would have inspired a few people; a good chance that I would have woken someone up to their lack of fulfillment; and a great chance that I’d make people start asking questions. Maybe I’d even motivate someone to ask for more or (Stop! No! Don’t say it, we beg you!) … talk about their feelings.
This was not something that the outdated leadership team I presented to were ready for.
They were more interested in learning how to make communication a bit better, without rocking any boats. Except I’m a boat rocker. I probably should have realized sooner that we were never going to get along.
SO I TOOK MY TALENTS ELSEWHERE
The minute Kristen walked out of that presentation, we were done with corporate coaching forever.
And as you would expect of two rebels infuriated by crap-tastic leadership, we channeled our energies into creating a revolution.
If we couldn’t inspire people and motivate them to start asking questions from inside the system, we were sure as hell going to do it from the outside.
A couple of months later, we created and launched the Passion Profile Quiz. Well over 300,000 people have used it to pinpoint the intersection between their career and passion. We launched two online programs and have coached many hundreds of people, both virtually and 1-on-1. We write blogs and publish podcasts every week, and people consistently thank us for our passion, honesty, and real-ness.
And as much as I would have liked to revolutionize bureaucracy and make work cultures worldwide a pleasant thing … I’m way more suited to help people from the outside. No one can censor me; no one can influence how I choose to coach someone. I get to really and truly help people, in my way and in my voice.
My essence — what got me criticized by corporate leadership — is the heart and soul of what I do now. It’s what my clients appreciate in me, as their coach.
YOU ARE NO DIFFERENT THAN ME
You might not be loud, intense, or rebellious. You might not be passionate about the same things as me.
But if you’re alive, then I guarantee that you will encounter people (many, many people) who, for their own reasons, don’t appreciate your essence.
I shared my story today so that you would know … it’s OK.
In fact, it’s more than OK. The reason some people don’t like you is probably the very reason that other people will respect and admire you.
Please, please don’t sacrifice your heart and soul to appease those who will never understand you.
And now, I want to hear from you. I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience. When has your essence come under fire? What did you do about it? Let me know, in the comments.
Rachel (& Kristen)
ARE YOU A TRAPPED CUBE-PERSON?
If you were nodding along and relating a little too much to being trapped in a mind-numbing corporate environment, then it might be time to consider doing something about that.
Instead of doing what most people do when they’re unhappy — jumping to something else, hoping it will be better — you could spend some time becoming clear and certain that your next steps are not only going to make sense, but lead you to a fulfilled, inspired, and satisfying outcome.
That’s the whole point of 1-on-1 coaching! So if you’re tired of the status quo and don’t want to waste any more time, let’s talk.
Get clear on the details and reach out to talk about coaching here.
Thank you for sharing that story, Rachel. It was a good reminder that sometimes the best solution / idea / proposal doesn’t win support simply because the decision-makers are not ready to accept / risk / embrace it. Timing is a critical element in making change. And a visionary proposal, even if rejected, sometimes plays a critical role in ultimately changing the culture.
It’s often a tough exercise to view rejections as potential, long-term catalysts for ultimate change.
So well said, Nancy. You’re right, it’s not easy to see rejection is something that might end up becoming a catalyst for change. I’ve come to think of rejection (and actually ALL feedback, including praise) as impersonal. Whether what someone says about me was critical or praiseworthy, I tend to assume that their comments have more to do with them and their worldview than it says about ME, personally. This works pretty well, though criticism never feels good of course!
Thank you for sharing ,wow my friend send this to me at a time that some thing similar happened to me .
Hey Jennifer! You know, I think the timing of things is often pretty un-coincidental. I’m really glad that this story found you at a time of vulnerability, and I hope it was able to help you realize that it’s not about you! Keep you chin up. 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing this – I relate to this story like CRAZY. I have mostly worked for small, independent businesses with just a few employees because I despise corporate culture and the horrible feeling that my true, authentic self – and everyone else’s true, authentic self – is somehow inappropriate or lacking.
But beware! Just because you work for a small business doesn’t mean you’re protected from corporate culture. About two years ago, I took a job that sounded absolutely dreamy on the surface – writing content for a person who was growing her new business in professional development, working from home, great salary, etc. I soon found out that this person (my boss) had worked in a majorly corporate environment her entire career, and only now was branching off to start her own thing. On the surface, she acted breezy and encouraged a relaxed environment. But that corporate mindset was ingrained in her…it was deep in her bones, man. I soon received instructions from her about how I needed to change my mode of operation to certain standards (even though my regular mode was super productive), how all my emails to her had to follow an exact structure, etc. I remember one time, after a meeting, my boss and I were walking out to our cars in the parking lot and she asked me directly how things were going in my personal life, if I was dating anyone, etc. So I told her things were going great and I was dating a guy I was crazy about – maybe a bit too excitedly in hindsight, but hey, I’m a passionate person. The next day, I got an email from my coworker saying that our boss had asked her to talk to me about oversharing personal details, and that I needed to maintain a more professional demeanor. Pssshhh!!!!
What I’ve learned from experiences like these is that, for me, career satisfaction is not just about WHAT I do, but also about WHO I have interact with. The people you work with play a huge role in your day-to-day experience – they can enhance it, or they can ruin it.
This is such great insight Kate, thank you for sharing! You are 100% right when you say that WHAT you do can often pale in comparison to WHO you do it with (and I’ll also add, HOW you do it). In fact, after coaching a lot of people, I’ve come to notice that most of my clients would be happy doing any number of things as long as the people they worked with were supportive, respectful, and easy to be around. I think it’s nice to know that the “what” is interchangeable; it’s not nearly as important as people think it is. If you focus on the “how” and the “who,” you’ll be way ahead of the game!
Thank you so much for sharing this, I have just resigned from my senior corporate job in the UK after nearly 15 years for almost exactly the same reasons. I am so tired of getting feedback that I need to change who I am and tone down what I believe in. My friends and family think I’m crazy to walk away from a successful career without knowing what I am going to do next but the one thing I am certain about is that I don’t belong here – it’s just taken me a while to realise it!
Oh, Rachel- I so wish I had confidence that the world would hold me. I had a similar situation happen when I worked for a non-profit. Year in & year out there was something wrong with my personality. I had nationally recognized programming, but the staff didn’t like who I was. I heard things like, “You are too brash,” or fill in the blank, pointed, single-minded, straight-forward, the list went on. I was constantly asked to change myself, which I tried to do- for 15 years!!! They finally fired me. Well, there went my career path! But, I landed in a place where I could determine who I worked for & present myself as unwilling to compromise myself.
Thank you for sharing such an insightful story!
Hi Isabella! I think we all have regrets, looking back, that sound something like, “I wish I’d realized that sooner!” And while I can’t say exactly why certain things take us a while to change (while other things sometimes happen quickly), I do think that ultimately, no matter how long a pattern lasts, the point was for us to learn more deeply about ourselves and have the opportunity to change. You learned a ton in those years, I’m sure! And now it’s serving you as you carve out a path that’s clearly more authentic. I’m so glad you got there! 🙂
I see that I commented on this post nearly three years ago, and after reading the post today I still find it relevant.
Currently I am trying to tie up loose ends and conclude business preparing for my departure from the same organization I was in three years ago. You nailed it, Rachel, in saying that some people will never appreciate your essence is simply a reality best viewed objectively…easier said than done.
Thanks again for posting this one…a much-appreciated injection of affirmation from a kindred spirit.
Hey Nancy! It’s cool that you read this again, 3 years later, and was able to see it from a similar, but slightly new perspective. I’m glad you’ve reached a place where you’re ready to move on to new things. And yes, believing in yourself (especially when no one else does) is way easier said than done, but I think you’ve got this! 😉