When “You Doing You” is Helping or Hindering Your Career

December 17, 2018
Many of us have heard the phrase “you do you!” Often, it is when we are doing something unusual or out of the ordinary; or when we are behaving in a way that is authentically “us” but not necessarily in line with behavioral norms in the situation at hand. The term is sometimes said to be supportive. Sometimes it is said in a manner that indicates “ok, I wouldn’t do that, but if that’s your choice, go for it.” In any case, “you do you” has come to be a cry of being your authentic self.

And therein lies the conundrum…it is not always wise or appropriate to “do you.” To be clear, I’m not talking about the deeper issues of assimilation or social integration connected to inclusion or bias. That is a discussion for another day. I’m speaking about basic appropriateness. Decorum. Situational awareness. Note: for those who are experts in situational awareness or situation awareness (SA), I’m using this term loosely as it relates to understanding, assessing and responding to an environment or situation.


The leaders that are the most successful are those leaders who are authentic. They have great situational awareness. They show up as themselves. They are confident. They are humble. They are transparent. They aren’t afraid to show vulnerability. They show up as WHO THEY ARE.

…but are they always behaving the way they really want to behave? Probably not. After all, we are human and we all have hot buttons and pet peeves. The key is understanding how to manage our behavior for the situation that is presented while remaining authentic. For example, a leader’s response to an inappropriate comment might be more measured and precise with a co-worker than it would be at a family dinner. The response is still an authentic and consistent response, but the DELIVERY is modified based on the situation.

To truly do YOU, it is critical to understand what your non-negotiables are and why. To know what is truly out of bounds and what is just a mere inconvenience. After all, there is a difference between “it drives me crazy that we have to meet so many times to make simple decisions” and “I cannot support a culture that continues to design and implement processes without considering the impact of our decisions on our people.” Knowing those differences and how they manifest in organizational requirements and cultural norms is paramount.

The range of company requirements is as wide as the number of companies and organizations looking for talent. Uniforms. Swing shifts. Telecommuting. Personal protective equipment (PPE). Office hours. Vacation allotments. Promotion requirements. The list goes on and on. The most readily identifiable non-negotiables tend to fall into these categories because they are more about what you DO as opposed to who you ARE. Say, for instance, your preferred daily “uniform” is as near to formal dress as you can get without actually putting on a tux or ball gown. This individuality in style makes you stand out. It makes a statement. It garners attention. All things that are wonderful…until they are not. You doing you in an industrial environment would not only be inappropriate (and likely a distraction), it could be dangerous for you and others around you. If it is critically important to you that you get to be truly creative or completely informal and free in your style of dress, that could dictate the companies and industries you will consider. Advertising or retail vs consulting or engineering. Sidebar: there is a reason that GMs simplified dress code got such incredible press, because this is one of the most frustrating and time-consuming issues that companies (and HR professionals in particular) face. Think of how much time GM will save with a policy that assumes that adults know what appropriate is! But I digress…

The more difficult decisions around non-negotiables are those cultural norms that align (or not) with personal core values. Perhaps getting “chipped” or having your keystrokes tracked sets your teeth on edge, so much so that you feel the need to protest publicly and privately. Or the refusal of your committee or organization to tackle difficult issues with the facts as opposed to old history and “the good ole boy” sentiment makes your candor more biting and pointed; giving space to dismiss you as “too emotional.” In these instances, the disconnect between what you believe/hold valuable and what you experience is so great that “you do you” can give rise to unintended consequences: frustration, fatigue, anger; designations as unfit or lacking in professional maturity, etcetera.

So, what’s the bottom line?

… whether we like it or not (and contrary to some public examples), your parents were right when they said “there is a time and a place for everything.” You should always be YOU. After all, there is only one person on the planet like you and you have amazing gifts to give. You should also be aware enough to modify behavior for public consumption when warranted. This ability to adapt demonstrates confidence and competence while enhancing credibility. These modifications are not to be so drastic that you are no longer authentic – you will know and so will those around you.

… be confident knowing your non-negotiables are just that: Non. Negotiable. Know WHO you are and WHAT you want. Be brave enough to demand it and fearless enough to pursue it…even if it means the discomfort of leaving your current situation.

At the end of the day, you have choices (a core tenet of The Rutledge Perspective). Some choices are better or more palatable than others, but they are all choices and they are all yours. You should always be able to show up as YOU in all your fabulous glory. You are a kaleidoscope of thoughts, talents and behaviors. Use your Village to ground you in reality and press forward. And go “Do You” …sometimes.

#truth #courage #authenticity #therutledgeperspective #welcometomyvillage #yougotthis

“Once you know who you are, you don’t have to worry anymore.” – Nikki Giovanni

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