Eighth grade is typically a harsh year, and mine was no exception. I was not the most athletically coordinated boy, which placed me firmly at the lowest ranking of the middle school echelon. Add to that my greasy hair, braces, and oversized, thick-lens eyeglasses, and you start to get a very sorry picture.
Thankfully, my nomadic family decided to temporarily move due to my father’s work situation. We rented out our house for one year and packed up to Michigan for ninth grade, where I was magically transformed: I sprouted up several inches; got my braces removed; joined the swim team; found better glasses; and most importantly, began to wash my hair.
When we returned back to my old school system for tenth grade, no one recognized me. I was able to start fresh as a confident new kid from out of town without the dork baggage.
At the time, I attributed the transformation mostly to good hygiene and a great shampoo, but what I really discovered was the secret art of reinventing myself. I was determined to erase the gawky kid and re-emerge as someone else entirely.
I have experienced similar reinvention phenomena several times during my adult career. Usually it was triggered by a narrow-minded superior who did not see the same future potential that I saw for myself. I’ll never forget one boss in particular, during a heartfelt discussion as I poured out my hopes and dreams of advancement. “You will never be promoted to Manager,” she snapped abruptly while sipping her coffee and glancing out the window. “You don’t have the right experience.” I left her office burning with indignation.
Instead of buying into her boss-imposed limitations, I fantasized of the day she would be reporting to me. “Sorry, Barbara,” I would say while attending to various papers on my desk. “I’m going to have to demote you again. Now go get me another cup of coffee!”
In order to grow in my career, I had to get away from her. I eventually spruced up my resume and landed a promotion at another company where I was looked upon as an important up-and-coming manager, rather than the dead-end cubicle dork that Barbara had pegged me.
As they say here in corporate-land, “Perception is reality.” Like it or not, your career destiny may very well rest in the eyes of everyone around you. Those who have been too close for too long will often pigeon-hole you into a certain role or limited level of expected success. Familiarity can breed contempt, and even Jesus had a taste of it upon returning to the place where he grew up. You can practically hear him spit on the ground as he makes the pronouncement to his skeptical neighbors, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
Whether it is the limited perceptions of others, or facing the trap of your own career decisions, when you find yourself in a frustrated rut, sometimes the only way to change it is to physically remove yourself from the situation and start over somewhere else as the person you want more to be. That could mean moving to another company with more opportunity, or going back to school for your M.B.A., or striking out on your own to pursue your creative talent and passions. Others find an outlet by leading a double-life, working the straight 9-5 by day while expressing their true potential moonlighting or doing side-gigs to earn new experience and credibility.
Don’t let anyone else define who you are or what you can do. Imagine yourself as you are meant to be.
Live up to your own expectations.
Take small steps and move in that direction.
And above all, never give up the pursuit of the real you. It may take more than a good shampoo, but you’ve got what it takes to figure it out.
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