This moment that we've all been through has shaken everyone's sense of self-assurance, even among some of the most secure people out there. Many people that are in our industry, coming into the industry or thinking about what their path is, may be having a bit of a crisis of confidence right now.
That’s why I think we need a moment of reappraisal. Because it's not something that is unusual in a moment like this. Now more than ever we need to hear voices and messages that are helpful in reaffirming a sense of self.
The Pride season certainly catalysed this thought, but it's not just about people from LGBTQ+ communities. There are so many complex intersectional layers. There are straight white men who might have a crisis of confidence; equally there are people who may not be white who are experiencing the same feelings; there may be women, people of different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, identities, people with complicated feelings about their socio-economic mobility.
Like many of us, I am often asked to reflect on what I have learned in my career to date. But during Pride, I've noticed people ask me even more frequently to share more about my own personal experience of navigating a global career path.
Not only have I lived and worked in half a dozen countries across three continents, successfully leading talent and advising some of the world’s most valuable brands, I have been recognised for making and shaping award winning work, thought leadership, and building unbeatable creative strategy teams across the world.
And I have done all this despite my otherness; of which I am constantly reminded. My otherness that comes from being so obviously foreign, and on so many levels - I am gay, I am also Indian.
I have been called outspoken and I am unapologetic of my otherness. I am often asked to reflect on the fact that I must have had a unique set of challenges. And what have I done to overcome them? What can I offer from my lived experience that could be useful to anybody else who may be experiencing something similar?
When I started out in the industry, as an intern in India, and over 25 years ago, some of the challenges were more pronounced and some were very different. What could I share with people that would be a source of some hope and strength? In that spirit, I have chosen to reflect on a few things I have learned.
You are valid
Every time you have a crisis of confidence, thinking about your sense of place in this business, you need to understand that this is not a business made up of algorithms or concrete and bricks and mortar. This business is made up of what people do and think. There are people behind the business, there are people behind the brand, people behind the campaign, behind the idea. Nothing is a result of some inanimate object.
So if everything's made by people, and you're a person too, you have just as much right to be part of that narrative as anybody else does. Don't hold yourself back, don't assume that you don't have the right to play. You have to get in the game and own it. You have something to offer. You are valid. You belong here. Do not tell yourself stories that are not true.
Don’t downplay your confidence
The second thing is when you show up, show up and be your full self. Do not second guess your confidence. A lot of times people will lead you to believe that you are arrogant if you seem confident. You have to ask yourself who is calling you arrogant. What is their experience and what are their references? Often confidence is mistaken for arrogance if you don't fit the stereotype that exists in their head, or in their experience. If you do not fit how they believe people like you should think, or what success in your community looks like - even just how far you can and should extend, it could be mistaken for arrogance. And because most confident people are also empathetic, you may assume that what they're saying is actually true. You will wear it and you will second guess yourself. That's a big mistake. Don't do it. That's not on you; it’s on them.
The key to owning your space is to be confident in your abilities. Have no shame, no hesitation in being able to tell your story, assert your potential, and claim your success. Just say: “I'm great. Look at my experience. Look at what I’ve achieved and am capable of.”
Don’t dim your light
Adjusting to fit others is something I have an issue with. Do not dim your light. If I listened every single time someone told me to adjust or “tone it down,” I'd be gone by now.
I did dim my light before. And that's how I know the difference.
I remember points in my career when people have told me to tone it down a notch. I've been told to dress differently. I've been told to wear my hair differently. I've been told to be less animated in my presentations, to hold a paper clip every time I wanted to gesticulate. I have actually done those things.
When you do that, there is no end to it. How many people are you going to be, while you are trying to fit in, to respond to this expectation that you should be thankful and feel privileged that you are doing well?
Don't dim your light. Let them put on some shades. They will. They always do.
If your ideas are good, if you speak with certainty, if you're an empathetic person and are spontaneous, people will adjust to your brand of confidence. So don’t touch that dimmer. Shine your light and have no shame in your game.
You can’t make a difference unless you are different
The truth is, in this business, no client comes to an agency and says, “please show me something that looks just like everybody else's work”. In this business we create and deliver value for our clients through differentiation. So, lean into your difference, cultivate it, be it, elevate your point of difference and let it form your point of view; because you cannot make a difference unless you're different.
You can't make interesting work if you don't have an interesting idea; you can't have interesting ideas if you don't have interesting references; you can't have interesting references if you don't have a different lived experience. So lean into it, claim it and reclaim your shine.