In week seven of the Shattering the Meme Novena, we focus on how to stop feeling like a victim. Overcome feelings of being left out or treated unfairly by looking past the superficial differences and finding the more profound sense of connection that is available.
Do you have a chip on your shoulder because you feel that everybody else is ganged up against you? Do you focus so intently on how you are different from everyone else
(race, sexual orientation, gender, age, experience level) that you
forget to notice how much more profoundly you are the same? The
minority meme is rife in creative professions because the criteria for
success is so subjective.
If you feel insecure or dissatisfied, it’s way too easy to focus on that sense of isolation and to feel like you are a victim. And minority status can be defined in many, many ways. For example, you may feel like the young gun misunderstood by the senior members of your firm. Or maybe you feel like you are more creative and loose in your work process than your hard-driving professional environment and that you are steamrollered, never getting an opportunity for your ideas to blossom. Even the “usual” kinds of minorities, based on race and gender allow you to feel like you are not in control, thereby absolving you of all responsibility for your own success. How do you really want the world to see you as a (fill in the blank) minority group, or as a talented creative person with the unique ability to (fill in the blank)? I would suspect that it is the latter, so how do you stop allowing the former to shape your identity for yourself and others you interact with?
Birds of a feather
It’s important to see what you have in common with others in your workplace, to really work to find others with the unique and unusual traits that you share so that you have something to really bond over. Even if you work at a firm where the culture is very innovation oriented and your co-workers and superiors are equally committed to thinking outside the box as you are, you will find an even greater affinity and sense of connection with someone who shares your trait for say, using storytelling techniques in the design process. If you don’t feel that there is anyone you can connect with, can you identify others in your professional community who you can form an alliance or mentorship with? Find your tribe and draw strength and energy (as well as validation) for the point of view and work style that you contribute to the profession.
Step outside of the box
The less you define your self as any type of outcast, the less others will perceive you in that way. Understand that what makes you different is what forms the basis of your identity. You get to choose how you are perceived and defined by either playing into a stereotype, or playing into your strengths. It’s critical to know the difference. For example, I am an introvert. Introverts are not the least bit shy, but we can seem rather aloof, as we tend to be more comfortable with an outside-looking-in approach to the world. For many years of my life, I let others (first my extroverted mother, then teachers, then colleagues) make that core personality trait wrong. I fought to push myself to be more extroverted, which of course, only led me to feel more like an awkward outsider. Then my path crossed with Dr. John McIntosh, who headed up the urban design program for Arizona State University. I was a young architect on the Phoenix Housing and Neighborhood Commission and looking to make a difference in my community and John saw that. He helped me see how I could orchestrate the right collection of people in the room to take action on initiatives, not just talk about doing something. Even more than that, he modeled unabashed introversion, while being a well respected and influential community leader. I realized through my connection with him that I could do the work I wanted to do without having to change my personality.
Take a stand
As important as it is not to make yourself a victim when you feel less than connected to a group you work with, I am not insinuating that there is not real discrimination of every stripe going on in the world. And that needs to be addressed, not ignored. If looking for common ground is still not breaking the ice, or someone is willing to “play nice” and say things you want to hear to your face, but takes actions that show they view you otherwise, call them on that. Ask them point blank to explain to you why they are not following through, or why the opportunities you have expressed a desire to achieve seem inaccessible. Then, listen, really listen to their response. If you receive constructive advice you can take action on, work with this person to put together a success plan with a timetable. If you hear a response that creates self-doubt in you, makes you feel embarrassed for asking, sweeps your concern under the rug, or makes you feel inadequate, then your feelings of being a victim may very well be stemming from psychological manipulation called gaslighting (read my detailed post on that) or downright prejudice on the part of this individual. In that case, you need to call a spade a spade and leave that situation.
The purpose of looking past differences and finding common, shared traits is to help you feel less intimidated about building a network, finding a mentor and going for your goals big time. The superstar of design that you admire is still just an designer and had to deal with the same basic challenges as you do every day. Looking at them in that way, takes away the unapproachable “aura of success” and lets you see how you can best approach them to form a connection.