By: Whitney Millard, Guest Blogger
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”- Marianne Williamson
Two weeks before I turned 16 I got an after school job at a bank. One of those corporate numbers like Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins worked at, with dark corridors and vaults for keeping what I wrongfully assumed would be Scrooge McDuck-like piles of gold. (Spoilers: There was no gold.)
There also wasn’t an especially strict dress code at first. You needed to look semi-professional, which usually just meant wearing khakis and a button down. But as the bank grew, the dress code grew too. It grew stricter and stricter until it devolved into an official uniform policy including limits on makeup and nail polish colors. They even started to dictate the words we used, making sure we greeted customers a particular way, said goodbye to them in the same stilted language. Every. Single. Time.
I worked in banking on and off for 10 years. Being in that environment for so long, at that stage in my life where I was still so emotionally spongy, where everything around me was molding me into the person I would become, I started to think that was what adulthood looked like. That it left zero room for expressing your personality and even less room for fun.
After a long road and an arduous journey I escaped, and I made it to safety with a new job where almost everyone makes something wonderful and supports everyone else’s mission to make wonderful things too. A place where you can decide between suits and sweatshirts, eat lunch when you’re actually hungry, be around other people who think and feel like you do. It was like breathing for the first time in a decade.
I didn’t know how to react at first, I tip-toed around for a while afraid of saying the wrong thing. It hadn’t occurred to me that being myself could be a strength, could be a gift to the world that could give other people permission to be themselves, and do what they love. It hadn’t actually even occurred to me that being yourself could even be allowed in a workplace!
The worst thing you can do is tell your authentic self, the self you are when no one is watching, that it is wrong. That makes it start to recede into the shadows and if you do it long enough you will lose it, and it will take a lot of work to get it back. I’m still working on that getting it back part. Coaxing it into trusting me has not been an easy process.
I’ve heard plenty of people mock the idea that “everyone is a precious unique little snowflake” but it’s easy to take orders from someone else, it’s hard to call to your own shots, make your own rules. It’s scary to be responsible for your own experience. We can learn from the institutions that stifle us how to be responsible, organized, and most importantly disciplined. Then we can take that and create an environment for ourselves that looks like us, like a singular, unique expression. And that’s powerful. That’s how you change the world.
How do you express your uniquely YOU-ness? Help inspire others to flaunt their fab and tell us about it here!
Whitney Millard is a writer in Los Angeles attempting to make sense of this crazy world and it’s wonderful people. She launched her blog, WhittyWords.com last fall to have a place to lay down her (perhaps too many) thoughts and feelings. You can usually find her any place that has books, a stage, or boba tea and potstickers.
image via nadjaseale.com