What’s in a name? What do the names we take on—whether for our own identification, our job titles, or the description of our roles at work—say about us? Do they accurately reflect what we do and who we are? If not, how do they influence our self-identity and how others see us? In a world gone mad socially and politically, identity plays more of a role now than ever before.
When I first started at 15Five, it was quite obvious that I shared my first name with the CEO. With less than ten employees, there was bound to be confusion when someone wanted one of us. Neither David Hassell or myself went by Dave or Big D, so I chose a longtime nickname that was a derivative of my last name.
“Call me Miz,” I said. And so it was.
And just that easily, I volunteered to give up my identity. At the time, I didn’t see it as being an earth-shattering event—it was just a matter of expediency. But in retrospect, I realize it was more. As a newcomer to content marketing, I didn’t feel fully confident in my abilities. I didn’t want anyone to confuse me with the founder and CEO, because I felt like he was in a different league. The guy had a write-up in Forbes for Pete’s sake!
In retrospect, I minimized myself. This was completely of my own volition, giving up part of my identity because I was afraid that if people looked too closely at me, particularly in comparison to David, they wouldn’t be as impressed with what they found.
So this post is a reclamation for me. The name David means beloved, fitting for a being with a generous heart like the one that beats in my chest. And while Miz is endearing and unique and is indeed a part of my identity, there is a way in which I feel grounded and fully embodied only when I hear or say my full name.
For you, my beloved reader, this post is meant to explore the value of the roles, job titles, and names that we choose or accept in the workplace and in life. This is about embracing the power of authenticity, vulnerability, and truth, for if we are to give so much of ourselves to the businesses we love, shouldn’t we first know and embrace who we really are?
What’s the most popular piece of advice employees receive when they are just starting out, transitioning roles, or for some other reason doubt their skills and abilities? Fake it till you make it.
Oh, how I hate that phrase.
Fake it till you make it is intended to be helpful and seems harmless. If you act as if you know what you’re doing, people won’t recognize your areas of lack and vulnerability.
This adage is frequently used in relation to careers. Many of us have been advised to power pose and state our abilities confidently in job interviews, even if we may not meet all of the qualifications.
But when employees start performing their job, reality comes crashing down, because then they have to walk their interview talk. And by then, it can be too late to admit lacking the degree of skill they so confidently waggled in front of their potential new employer. That’s when faking it gets tough. The cost of being found out can mean getting fired for misrepresenting one’s abilities.
Although employees should try to gain those abilities they already claimed they had, the easiest way to obtain them is simply to ask for help. But that would mean admitting those shortcomings in the first place—something most are reluctant to do. As a result, many employees are expending mental energy on constantly hiding in plain sight.
It’s no wonder that even those who have become accomplished, who no longer need to fake it, feel like frauds—a feeling known as the imposter syndrome, which 70% of people experience at some point in their lives. (For an excellent vulnerable post about impostor syndrome by developer David Walsh, click here.)
Imagine an organization where you and your employees act as if they are completely confident, ostensibly having no need for help or information. Meanwhile on the inside, employees feel that their (perceived) lack of ability could be discovered at any time, and they’ll be unmasked.
Deception like this creates constant stress and subtly impacts the formation of new relationships. While we’re quietly faking it, we’re probably also projecting distrust onto our coworkers and managers. That’s a common coping strategy to quell cognitive dissonance.
Why do we feel the need to fake? It implies we are so incompetent that our level of knowledge and skill is not sufficient. And that makes us feel uncomfortably vulnerable. We don’t want anyone to see a weakness, when by hiding it, we also don’t give ourselves permission to bolster up those weaknesses by learning or by getting help.
True, there are some scientifically-backed benefits of faking confidence, such as it helps our body release hormones that improve mood or self-assurance, but there is a difference between presenting the best version of one’s self and a false version.
In today’s high performing organizations, there’s no time for “faking it.” Leaders need to accept that it takes some time to develop skill and expertise and make space for employee growth and development. The foundation of a successful organization is authenticity and transparency among employees and leaders. Developing work cultures where employees can be themselves, where they can ask for help without embarrassment, and where they can thrive, requires leaders making it safe to be real.
The onus of faking it doesn’t rest solely on the overeager candidate in search of a job. As leaders, our job classification systems unintentionally invite candidates and employees to show us who they think we want them to be, not necessarily who they are.
Let’s say your organization is hiring for a sales manager. The internal and external applicants will try to match expectations. They may try to use the right number of keywords to optimize their resumes for scanning software in hopes of being selected for an interview. People who are seeking employment may try to make themselves fit what is being sought, but that doesn’t necessarily serve the prospective employee or the company.
When they try to force (i.e. fake) themselves into a particular job, they might eventually “make it”, but they won’t thrive. Thriving requires alignment with our highest desires, contributing our greatest gifts, and receiving recognition for who we have developed into over time.
Instead of assigning job titles or prescriptive roles, take a step back to discover more about your employees. Who are they? What drives them? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can we really figure out how they can make their greatest contributions?
This requires having an authentic conversation where you invite creativity to find out where an employee may best thrive in the organization. This is not just about what slot they fit into, but how the team can adjust roles to allow people to work in their Zone of Genius—in ways that also help the company meet its business goals and contribute its gifts to the world.
It’s a subtle difference but instead of embracing the dangerous duplicity of faking it until you make it, how about appreciating that every employee possesses the ability to grow into the best version of themselves? Managers can help transform the old paradigm by working with employees, creating a trajectory of growth and acting as coach and mentor along the way.
Granted there’s a floor of abilities and skills required for every role and job title, but by adopting a growth mindset, you might find more flexibility there than you thought. Have an open and honest conversation and work together to help people quickly gain the skills and abilities they need. That way instead of “faking it”, employees are embracing the healthier frame of, “living into their potential”. This is a nuanced distinction that invites a completely different work culture of authenticity.
Of course, there’s some risk in asking employees what brings them bliss. What your employee may have a passion for may not be a match for the role or even the business. By having an open conversation, you pave the way for the employee to consider other opportunities inside the organization. In the worst case scenario where they leave, they can do so amicably and you open the door for a new person whose interests, skills, and abilities are a match.
So whether you fully own your strengths and vulnerabilities or actually create a role in concert with them, being unabashedly comfortable with your authentic self is the foundation for happiness and success in your career and in life.
Over the past five years, I have grown more confident as a person and as a writer, and I have found my calling in communications. Even though I wasn’t trying to fake being someone else by using the nickname Miz, I realized in time just how much David is who I am.
What’s in a name? In this case, my power and identity. So allow me to re-introduce myself…
My name is David Mizne.
David is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. His articles have also appeared on The Next Web & The Economist. Follow him on Twitter @davidmizne.
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