You can be yourself and not put your career at risk.
When I was 26, I was working in Finance in New York City.
I found myself on a team of women, and collectively we were responsible for over half a million dollars of our company's annual operational budget.
We spent most of our days liaising with various people throughout the organization, gathering and organizing the story behind those numbers.
Who was making what investments? Which contracts were under negotiation for massive new hardware or software platforms? What sort of regulatory training was required according to new laws?
This was life working in the financial industry.
One day, I found myself on the phone with one of my local liaisons on the trading floor. She hadn't replied to my emails requesting time-sensitive information, and was furious that in my attempt to motivate her to respond, I had cc'd her boss on the last one.
She told me in that moment I had "thrown her under the bus" and that I "cared way too much" about my job.
I had never heard the expression of being thrown under the bus before. And I remember being confused. My attempt to hold her accountable to her responsibility, and for wanting to have an impact in my career, had suddenly been labeled as a bad thing.
I debriefed the experience with a few of my colleagues at the time and they told me to tone it down a notch, and to stop being so fierce in holding people accountable to their responsibilities.
Because I grew up in this company and the people who were advising me were sort of like parents, I took their advice to heart, and I dimmed my light.
My interest in my career also shifted in that moment. What I understood was that finance was the place you went to stop caring so much, and to play games.
And so that's what I did. I stopped caring. I started doing my job with my head down, righteously took my vacations, learned how to coerce people into responsibility indirectly, and eventually, quit and moved across an ocean to another company where I continued business as usual for another few years.
Until I couldn't anymore. I couldn't continue not caring about my life for 40 hours a week, and I couldn't continue seeing things and not addressing them directly. Things that had the potential to change the culture of the entire organization that would get lost in a sea of KPIs and status reports, powerpoint presentations, and boring meetings no one really wanted to be in.
Meanwhile, new initiatives meant to liven up the organization full of trendy buzzwords and motivational messages fell flat on the hearts of every colleague I knew.
And so I turned my light back on, and I started getting fierce about my cause in the office, and caring again about the impact I had on the people around me every single day I walked through the doors. And this shift ended up being a huge highlight in my entire 13 year career in finance.
This was where the real heart of the organization was: the individual who was unwilling to dim her light.
Why do I say "her"?
Because I personally believe that corporate women are the biggest untapped resource in the world right now. They have extraordinary amounts of power, tremendous reach at the core of most industries, and a great potential for massive impact.
And most of them are expressing only a fraction of their full selves in the office, because, like me, they were probably told that there were rules to this game that they had to follow if they wanted to be successful.
Here's the thing: I know for a fact that that's bullshit. Because every single time I was willing to take a risk and break those rules, I made quantum leaps in my career. The more I began to express myself in the office and show just how much I cared, with my own approval at the root of those actions rather than seeking someone else's, the more impact and influence I had on the people around me. And that impact mattered, both for my career, and for the livelihood of the organization at large.
I did it unconsciously at the beginning of my career, and even though I was advised to dim my light, I'm quite clear that that same light is the reason why I doubled my salary and was quickly promoted in that 6 year time span in New York. I'm also clear it's the reason I can still have hours-long intimate chats with my bosses from that time, years later, and that if I were willing to move back to New York, that they'd find a way to hire me back in an instant. Because of that light, and not because of my skillset around managing large sums of money.
Here's my experience now:
I have spent the past four years of my life cultivating my full expression of self and guiding others to do the same. I'm unapologetic about it, which means that when I walk into an investment bank, or a conservative consulting firm now, and I talk about the power to influence fundamental transformation in an organization, I'm also simultaneously modeling it.
Because I walk in as myself, and no one else.
I've now dedicated my coaching career to evoking the pioneer and the creator from the heart of the corporate woman who is burning to have an impact, but who also contests with the fear of being too much. She worries that following this instinctual call will put her career and her personal life at risk.