I discovered that I didn't belong as soon as I learned how to read.
Eager to show off my new reading skills, I pleaded with my mom to let me fill out a form as we waited at my doctor's office. The first few questions were simple enough: "Name," "Age," "Gender." Then my eyes scanned down to the section titled "Ethnicity". I asked my mom what it meant, and she told me to just check off "other."
As I stared blankly at the check boxes before finally ticking off the "other" box, it became my first revelation that I didn't quite fit.
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My father was born and raised in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and immigrated to Canada in his thirties. I know what you're thinking right now, and yes, that would make me biracial. No, apparently my genes did NOT get the memo.
I grew up with traditional dishes like callaloo, doubles, and aloo pie, and spent summers frolicking on Tobago's shores and dancing like a madwoman at Caribana in Toronto. But, while my sister, who has darker features and beautiful spiral curls, was widely considered mixed, I was never accepted as black enough. On the other hand, because my cuisine and upbringing was so different from my white friends in the suburbs, I never felt like I was enough for that group either.
Growing up as an awkward mixed kid, all I wanted was to belong somewhere, anywhere.
Whether it has to do with your race, gender, sexuality, appearance, dancing skills, etc., at some point, you have probably felt a yearning to belong as well.
For some, feeling less-than is a motivator, it fires you up so that you hustle harder. But for the rest of us, feeling like your hard work is never going to pay off is both depressing and paralyzing.
"Being in a career where you don't feel valued is like being in a crappy relationship. You know damn well that it's not working out, but feelings of unworthiness have you in an emotional choke-hold, preventing you from going after a career that you both love and deserve."
I've been where you are. I remember justifying bad management and desperately wanting to be accepted within toxic cultures. That day never came. It was only when I hit rock bottom last March that I realized that the only person that could determine my worth was me.
Here are some of the roadblocks that I've stumbled upon along my journey toward self-acceptance that you might be experiencing yourself right now!
1. Your employer depends on you feeling like you aren't enough
There are many different management styles in the workplace, and I've experienced a wide variety so far.
I remember one hyper-competitive company I worked for that would regularly exclude one or two people from each department from group outings. It was brushed off as an innocent oversight, but it left those who were not invited disappointed and paranoid. It also instantly put the rest of all into self-preservation mode.
Weak cultures rely on scare tactics and emotional manipulation to batter your self-esteem and bruise your confidence. If you feel like you aren't enough, you're more likely to work harder to try and prove your worth. It also keeps you loyal, out of fear of never finding anything better or being unemployed.
Bad companies ingrain a scarcity mentality that is super tough to shake. Like any bad relationship, the only way that you will begin to see the full picture is after you've moved on and reflect back on the experience.
2. Your worth is based on silly social media metrics
Statistics are important. As a writer, I check analytics constantly. I publish, check the analytics, and adjust my style accordingly. My purpose is to help others by sharing my career experiences, and to do so, I need to constantly work on my communication skills.
The trouble starts when you begin to measure your self-worth with statistics. As much of an ego boost it is for me to me to be in the top 1% of LinkedIn profiles, I support their decision to get rid of rankings. It creates false confidence, and makes people focus less creating meaningful relationships and learning new skills, and more on superficial numbers.
Your worth doesn't require a WiFi signal. If you find yourself acting like one of Pavlov's dogs every time your smart phone dings, it may be time to unplug and start focusing on what you want your real life to look like.
3. Your career is not aligned with who you are.
I've said it already, but I'll say it again: A career is a relationship.
You know that settling down with a person that made you cringe on the first date is a bad move, but you don't apply those same standards to your job. The right career just fits. With Grade A, it was love at first interview. Grade A knew it too, and offered me a role that didn't even exist within a couple of days. A year later, I feel even more appreciation for the culture and team.
I can't tell you how many people have spoken to me about the sadness that they feel as soon as they get to work because they feel like they can't be themselves. If you are finding yourself feeling like a fraud, it could be the tension that exists between your work self and your off-duty self. I'm dubbing this condition "Identity Gap Anxiety".
Identity Gap Anxiety: Tension created by the space between who you truly are and who you're hired to be.
Your job shouldn't feel like a daily performance. If you are tired of acting instead of living, then it's time to find a company that eliminates that gap.
Let's face it, self-acceptance in a culture that is constantly trying to convince you that you are not enough, or that you don't have enough, is not an easy feat. I have an inbox full of spectators reminding me that I am not smart enough, pretty enough, or qualified enough. The easiest thing would be to believe it, and go back to living my quiet, normal life. But I refuse to do what is easy, and if you're reading this, I believe neither do you. We're meant for bigger, bolder dreams.
The secret to creating a life you love is realize that "enough" is a process with no beginning or end. Can you imagine how dull your life would be if you woke up tomorrow and realized that you've learned everything you possibly can? Being a work- in-progress is life's greatest gift. So,
"Let go of the belief that more "likes", a smaller waistline, or a pat on the back from your boss will make you whole. You are absolutely capable of chasing after everything you want, right now in this moment."
Michaela Alexis is a content marketing specialist, LinkedIn Lover, and writer based in Ottawa, Canada.