Everyday that we sit in our chair to start work we have an invisible backpack on – and it impacts everything we say and do. It doesn’t matter our title – I know because I’ve talked to women from C-suite to interns and the underlying sentiments are the same.

In this invisible backpack, we carry our stresses, memories, rejection, hurt, microaggressions, trauma, embarrassment – from as far back as childhood to recent experiences in the workplace.

I call them our SHE Influencers in my book, You’re Absolutely Worth It, and they’re the sum of what we Saw, Heard, and Experienced in our life. Often we try to deny their influence on our career – because it’s not “appropriate” to talk about our unfortunate life experiences, childhood disadvantages, internal struggles, fears, doubts, or insecurities in the corporate setting.

We’re told to put on our “game face,” “never let them see you sweat,” focus on bottom line results, productivity, efficiency – anything else feels too “soft.” As long as your resume is polished, your attire is on point, and your speech is culturally acceptable you feel like you “belong” (somewhat).

But all the while, YOU, the real you is trying to survive and make it from one day to the next without feeling like a complete failure, out of place, or inadequate.

Someone might say you have imposter syndrome, I may have even suggested it in an article of mine you’ve read, but the real roots are the thing(s) or beliefs you haven’t addressed that continue to gnaw at your sense of self-worth. And it keeps showing up in your career – and in your personal life.

So ….

You didn’t negotiate your salary – yeah, because no one in your family has ever made that much money, or you’re a “girl” and you were told women shouldn’t make a lot of money, so you think you should just be happy with the salary you’re offered even if it doesn’t match your experience or education.

You’ve been afraid to share your opinions in meetings -yep, because no one in the room looks like you and based on where you grew up, it’s a miracle you’re in the room anyway. You’re quiet so you don’t sound “dumb” and prove to everyone else that you don’t deserve to be in the room.

You’re nervous to ask for the promotion – you sure are, because the last time you asked you were railroaded, held up, and made to feel like you needed a perfect score on the “promotion test” to even be considered – meanwhile your “less worked” counterparts (of other gender or races) were promoted because they had “potential.”

There are so many beliefs and experiences shaping how we show up daily in our career. Have you taken the time to address what’s in your backpack, even in a workplace that you can hide the REAL you so easily?

A few ways you can move forward may involve you:

  1. Getting to the root of why you have certain beliefs about yourself in your career: I talk about this a lot in my book, You’re Absolutely Worth It, when you can answer the why question honestly, feel the rawness of the answer, and start to deal with the real you – the part of you that perhaps you haven’t wanted to stare in the mirror, your career has a chance to thrive.
  2. Refusing to compartmentalizeWhat you believe about you and how you thrive in your career are directly connected – putting on a game face only works for so long. I’m not naïve in thinking external forces don’t impact our advancement, but what I am saying that your self-perception will impact what roles you take, what you’ll accept in the workplace, your willingness to self-advocate, and the overall health of your career. Choose to see your internal awareness and growth as a pre-requisite for a healthy career.
  3. Embracing your uniquenessThe time for believing you need to be a clone of others at work are no more – even if people try to convince you otherwise. Where you came from, didn’t come from, culture, gender, all make you YOU and it’s part of your story. Choose to shift from shame or fear to strength by accepting who you are REALLY, and make the decision to be the best version of you in the workplace. Go where your uniqueness is a value-add, not an irritant.

Give yourself permission to unpack what’s in your invisible backpack – your career, your well-being, and your future will thank you.