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Mindset series : What to do when you don't fit in...

I saw this tweet from Dr Julie Garner on twitter today and it brought some memories back.

Years ago I moved to Seattle to start my first job out of college - as a product manager at Microsoft (Msft calls their PM , program mgr) . I am what you can call an "accidental" product manager - I did my masters in computer science , was on the verge of becoming an engineer in the place I interned and got this accidental job as a PM (thank you, Microsoft! :)) I was fascinated by the role but having had no experience with it was completely unsure of what to expect . What's more I was leaving a place I was super familiar with (New York) to move alone to a place where I knew no one. It was a time of uncertainty for me and as much as I was excited , I was also scared . I kept thinking..

Did I make the right move? Am I going to regret this ? It didn't help that every person I met asked me "wait! why did you quit your job at Goldman Sachs to join MS?" Must say this was before the 2009 crisis :)

Microsoft at that time felt pretty intimidating - every person I knew seemed to be a rockstar and so sure of themselves and I had a strong feeling in my first few months that I didn't quite "fit in". It wasn't that I was an introvert or reserved person - but the newness of it all - people, job , place - made it so hard. I remember this lunch with a few colleagues my first week . They were discussing a rock concert and musicians they liked. Being no music buff.. I had no clue what they were talking about.. so didn't say a word at all . It felt so uncomfortable!

Well, am glad to say over time I got adjusted to it and now love being a product manager . But at that time, it didn't feel easy , it felt very outside my comfort zone.

Over the years though, I've grown more and more comfortable dealing with situations outside my comfort zone and I wanted to share a few learnings with you :)

1) The best thing to do when not fitting in - listen & be curious

There will absolutely be many situations when you feel you don't fit in . Maybe you are in a lunch where everyone else knows one another or you are part of a discussion with a set of folks who are in a completely different domain or industry or you are part of a conversation where you are a beginner and others are experts. At such times, listening is your friend. Be genuinely interested in what is being spoken about. If you are an outsider or a beginner be completely transparent about that and state it so - "I'm new here, how do you and X know each other?" , "That sounds fascinating ! Am a newbie with real estate investing - how long have you been doing it" .

Everyone loves to talk - so ask questions and LISTEN. This is way way better than being fake or doing things just to "fit in". Everyone has a bull$hit meter.. so don't fake it :) .. more about that in the 3rd point below.

2) "Outside your comfort zone" is where your biggest learning happens

We've all felt the feeling of being outside our comfort zone. Maybe its a new role / responsibility you are picking up at work, maybe you are starting something you have very little experience with , a big presentation in front of a massive audience (See my post on what mindsets I employ to combat presentation jitters) . Believe me, I've faced my fair share of imposter syndrome , butterflies , clammy hands and nausea induced by anxiety - but looking back I've had a startling insight.

Times of uncertainty and uncomfortable situations are also times when I've experienced tremendous personal growth and learning.

Think back to the last time you felt challenged or anxious - how did you feel after getting through that experience? Invigorated ? Confident ? Proud of yourself ? :) I know you do !

These days, I try to challenge myself and put myself out of my comfort zone whenever I can . I know irrespective of whether I pass with flying colors doing the thing that makes me anxious or not do so great - at the end of it, I'll feel more confident and have courage to tackle the next big thing :)

3) Being authentic is your secret weapon

In life , career and business , authenticity trumps everything. Below is my favorite quote by Oscar Wilde - it always made me smile :) When you live your life with integrity and sincerity and act in a way that is consistent with your values - you are authentic.

Be yourself, everyone else is taken - Oscar Wilde

Why do people feel "they don't fit in" ? It's because they feel judged , they feel deficient in some way and think poorly of themselves . But, if you are authentic, you automatically get rid of this feeling.

When you own who you are, what you say and do with sincerity - there is absolutely no place for insecurity.

"This is me" - you think and you are OK with it :)

That's it for this post folks. Hope you enjoyed it! :) What are some things experience has taught you about what to do when "you don't fit in"

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