Growing up playing soccer in the 1980’s was kind of like the Wild West. Not everyone fully understood the rules. Cultural norms were not fully established or recognized. Those players/teams who had a parent or relative who understood the game were an anomaly and an advantage. The first unwritten rule that I learned was “if you wore white cleats, you’d better be the best player on your team or even the field”. I learned this by accident because I wore white cleats for a season when I was young. They weren’t my choice. My mother bought what was cheap and these were definitely cheap! Either Patrick or Wilson, I don’t even recall. If anyone can tell by looking at the photo please put it in the comments below. Regardless of the brand, my attire sent off conflicting messages to people who understood. The color of my cleats sent the message, “I’m the best”. The fact that they were cheap said, “I don’t have the best tools (either through poverty or ignorance)”. My play sent the message “I don’t realize that I’m sending any messages!”
Ignorance and youth go hand in hand. Lack of experience is part of life. We pick up little pieces of information along the way that help us, mold us and allow us to move into a bigger world. It was plain to see that I was not sending a message with my cleats. They were simply a means to an end. I’ve never worn white (or colorful) cleats again. My skills don’t support them. Even though that cultural norm has changed, I still subscribe to it.
So what messages are you sending to the world on a regular basis? The cultural markers are different for all walks of life. Whether it is the clothes that you wear, your hair style, your walk, or your smile; you are sending messages for sure. But are they deliberate or clear? This is not a post about conformity. By all means, buck the cultural norms of the majority. Rather it is about the subtle clues that you are giving to people about who you are. Perhaps the message you want to send is “I don’t care what you think about me.” And it is expressed with your clothes, hair, shoes, facial expressions and language patterns. That’s completely fine! However if you’re sending that message but want to be accepted by everyone then you’ve set yourself up for a losing battle. The key is alignment.
You need to align the message that you are sending with the one that you want people to receive. The first thing that you must do is DECIDE. Decide on the message that you want people to get about you. Keep it simple though. No matter how deliberate you are about the signals that you send, no one is going to fully understand the complexities of you at first glance. So lead with something. Once you know what signal you want to send. See if people are getting it. Go to the people that you trust to tell you the truth and ask. If you’re off the mark, it is up to you to adjust or accept that you’re not sending the right message. The world is not obligated to understand you.
At this point, you will need to do a lot of observation. Are you getting the results that you’re looking for? Do people seem to be getting the signal that you’re sending? This will probably be easier to read from people that you do not know well. Those who know you well will take time to adjust to a new version of you. If you’ve been a downer in the past, smiling more will tell those people that you see every day “she’s happy today” not “she’s a happy person”. Changing long held perceptions will take time, effort and consistency.
So as you go out into your day. Recognize that you’re sending signals. You can keep sending the ones that you always have or change it up. That’s completely up to you. It just helps to have people receive the message that you want to send. Those white cleats might be holding you back from opportunities that you don’t even realize!
Have a great day being you today!