Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Jeff Bezos

The definition of identity is who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by the world, and the characteristics that define you. But how do you express that? Let’s start from the outside in before moving to the inside out.

The Outside In

A Case Study: Red Shoes, the Good Wife and a Pink Purse

My mum was born in an era when women always dressed up when leaving the house: not for a night on the tiles, but for everyday occasions, such as a trip to the local grocery store. I always remember her looking elegant, and she had a penchant for clothes and accessories. 

Some years ago, when my mum was in her early 80s, she asked me if I could pick her up a piece of costume jewellery. She wanted a necklace. I asked what colour she would like and suggested perhaps something in beige, because it would be quite versatile and go with everything, like a pair of beige shoes. My mum gave me a horrified look, and said she had never worn beige shoes in her life, it was such a boring and uninspiring colour, and that she always wore red shoes because they were more fun and different. My mum was always full of surprises, and on reflection her identity, personality and uniqueness always stood out, but in a very subtle way. I admit red shoes might not sound that subtle, however I think they do give an insight into the fun element my mum always brought to her life, which allowed her personality to shine through.

I am a fan of the TV series The Good Wife, and at the end of the first series I watched the interview with Daniel Lawson, the costume designer. He spoke about the importance of each actor’s wardrobe in helping them develop their character and their story. He strived to have the wardrobe underscore what each actor was doing to help tell both the overall story, and their personal story. It was important that the wardrobe did not upstage or detract in any way, while at the same time it needed to get across a sense of who they were.

As the characters and their stories, and the plot, developed, he began to make subtle changes: for Alisha Florrick as she settled back into work and became more comfortable with her work environment, and the situation she had been saddled with, he began having her wear more jewellery, allowing a glimpse into her personality; for Diane Lockhart, who does pay attention to her style, he had her wearing vintage pins, which portrayed her as the businesswoman she is – chic and elegant; for Kalinda Sharma it was all about the job – she wore very minimal jewellery, and wearing the same necklace was her thing. He did the same for the male characters in developing their style to support the development of their character and story.

This is the same for people in their WorkLife today. People want to look the part and they want to be taken seriously, but they also want to allow their identity, personality and uniqueness to shine through: whether that is a subtle development similar to Alisha once they become comfortable in their role and environment: or more obvious as with Diane to portray their fashion sense and comfort with their position of power: or like Kalinda keeping it minimal and making it about being good at the job.

For me it is my signature perfume, colourful lipsticks and my wacky pink Ted Baker purse, that has started many a conversation, and brings a smile to people’s faces. I think we all need something that allows our uniqueness, personality and fun side to shine through.

A Case Study: Joan and Lila’s Stories – Headscarves and Tutus

Joan’s Story:

Joan was preparing for the interview stages of a significant progressive career change. When she was selecting the clothes she would wear for the various stages of the process she met with a personal dresser who said she has never failed in dressing a client for success at interviews. She went on to say that she was fascinated by identity, fascinated by how people, organisations and communities express who they are, and that clothes played an important role in designing their brand identity. She said that it was about more than clothes: it was about cultural statements, tribes, businesses, individuals and who we are or who we think we are.

The interviews were representative of the very different work environments across the world, where Joan’s work would take her: from a multi-cultural and community relations perspective. She needed and wanted to be respectful of this, and wearing headscarves was part of this. She wanted to do this while retaining her own style, identity, personality and uniqueness. Joan’s dresser was true to her word, in helping her to Dress For Success in securing the role. 

Lila’s Story:

Lila wore a pink tutu to her interview. It matched her pink hair. She also considered it her lucky colour, and it brought her luck that day, as she got the job. The role was within the design industry. 

Lila brought an element of surprise and unpredictability to her WorkLife (in a good way). She redefined what is appropriate and goes by her own rules. Her unique style plays an important role in her life, using it to tell her story. Her character shines through in how she presents herself.

Alexander Isley – a graphic designer, whose work and thinking I admire and respect – shares a different perspective to mine on Lila’s Dress To Impress Success story. He believes that people should be able to demonstrate their creativity, nonconformity and ability to think outside the box, through their work, conversation and within their personality.  

This reminded me of actors in training. Many schools require them to wear blacks throughout their training, usually t-shirts and pants, clothes that are comfortable to move and work in. Long hair has to be tied back, and no make-up or jewellery (apart from wedding bands) can be worn. The purpose is to allow everyone to begin from the same place: a blank or rather black canvas, from which to build. Where the perception of their own characters and the characters they are creating are not affected by their clothing.

Interestingly I read an article by Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, who said when interviewing people she wants to know what they have read, the films they are interested in, and why they want to be at Vogue. She is more interested in finding out who they are more deeply, than anything they have put on to wear that morning. She said it is more important to be honest about who you are, than concerned about surface appearances. The advice she gave was ‘Be Yourself’.  

Develop Your WorkLife Story

Being Different and Being the Same:  

Deep down each of us is different and deep down all of us are the same – we all want to feel we are unique, and we all want to feel we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves. When I was a teenager, I wore both Levi’s 501s and Wrangler Jeans. This made me feel unique, and also that I was part of something that was bigger than myself. It resolved two things: it made me feel I was a non-conformist person; and it also made me feel I was part of a movement. (More of Alexander Isley’s thinking which resonates with me.)

Understanding Who You Are from the Outside In Assignment

Questions to Ask Yourself:

Is there anything about my clothes or image that gives an insight into my personality? 

Do my clothes or image allow me to express myself in any way? 

How am I different?

How am I the same?

The Moral of these Stories

There are no good or bad ways of dressing. From minimalist through to flamboyant, it is about honouring and respecting who you are, it is about being you, it is about expressing yourself, and letting your personality and uniqueness shine through. 

The Inside Out 

A Case Study: Three Short Stories (Mine): When I’m Being Me

My First Story:

When my marriage ended, I was concerned about how this would impact my relationship with my stepsons – Diego, Carlos and Jack – who had been an important part of my life for ten years. This was because the boys had busy lives of their own, and I was not sure where I would fit in. I broached this with the eldest, Diego, who said to me, that I had welcomed them into my heart and my life, and that there would always be a place in their hearts and lives for me. True to his word, he and his brothers continue to include me in their important life events, as I do them. Diego now has four boys of his own: Mike, Andy, Alex and Janis. The time I spend with them is the most rewarding.

My Second Story:

I am a friendly person. I know this because people tell me. I believe it is part of my identity. Being Irish, it is part of our culture, something we are recognised for throughout the world. I come from a family that is very friendly and welcoming. My mum would always greet people with a warm hug, my dad with a warm handshake. 

I never gave much thought to this until a conference I attended. I was having a coffee before it began, and I just happened to lock eyes with a girl as she was entering the room and I smiled at her. I thought no more of it until later in the day when she came up to me and thanked me for giving her such a warm, welcoming smile. She went on to say that she had been nervous about attending the event, and that the mere thought of networking brought her out in a cold sweat and a state of panic. She said that even across the room, the power of my smile had helped to put her at ease.

My Third Story:

I consider myself to be easy going, but I am also very values-driven, and when something happens that goes against my values, I can become very fierce. An important value of mine is that we do not talk negatively about people we spend time with, behind their backs. I believe if we have got anything to say, it is fundamental that we say it directly. I encourage the people I work with to do this by way of giving feedback to each other, both positive and constructive. We are all good people, and we would never intentionally do or say something to upset each other; but any one of us can unintentionally do or say something that can be misunderstood. If this happens, we each have a responsibility to speak up. The way I encourage this is by asking for feedback for myself. This is in line with another important value: that I would never ask or expect anyone to do or experience something I would not do myself. 

At first people were reluctant to give feedback, particularly anything negative. Because the purpose of feedback is to enable greater self-awareness of the positive and negative impact our words and actions can have on other people and situations, I suggested a lighter approach to doing this. In Ireland people do not tend to use the word Self-Awareness. However, they are quick to call each other out if needed, by saying “Would you ever cop yourself on” or “Would you have a bit of cop-on”, which translates to “Your behaviour is not acceptable”. The team really liked this way of calling each other out, as and when is needed. It is a light-hearted way that gets the point across.

When You’re Being You Assignment

There are times when you do things when you do not always recognise your own uniqueness or the attributes that form your identity. This may be because when you are being your true or natural self, you do not give it much thought because you are simply “Being You”.

This reflective exercise opens your eyes to seeing yourself in a different light. It gives you a very rich set of insights about the kinds of situations that bring out your true or natural self, and what this means in terms of your identity and brand.

To start, think about three situations where you were simply Being You, as I did in my stories. These can be from anytime and anywhere in your WorkLife. The following questions will help you remember situations, and to then develop each one into a short story.

Ask Yourself the Following Questions:

What is something that someone once said to me, that has always remained with me?

What is most important to me?

Is there anything unique about my upbringing or culture, that is part of who I am?

What quirky things do people do or say where I’m from? 

Once you’ve written your stories, your next step is to identify the common themes, both explicit and underlying.

For example, mine include:

I speak up and voice my concerns with people I care about regardless of what the outcome will be. When I broached the subject with Diego, I really did not know if he and his brothers would make the time for me in their lives, but it was important for me to know, and to also express how important they were to me. People I care about are important to me.

An inherent part of who I am is deeply connected to my family and upbringing, and my culture. This gives me a strong sense of identity, and way of being.

I live my life true to my values. This means although I am easy going, at times I can be fierce. I can also draw upon the quirkiness of things people do and say to find a way forward when it is people I care about. This embraces a further value of mine: of embracing a light-hearted approach and making things fun.

The Moral of these Stories 

You have your own unique stories to tell. Your stories go to the heart of your identity, and it is through them that you can identify who you are, and what makes you interesting, different and unique. The inside out is about who you are in your heart and in your mind, this is what drives everything you do, and is unique to you because it comes from your beliefs and values. 

Outside In or Inside Out, it is about creating a sense of who you are, that you can project to others. 

In the next chapter you will explore whether you want to do this quietly and subtly, or whether at times you want to speak up and speak out.

Developing a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Style is an individual thing. It can help you to tell your story as you go on your path through your WorkLife. It is an expression of your identity from the Outside In. The Inside Out is everything that has meant something to you.  Pay attention to this. 

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

Continue to go deep into your identity by asking yourself the following questions:

So, who am I? or who do I think I am?

If they’re not helpful questions, ask:

Who would I rather be? or who am I afraid I am? 

Who do I think I am that no-one else knows I am?

Words of Wisdom

In an ideal world, you should be able to judge a book by its cover, and you should be able to be your real self. In reality what is on the outside can be different to what is on the inside. Strive to ‘Be Yourself’ Outside In and Inside Out. 

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here. Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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