Self-censorship and why it makes us miserable
For 2023, I did the usual thing of setting myself a new challenge and learning a new skill. Don’t worry, this isn’t another blog post about goal setting and putting yourself out of your comfort zone (I think we’ve all had our fill of those) but I’m just starting at the beginning, which, as Maria says, is a very good place to start.
This year’s impossible challenge is to get my butt on stage, ideally at a TEDx event to talk about something I bang on about quite a lot, but possibly not in the most succinct, interesting or credible way. That thing is self-censorship and why it makes us miserable.
To do this, I’ve signed up for a speaking accelerator with the very knowledgeable, Alex Merry, who’s been coaching me and a bunch of other founders to curate our ideas, communicate them in a more effective way and get us ready to pitch and apply for events with our idea statements.
It’s been a blast so far but the one thing that’s curbing my excitement is the not-insignificant wave of imposter syndrome as I sit on the coaching calls with founders doing incredible things that are changing the world and for really, really good causes. But, that’s what happens when you’re in the same room as leaders of that calibre. You feel uncomfortable and that means you’re growing. (Oops, perhaps this is turning into a comfort zone blog after all, I’ll move on).
Anyhoo, as I was saying, self-censorship is something I’ve been mulling over in my mind for a while now. This isn’t another authenticity conversation either. Not really. This is about when we adapt, edit and curb our natural personas to please others and to avoid criticism.
In episode three of my podcast (yep, that was last year’s challenge) we talked to Aimee Bateman and she said something that stuck with me;
The only way to avoid judgement is to say nothing, be nothing and do nothing.
She’s got a point, that Aimee. Wherever we go, whatever we do and say, someone out there is going to take issue or challenge us. That’s not always a bad thing, we just need to learn to roll with the punches. But I think there’s more of a conversation to be had. Especially around how we behave to actively avoid judgement.
I think it’s a byproduct of how we were raised.
If you’re anything like me, you probably grew up hearing things like, ‘shhh, stop being so bossy’, or ‘for goodness sake, don’t use those words around Grandma, she’ll have a fit!’, or ‘behave yourself, we want to make a good impression.’
As children, we’re taught, with the best intentions to adapt and edit our behaviour to suit others, to appease and please others. To self-censor.
I worry that we’re carrying on this behaviour as adults in such a negative way that it’s making us unhappy and severely affecting who we attract and spend our time with in our personal lives and our careers.
As adults, this behaviour manifests in different ways. From editing how we dress to fit into the stereotype of a boardroom (Apprentice, you have a lot to answer for. Those block colour pencil dresses are SOOOO uncomfortable and you all look the bloody same!), to not speaking up about what you really, really want (channelling my inner Spice Girl) from life with your partners and loved ones because you’re afraid of judgement or because it’s just not what is ‘normal’.
The problem is, it’s exhausting.
There is an additional conversation we need to be having that’s deeper than the over-used term ‘authenticity’ and if I’m honest, I want to find out if I’m alone in this thinking or if there are people out there who have felt the same wave of frustration and exhaustion from self-censoring.
Or, whether there’s just something odd going on in my own brain that I need to get sorted.
I’m going to be exploring this in a lot more detail as I work through my course and training but I’m just putting this out there to gather any thoughts and feedback, so feel free to drop a comment and let me know your experiences.
But first, a lighthearted story about one of my own personal lightbulb moments from long ago…
Finding out who I am
Back in the day, I was a freelance designer out and about networking and building a client base. I had a very specific view of what classed as ‘professional’ and I did find myself editing my personality, how I spoke and even how I dressed when I was attending networking events, meeting with clients and on the phone with prospects.
It was like I woke up as one person and then had to put on a certain mask to be taken seriously, or be seen as professional. Granted, a lot of this was self-judgement and reflection and probably most of it wasn’t necessary.
But it’s what we see on tv, in films and how we’re taught by our parents, teachers and friends that influence us.
Exhausting and uncomfortable are words that spring to the mind of this period of time.
I was doing great, making money, building a network and a really great client base, but I wasn’t totally happy with how things are going.
But, I couldn’t put my finger on why. And then I had a bit of a slip-up and everything changed.
How ‘Toodle-pip’ changed the way I do business
Referrals are wonderful, aren’t they? On this particular occasion, a businessman I’d met at a networking event was super kind and sent me a referral email, with an introduction to someone who was looking for my skills.
Excited and grateful, I replied instantly with my thanks and asked when this person would be free to meet up to chat everything through. (This was way before Covid when everyone always met up for introductions).
In my eagerness and excitement, I made one fatal error and let my ‘professional’ mask slip.
There, underneath the reply, instead of the traditionally accepted ‘kind regards’ (don’t EVEN get me started on that) was…
Shame on me. I’d let my excitable personality get the better of me and ruin everything.
Now, you make be thinking, no big deal. What’s the beef? And I did too until I received a very flustered phone call from the guy that had sent the referral.
He told me, very pointedly that I couldn’t sign off emails like that. It wasn’t professional. Businesses would never work with me if I conducted myself like that and I needed to think more carefully about my communication if I was going to get ahead in this industry. He went on to say that he didn’t feel confident sending any more referrals my way.
What the actual, f***?!
I was utterly devastated. Gutted. I thought I’d ruined my chances and after all, this guy was a seasoned business owner who knew his shit and if he was saying this, it might be true.
Oh, poor, naive Jess.
Long story short (sort of), I met with the prospect and was soon put at ease. Apparently, my email was refreshing. According to her, it was so great to see some personality and enthusiasm, which encouraged her to meet with me.
We ended up building a really great working relationship and worked together for years. She even took me with her when she moved roles, twice!
What I did next
Following this magical turn of events, I decided to let my ‘professional’, ‘corporate’ mask slip more often and experiment with the results. It turns out, more of the same.
It was a revelation for me and I soon realised that my superpower was wording my e-communications in exactly the same way as I speak to my friends, family and in social settings.
It turns, out I didn’t need that corporate filter to win business.
I didn’t need the mask to grow my business, either.
I could write a whole blog post about email communications but here are a few things that people don’t do in real life and therefore shouldn’t do over email either…
✦ No one goes up to a networking event and starts their sentence with ‘Dear Mr…’
✦ Absolutely no one ends their face-to-face conversations with ‘kind regards’ and then walks off. No-one.
✦ No one speaks consistently in multiple paragraphs before letting the person speak (obvs, unless they’re lecturing, or presenting) so why are emails SO. FREAKIN’. LONG?
✦ Nothing bad will happen when you sign off your emails with toodlepip.
In contrast, what might happen is that you attract the very best people to work with that get you and want to work with you because you’re you.
Because you haven’t censored yourself to blend in, to do the same as what’s gone before; to avoid judgement.
What would have happened if I hadn’t had that slip-up?
I’m not sure if anything would have gone differently, but I do know that I wouldn’t have been as happy in that working relationship if I’d had to keep the mask on for all those years working together.
Basically, what I’ve learnt is that we need to show up consistently, as ourselves, wherever we are. It’s easier. Yes, you might repel some people who don’t understand you.
But are they really the people you want to be working with anyway?
Doesn’t it also save you a lot of time?
It’s simple to show the benefits here because I’m just talking about email and how you sign off, but hopefully, you get my point.
This incident was one lightbulb moment of a series that happened to me over the following couple of years and it has culminated in me taking this deep dive into self-censorship and exploring it in more detail.
I’m not an expert, I don’t have a psychology degree or a behavioural science qualification. I just want to open up the conversation because I find it fascinating.
How about you?
Are you ready to make your business the star of the show?
Summon a whole team of animation experts today, we’re here for any burning questions you might have and we’re ready and willing to help!