In late-November I was contacted by a recruiter for an exciting opportunity with Tory Burch for a truly fabulous role. I love Tory Burch and have been a very committed client and brand ambassador of theirs since 2013. I had a delightful interview with the Senior Vice President of this organization and a few days later emailed the recruiter for feedback and follow-up. The recruiter called me later that day and told me that the SVP loved our conversation, loved my energy and vision, he communicated to the in-house recruiter that I was “impressive” but his concern was that I lacked luxury retail experience and that is “very important to him”. Fair enough – in any of my traditional roles that is absolutely correct. However, I have worked with three European based luxury organizations over the last two years as a consultant. MY concern was that this was never surfaced to me during my 60 minutes with the SVP and had I known it was a point of pause for him, I would have been able to articulate my involvement with luxury retail as a consumer and a consultant. The SVP never asked me questions about this…nor did he ask me about the retailers I shop with, the retailers I follow and admire. He never asked me about my clients, what CEO’s or CLO’s I have worked with or partnered with. Assumptions were made about who I am, my scope of knowledge, [strangely] my socioeconomic status, and my ability to deliver results and leadership development to a well compensated, luxury brand workforce. This wasn’t the first time I have been underestimated, nor will it – likely – be the last.
I am one who thrives in the face of adversity and use it to fuel my successes and most people I know do as well. However, there are those who can’t carry that weight and allow it to define their lack of accomplishment or progress. It is my position, though, that facing adversity and being underestimated is one of the best ways to reach success.
It is extremely easy for someone to glean one small fact or make assumptions about another person and immediately underestimate them without even realizing it. Because of this, so many people are often underestimated.
Understanding Our Worth
When I was told that the one concern that Tory Burch – who reached out to me – had was that I don’t have luxury experience…I heard that I wasn’t worthy of their brand [as one of three candidates and someone who is a dedicated client of theirs]. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel bad about that feedback. I knew at that moment that the candidate(s) with a more desirable list of previous employers would be considered over me. Fueled by reviewing three years of accomplishments over the following few days I was able to shake my feeling of disappointment but still feel a twinge of some emotion I have a difficult time labeling when I pass by a Tory Burch boutique whilst shopping. I received this feedback in early December and at that time moved onto new projects for 2019 and have since have had the pleasure of delivering one keynote speech at a fabulous leadership event in Europe.
Can other candidates produce examples of when they were published? Can they produce evidence that over 2 million visitors to date have used their learning & development/culture blog as a tool and resource for career/performance improvement [along with over 200 positive comments]? Can they produce real and full examples of their work and style of communication over and above just what they say they can do? Can most candidates produce Forbes and Huffington Post examples of their content being used for podcasts and other’s blogs? Can they say they have been invited to speak at some of retail and L&D’s most respected conferences worldwide? Can they deliver interviews [both written and podcasts] they’ve been the guest of? Objectively, most candidates cannot. These are not questions that I was asked about during the conversation and things that were glossed over in lieu of other more pedestrian questions [“What do you do when you get stuck while working on a project?”] when I surfaced them to support my expertise and experience.
Knowing and believing in our worth is the easiest, most straightforward step we can take to keep negativity from devouring us. It is, however, one of the hardest things to actually put in to practice and perspective. When people – essentially [or outright] – tell us that we aren’t as valuable as we know we are, it can be easy to begin to believe them.
When People Underestimate You – Here’s What To Do
You have to deliberately and consciously remind yourself how valuable you truly are. Here are a few ways to bring this abstract, but hugely important step in to the practical:
- Compliment Yourself: Certainly there are more times to be humble than not – but when you are faced with someone telling you that you are good enough to be a customer of theirs but not good enough to be an agent of change and business partner of theirs [that can be tough feedback to digest], you need to recollect and congratulate yourself on your accomplishments. Things that make you unique and valuable – these are the things that define you. Not someone’s assumptions about your abilities or status. Someday, someone will see your value beyond a laundry list of paper-based, subjective facts.
- Take Time to Marinade In & Celebrate Your Accomplishments: The third day following the disappointing feedback that Tory Burch found me to be too banal and bourgeois for their brand, I decided to celebrate my accomplishments as a consultant and someone who took serious charge of their career three years ago. We all have things that make us special and most people don’t celebrate them for us. WE need to honor those accomplishments, risks, wins, commitments of time, and failures that taught us how fabulous and valuable we truly are. Honor them in a vivid, robust, and colorful way. We owe that to ourselves from time to time.
- Educate People Who Don’t Understand Your Value: There are many people out there that are just ignorant, misinformed, or that default to making assumptions about others. They’ve never interacted with someone hyper-competent, enthusiastic, and driven and they feel safer with the most parochial option. Sell yourself – in this case, I did not do this well and was quixotically naïve that my accomplishments and credentials would speak for themselves – that was a mistake on my part. About a year ago I stopped mentioning my most unique accomplishments because I would get the impression that most people (1) just simply didn’t care or (2) believed I was show-boating when I would bring up some of the more exciting things I have accomplished. Most people can’t conceive of doing something bold or inspiring outside of what is considered average so they can’t fathom how that makes someone unique or increases their value. I love people that work outside the status quo, THOSE are the people that have value today. Most companies are still stuck requiring institutional or traditional stamps of approval for employment consideration – what this means is that they simply don’t know what talent or potential looks like. They have have immature, outdated, and flawed talent strategies. Today – true talent comes in all forms and truly innovative organizations know to ask questions to find out who the best candidate is. You absolutely do not have to share your life story with anyone, but misinformation and lack of understanding plays a role in the under-estimation of others.
- Prove Them Wrong: Here’s the thing, the person(s) who are doing the underestimating think they know something about you that you don’t know about yourself. You, however, know more about yourself than anyone else ever can or will. Give yourself a couple days to have a spectacular mope and then get back to being great – with a vengeance.