August 12, 2017

You Don’t Have To Be Serious To Be Taken Seriously

Growing your business doesn’t have to be full of frowns, grey suits, monotonous Powerpoint presentations or folded arms.

I wrote last week about how I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’m a walking contradiction and how we all have so many different sides of our personality. I recently spoke to The Debrief’s editor Rebecca Holman on my podcast about how The Debrief magazine caters to our many different sides as women: yes we want to know about complex politics but we also want to know when the Glossier lipgloss is going to be available in the UK. Yes, it’s possible to care about multiple things at once. Teen Vogue are also nailing this balance between intellect and fashion (I love Lauren Duca’s column Thigh High Politics) and Girlboss and Manrepeller have heaps of intelligent (and bonkers) content too. We all know how much people love to put others in a box – I get it all the time when people ask me ~what I do~ and I then respond with multiple answers and they scratch their head like “wuh?”

A few weeks ago I found myself going through my tagged photos on Facebook. Sometimes it’s nice to remind yourself what you’ve done that year with your friends and on holidays. I guess my Facebook page is slightly different to my other ‘platforms’ because there’s no work stuff on there. I noticed that I’m laughing in so many photos. My head is thrown back clearly doing an ear-shattering cackle and in general I’m being goofy.  I’m dancing on the patio in Portugal, laughing at my Dad’s bad dad joke, playing stupid games with my friends, dancing around my sister’s Sydney flat in a weird baseball-cap. My family are obsessed with fancy dress and even though I am the least likely to wear the crazy pink wig, I have inherited the love for bright colours and wacky clothes.

Early this year, I found myself feeling anxious and stressed and I didn’t feel like I was laughing much. I’d be at a friend’s party but my brain would be whirring about work. I was so serious at work events, even though the events weren’t about serious things. I was starting to take myself too seriously, I thought. I had been invited to a panel event by a really cool brand and realised I had been sat on the panel accidentally frowning the whole time talking about my work. The panel topic wasn’t serious (necessarily) it was just talking about things like switching off, work/life balance and being a young woman in business. Of course there is a time and place for being serious, but this particular event was supposed to be fun. And yet, I noticed that I had a barrier up: I wanted to be seen as a “serious business woman” (whatever that is) and I was losing my fun side.

I know where this has come from. It has grown from so many situations where I am the only woman on the panel, or the youngest person in the room. I’m not *that* young now – but through my career there have been many examples of when I was the youngest speaker on the programme or the youngest person pitching to a client. There have been examples of when I’ve been at big technology events but I am normally mingling or sitting next to men in their 40s and I immediately feel like I need to prove myself, I feel all eyes on me and immediately feel my defences go up. I want to be taken seriously. I want to be taken seriously but also wear the big colourful dress. I felt like I had to be serious and formal, else I’d be judged, misunderstood or booted out of the room.

I realised that not being myself was probably holding me back. Being the person in the room desperate “to be taken seriously” meant I wasn’t showing my softer side or my wittier side – the sides of my personality that have got me this far. It’s OK to crack a joke in the workplace, it’s OK to have a big smile on your face while talking about your work. If you wear a bright yellow coat, or furry earrings, or crazy shoes, it doesn’t mean you don’t know your shit just like the other people in the room.

I also realised that most of the people I admire are a bit goofy. They do not preach perfection and they are not bothered about being too serious with their work and in return don’t take themselves to seriously. I love the recent Leandra Medine collaboration with Topshop making this fun video about dancing jeans, for example.

I’m not interested in growing my business by posing behind a big desk with a frown on my face, I’m interested in growing my business by having some FUN along the way, in big shoes (and probably in a pair of pom-pom earrings).

  • Pom pom earrings and big shoes sound bloody perfect Emma. Thank you for this post, I was beginning to take myself a little too seriously. It’s time to find the fun side of Peta again!
    Peta x
    http://www.pe-ta.com

  • Just what I needed to hear. I’ve been serious lately, not because I want to prove something but because I have gone through many things. This is also what I’ve been learning lately. 🙂

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