A coffee conversation last week with a friend led us into a deep dive about the power of being authentic in our work. We talked about how being “real” can help us thrive–both personally and professionally.

In the past when I have spoken or written things “about me,” I’ve always been very conscientious about “filtering” my experience to fit the situation at hand. But the truth is, I have a lot of experience in a lot of industries and have learned skills and behaviors that have shaped me into the person I am today.

Music

I began my college career as a music major. I played the French horn and was the second-ever female drum major of the Troy University Sound of the South marching band. I’ve played on major studio recordings and in live shows and productions. I’ve performed in front of thousands of people in many scenarios and capabilities. In band and orchestra, I began to understand the power of integrity.

  • Teamwork. Marching band teaches you the importance of being on the same page. Try walking in a horizontal company front (a straight line of people walking forward shoulder to shoulder) with 300 people all perfectly in step, while playing a song together. One person steps with the wrong foot or takes too big a step and the whole thing is off.
  • Leadership. While a title of drum major means you get to lead and conduct the band, it doesn’t mean the band wants to follow you. I learned that unless you understand how to follow, you won’t be able to lead. This is where you could say that “human-centered” work began to take hold in my life. I had to understand how to motivate people, how to help them feel safe and secure, and how to live in a way that was aligned with my ideals.
  • Read and respond quickly. In symphonic festivals, groups are taken through a series of tests, one of which being sight-reading. That means that we would walk into a room set for an orchestra, sit down, and be given a sheet of music that we had never seen before, and play it to the best of our abilities. I learned how to identify the most important factors of a piece quickly and to understand musical nuances and clues at the drop of a hat. This skill has carried over into many aspects of my life.

Culinary Arts/Hospitality

Many of you may not know that I went to culinary school, or that I worked in hospitality for many years. While this was moreso the pursuit of a passion, it was also a fun and challenging way to make money.

  • Mise en place. This traditional method (from French chefs) of keeping everything in the proper place at all times, and of preparing ingredients ahead of time so as to ensure a smooth execution, has helped me to develop certain habits of working that allow me to know where I keep things and information at all times. It keeps me from spending too much time searching for a pen or a file and allows me to focus on the desired outcome instead.
  • Customer service. Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen a customer wreaking havoc on a server or bartender? Try being the server or bartender. In waiting tables, I learned how to quickly diffuse and address testy situations, as well as manage expectations and outcomes of all stakeholders.
  • Multitasking. In event and conference planning and coordination, I learned how to handle various deliverables at a time, often with different stakeholders and timelines for each deliverable. I’ve achieved memorable experiences for groups ranging from a dozen all the way up to 3000 people. In any given event, there are a range of vendors, attendees, partners, sponsors, and team members with whom I had to work, meaning that I had to learn to listen to the needs and wants of each of those and accomplish goals that were in their best interests.

Administration

I’ve worked in offices, handling administrative tasks and needs, as well as overseeing operations. This was a very humbling experience, as I was no longer in the spotlight. Instead, it was my job to ensure that my boss had everything they needed to succeed.

  • Anticipate needs. It was in my best interest to understand my boss’s needs as quickly as possible, often before she ever realized she needed it. This helped to allow her to focus 100% on the big picture, while I was able to tackle the micro. I still leverage this skill in my work today, as clients often may or may not know what they need, but know they need something.
  • Delegate tasks. Obviously, many times, i was the one to just get things done. But when I had access to a whole team of colleagues, I had to learn how to let up on the reins for the sake of overall productivity. As a self-proclaimed control freak, this was an extremely difficult lesson for me to accept. I still have trouble with this sometimes, but the Pareto principle (80/20 Rule) comes to mind whenever I find myself looking to do everything myself.

Conclusion

In my current work as an innovation strategist, I often find myself trying to “stay on topic,” but I can’t help but notice how much my experience has shaped me into who I am today. Here’s to being my authentic self.

Do you often try to avoid mentioning certain parts of your professional history? Why or why not?