Design for who you are (not who you wish you were)

Success isn’t always about changing who we are. 

Sometimes it is about making the most of who we are.

The self help industry is getting rich off all of us. Our hopes, dreams and more importantly our insecurities. It knows you think that you are not enough. That you have an inside voice whispering that you can be so much more. That you are terrified of getting to the end of it all and feeling like you didn’t do enough. It needs you to see what you are not.

Oh, how we do exactly that. We see our flaws, weaknesses and shortcomings. If you work in the corporate environment you may even have the ‘pleasure’ of having them presented back to you in a pie graph or chart. Sure, they throw in some good stuff too to balance out the loosely veiled attack on your character. But there they are, in not so glorious colour. What you are not. Where you are lacking. The theory being if you fix those things you gain eternal excellence (or something of that ilk). Then you spend most your time trying to counter that so called weakness.

I remember being told early in my advertising career that I was too girly. That I needed to be more serious if I wanted to be taken seriously. I was even told to try wearing no underwear to feel more like a powerful woman and less like a girl. Uh huh. Seriously. Of course I tried to be less ‘girly’, not the no undies thing but the more serious thing. Which didn’t go so well. Apparently my serious face just looks like a cranky bear who has not had enough sleep.

In truth you can interpret most things negatively or positively. You can be bossy or assertive. Practical or unimaginative. Diligent or compliant. Confident or cocky. Quiet or a good listener. It’s all down to interpretation. So hey why not interpret in a way you can do something with (besides beat yourself up about it).

Ask yourself, how can my weakness become a uniqueness? 

Often the thing we try and compensate for or even hide is the very thing we should amplify. Growth does not come from fixing it, rather it comes from using it. In one of the small business courses I run with my business partner, Dan Gregory, we met a young guy who was an environmentalist and a tree lopper. Incongruous right? A problem for someone who makes money from cutting down trees? Not really. It turned out he had used his environmental obsession to become a tree lopper with a difference. Now most trees cut down from suburban yards are wood chipped and he thought that was a crime. Beautiful, old trees going to waste, so he decided he would do something different. He would cut down trees and turn them into extraordinary furniture. It gave us the perfect opportunity to give him a unique identity. We called his business Treeincarnation- what will your tree come back as? He is super busy and super distinctive, all because of a could be weakness.

A good place to start on this is to think about what you hope no one will find out. What are you hoping they don’t notice? (Besides the normal imposter syndrome that plagues us all from time to time of course). Usually buried in the last thing you want people to know is a truth you may be able to use to your advantage if you look at it from a different point of view. The thing you keep trying to change is another good place to look for clues to this.

My girly approach was distinctive in the ad game. I was one of only 3 percent of female leaders in the advertising industry on the entire planet. So instead of girly I was playful, creative and feminine. I wore cat ears to the office somedays and sparkles more often than not. I stopped trying to be like everyone else and instead decided to be someone different. It attracted clients, the right ones, it attracted people, the right ones. I had a haircare client say, “do you know how nice it is to sit across the table from a woman and talk about hair without feeling judged by a bunch of blokes losing theirs?’”. When you embrace who you are and use it in a way that serves others the right people show up.

Growth is sometimes about reducing. 

Reducing our over the top expectations of ourselves. Unrealistic expectations cost us precious time and energy. Energy and enthusiasm that could be directed into action that produces results (not temporary changes or veneers that hide who we are, usually very badly by the way).

Accepting ourselves matters. The stuff that won’t go away no matter what we try. The big stuff. The things at our core that drive us. Today, there is no pie graph that will take away my ‘girliness’. I will be playful and feminine and use what I’ve got to make myself distinctive in a male dominated space.

Sure you and I can fix some things along the way, find better systems, get great mentors or coaches, tweak around the edges, learn new skills and work our butts off but we can’t change who we are. You can’t fundamentally change you. You have to find a way to apply you.

Who you are is enough. You have all you need to do that thing, achieve that dream and live a life that you get to the end of and just like a thrilling rollercoaster you say again, again, I want to go again. You want to do it all again, not to change it, but because it was a grand adventure.


Kieran Flanagan is a Co-Founder of The Impossible Institute. She speaks, writes about and teaches the power of thinking differently. To learn more or sign up to a course of newsletter go to

Kieran Flanagan CCO

T H E    I M P O S S I B L E    I N S T I T U T E

0419 498 772

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