How to be Human When Everyone is Peacocking
(advice for the millennial in transit)
When everyone is trying to stand out, it’s hard to be unique without looking like everyone else. The slang use of the word “peacocking” entered popular culture as a way to describe someone who dresses in a way to intentionally stand out. Over the past decade, this term has made its way into the business world and is now commonly applied to someone who intentionally goes out of their way to make themselves look bigger or more impressive than they really are. “Peacocking” in the business world shouldn’t surprise us: this kind of thinking is part of the millennial cultural DNA, reinforced by teachers, coaches, and parents. Some popular lines include: “You have to sell yourself;” “Make sure you spend time talking about your accomplishments;” “Bulk up your resume;” and “When you talk about a weakness, make sure it is a strength in disguise”.
This post is a reminder to tell my fellow Millennials to stop peacocking and start being human. If you want to be on the path to finding a meaningful career, make sure you are who you are selling.
1. Don’t sacrifice honesty by trying too hard. We know you’re smart and we can see that you know how to put yourself together. The biggest pitfall I have seen people make is when someone feels like they need to overcompensate. If you sell yourself as something you are not, your employer will lose because they will not have the right person for that position, and you will lose because you’ll be over your head with responsibilities you don’t have skills for. Here’s my very “millennial” advice: Don’t be the hipster. Instead, be what the hipster wants to be: themselves.
2. Be the employee you would want to hire/work with. Stop and really put yourself in your hiring manager’s or boss’s shoes. Be the employee you would want to work with. If they don’t like you, that’s okay—it’s likely the wrong environment for you. You should be asking yourself questions during the interview process, too: Will I mix well with the company culture? Will I require little or no effort to connect with my colleagues? Will my skills complement the skill sets of others on my team? When you are interviewing for a new position, don’t forget that you are also interviewing the company and team you will be working with. If both of you are not equally benefiting, your position will feel more like a “job” and less like a “career”.
3. The shorter and tighter, the better. When it comes to a resume, personal statement, emails—or anything else in written form—you should focus on giving the right answer without giving a long answer. If Twitter has taught us one good thing, it is how to be precise. Think: How can I say the most while using the least?
4. Instead of reminiscing, talk strategy and theory. While answering an interview question, don’t rely on looking for ways to tie-in your resume or awards—the people interviewing you read your resume, cover letter, and a list of references; all your leadership information and achievements can be found there. Instead, because your time together is limited, you should talk about a challenge their team faces on a regular basis and how your approach to problem solving would be an asset to the team. Bottom line: show who you are, don’t tell them.
5. We are all vulnerable and insecure; embrace it instead of being embarrassed by it. It’s hard to feel comfortable speaking in public; it’s hard to write; it’s hard to think on your feet when you know someone is judging your performance. Remember, we are all human and we all make mistakes. The person you are talking to has had their fair share missteps and pitfalls. If you make a mistake, stumble over your words, or forget the name of something, it shows that you are human. We learn. We move on. Your boss, your heroes, your coworkers, and the people who write blogs online are human—just like you. Knowing this, you should feel confident, even when you make a mistake, because those who have a lot of experience know a thing or two about empathy. If you can show empathy, it is likely the person you are speaking with will reciprocate.
6. You don’t need a destination, but you do need a path. Sometimes not knowing where you are going is a point of insecurity, and, as mentioned in the the point above, insecurity leads to puffed out feathers. Most of us can’t plan what company we will be working for when we retire. In a quickly changing job market, I think about the car headlights metaphor: when you are driving in the dark you can only see one hundred feet ahead of you, but you manage to get to where you need to go a few hundred feet at a time. None of us ever “have it all together” we just get more confident driving in the dark. For more on goal setting and planning a path, click here for more insight.
7. You are producing your best work. If you are always at the top of your game, your work will continue to be exciting. This kind of mindset allows you to continue to grow and develop your skills. Reliving the “glory days” means that you have stopped producing your best work and everything that follows will be mediocre—if you live with this mindset, you will be limited to it. My mentors who have spent their life dedicated to their industry still wake up every morning to read journals and start browsing the web for industry-related news. I know a chess master who does daily exercises for hours each day. I know an English professor who clicks through grammar and vocabulary practice online each morning. These people have a growth mindset. They tell me: I am getting better every day. And I am, too. And you should be, too.
8. Creativity is the new gold. Creativity is the only way to stay ahead of the curve: its value is rising, and employers know it. Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation, said in Fortune article this year: “Creativity is rapidly shifting from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’ quality for all types of successful organizations – from delicatessens to design firms. A firm’s embrace of creativity in their workplace culture requires a disciplined approach to unleash the chaos of inventive ideas.” Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box—just make sure you can still bring it back to the box.
Life isn’t a mere mating ritual where the most inflated wins. Peacocking is just as empty as the wind in your feathers. Don’t try to stand out, stand up for who you are.
Andrew J. Wilt