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  • Paul LaLonde

I Used to Wear My Shirt in the Pool: Don’t Let Others Steal Your Self-Worth

What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create. – Buddha

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Quick side note: In my last #HRPhilosopher blog post, I discussed one of my favorite bands ever, Killswitch Engage. Their new album dropped yesterday, and if you’re of the heavier musical persuasion, I highly recommend taking a listen if you haven’t already! #BangTheHeadThatDoesntBang #HRMetal

I was that kid who wore his t-shirt into the pool.

At #SHRM19 I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Browne. Any time I have that opportunity, I saver it. As we were sharing a pint and a laugh, I shared that his influence was helping me be more intentional about doing things I normally wouldn’t do. For example, I told Steve, I normally hated my smile and never showed my teeth because they’re crooked, but that I was intentionally showing my teeth when I smiled at the Conference.

In his authentic empathetic style, Steve looked me in the eye with an almost sad look. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Paul, I would have never noticed if you didn’t tell me.”

A lightbulb went off in my mind as if I was struck by the HR god of lightning. Can you imagine Thor as the HR Director? I believe the Employee Handbook would be so much more interesting! But I digress.

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My lightbulb/lightning moment: The only person who notices your crooked teeth is you! By and large, people don’t notice or care! Or, should I say, the people who matter, don’t notice or care.

That’s the point. Some people will notice, and those people will try to exert power over you. Don’t let them.

I have dealt with weight issues since the sixth grade. It’s a part of my history. It’s a part of whom I am as a person. I wore a shirt in the pool because I didn’t want people to see my tubby body. I was embarrassed. However, I was missing the point.

The white t-shirt was a symbol of my giving other people power over me. I was too worried about their seemingly judgmental eyes and thoughts.

By my hiding my teeth, I gave others power over me. I was worried about their seemingly judgmental eyes and thoughts.

Key word: Seemingly. Eyes and thoughts only hurt you if you let them. And I let them. What I felt, I attracted. I felt embarrassed, so I was embarrassed — despite having nothing to really be embarrassed about! My thoughts became my reality.

Thoughts are powerful – so powerful that you become the sum of your thoughts. Whatever you think about yourself, there you are.

Use this line of thinking in all areas of your life, and especially in your career when you hit those inevitable challenges. Lack of training? Ineffective communication? A lousy manager? Toxic workplace culture? Don’t let your thoughts give these things power over you. As Karlyn Borysenko says in Zen Your Work, “You are the only person who controls the stories you tell yourself.” So take control. Don’t allow negativity to destroy your inner self-worth and sense of who you are.

In Stoic thought, this is known as the “reverse clause.” It’s a backup option. It is using your reason and strength of mind to find a way out and turn the situation on its head.

Lack of training? An opportunity to teach yourself some new skills or find a new mentor to teach you what you need to know!

Ineffective communication? An opportunity to experiment and try new communication channels in your workplace!

A lousy manager? An opportunity to work on your patience and self-control!

Toxic workplace culture? Your job is not a life sentence! An opportunity to update your resume and test your networking skills!

I recently told a friend who has known me for only a year and a half, “I used to be almost 300 lbs.” They remarked in disbelief: “What!? I can’t believe that.”

Believe it, I said. It was true, but I was sick of it being true, and I decided to change the story, so I worked hard for two years shedding almost 100 lbs. It was difficult, yet easy. Difficult because losing weight and changing your lifestyle is HARD. It was easy because I made up my mind that this was my new reality. In the end, my thoughts led to my new reality.

I’ve since gained some of it back. You can take control of your thoughts, but you can’t take control of biology and time. However, I don’t wear my shirt in the pool anymore. I’ve decided to change that story. Now, I’m just showing off my incredibly enviable dad-bod. It’s all the rage these days! And damnit, I’m rocking it!

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