Why "Be Yourself" Is Excellent Career Advice

Rosemary Flaaten

by Rosemary Flaaten


I had big shoes to fill. My predecessor was the Founder and had been Executive Director for 22 years. He was well known, widely published, highly respected, and deeply loved. His career carved a wide path and his retirement left a void that I was expected to fill. Big. Empty. Shoes.

Prior to arriving at my new job, I asked a mentor who had previously worked with my predecessor to give me his opinion as to what I should know about following in the shoes of this leader. Without hesitating, he cocked his head, smiled and said, “Wear your own shoes!”

Got Big Shoes To Fill? Wear Your Own

The advice to be myself was the best counsel I could have received. I realized I was viewing my predecessor as a giant and myself as miniature and in doing so there was no way I could fill the gap his retirement had left. His shape was all over the organization and as hard as I would try, I could not fill up all the space he had occupied. However, before I could start to wear my own shoes, there was something I had to stop. Comparison.Consider a seesaw (or a teeter-totter, depending on where you live). In order for this playground contraption to work, the rider on each end is either up or down. Both cannot be up, neither both down. Similarly, the only way for comparison to operate is for one person to be uplifted while the other is diminished. In comparison, someone always loses. I saw my predecessor as grandiose and I was diminutive.

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In response to this overwhelming feeling of inadequacy, I tried to pep talk myself through my feelings of insecurity or sought to identify ways I might be better than him. It was as if I was trying to ride the seesaw while finding ways to not always be stuck on the low end. My mentor’s encouragement was to simply get off the seesaw.

Stuck on the Comparison SeeSaw? Get Off

There are two things I have found necessary to help me stay off the seesaw of comparison. The first is to choose to celebrate the person: their accomplishments, character, and leadership. It was a subtle but significant shift to consider my predecessor as an ally rather than being intimidated by him. Celebration is fed and comparison is starved when I seize every opportunity to call out the good, praising and expressing gratitude for all that occurred before I was in this role.

Secondly, I needed to make a choice to not diminish myself. A popular understanding of humility is to not think too highly of yourself. However, I would like to put forward a different perspective: Humility is seeing yourself the way God sees you. He knows where we struggle and what comes naturally. He knows our fears and what brings us the greatest joy and satisfaction. We don’t have to prove anything to God. We can’t impress Him and there is nothing we can do to make Him love or delight in us more. Humility guards us from both dangers of an over-inflated or diminished view of self. Humility is being confident in who you are and where God has placed you.

I am learning to pray with the Psalmist: “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:6 NIV)

Stretched and Standing in a New Assignment

In my situation, wearing my own shoes means that as I step into my new role as Executive Director I do so with all the confidence that comes from being the Daughter of my Beloved Papa. I will forge my unique path based on my skills, experience, abilities and passions. I have a deep peace in the conviction that God has called me to this position and that gives me the courage to step into this stretch assignment. I don’t have to be the former leader. I don’t have to try and do things just like he did. I don’t have to attempt to come across as smart or engaging or wise. Remember, no comparison. I just need to be me.

And, you just need to be you. God has chosen you for this position. The people around you need you to show up every day using your gifts and skills. Focus on what God has called you to do and the skills he has uniquely developed in you. Wear your own shoes.




Rosemary Flaaten is the Executive Director of the Center for Healthy Relationships at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. She loves outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking and kayaking, competitive board games, and good food shared with new and old friends.