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How To Change What The World Thinks About You

March 11, 20244 min read

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Inclusion Leaders,

We're back and this month's topic is not for the faint of heart. We're going to tackle a central issue that keeps professionals who aren't in the majority from making as much traction as we can - and that's our self-image.

You can't change what the system thinks about you if you believe what the system thinks about you... and most of us believe the system.

We've been shaped to believe inherited attitudes that lend significance to our skin tone, birthplace, age, hair, body size, abilities, religion, background, etc. The system that shaped those inherited attitudes says those unique traits dictate and limit our value. That's bad enough, but where the problem gets real is that we actually believe what the system says.

So not only do others judge and diminish us with their mindless interpretation of what dictates human value, calling us to "prove" our value through status and other displays of worth and superiority, but we believe their insidious fables and we do it to to ourselves and to each other.

Our self-image isn't our own.

This fabricated measure of human value that establishes white, young, male, and able-bodied at the top and others in distant descending order means that our self-image isn't actually our own. We just inherited a story meant to make us assimilate and "know our place". I know, harsh words, but I want you to sit with their significance.

On the surface, we may have made it to the promised land, but when we're alone with our thoughts, we wonder why all the degrees, titles, awards, and accomplishments still leave us feeling insufficient, less-than, and like it could all be taken away at a moment's notice.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit in the wake of political schemes to maintain and advance white supremacy. Actions including taking words like diversity, justice, safety, and inclusion and launching retroactive campaigns to sully them.

So what do you do when you can't single-handedly change the system?

Start by discovering your REAL self-image.

Start by setting aside the self-image you inherited and uncover your own. I laid out an exercise below to get you started and that's great to work through individually or with your ERGs or teams. All you need is a few minutes and your imagination to begin to release the inherited stories where, surprise-surprise, you never come out on top.


Imagine with eyes closed that you're a visitor from another galaxy, here to observe human society. (Sounds ridiculous, but trust me, it works.) As a true alien, you have no prior knowledge of Earth's cultures, traditions, or societal norms when you're dropped in the town called "Your Town".

Think about the aspects of what makes a person more vs less valuable that you take for granted. Consider traits, achievements, or even shortcomings you believe define your value as a person. Things like educational background, job title, age, physical appearance, gender, upbringing, eye-color, health, religious practice, the car you drive, your zip code, language fluency, publications, etc. All the things.

Capture your 'alien' perspective by writing down answers to the following questions:

  • Why is this trait or achievement considered important in human society?

  • What seems peculiar or illogical about using this trait or achievement as an indicator of value?

  • If you had to guess, what underlying belief might explain this behavior?

  • From an outsider’s view, does this aspect seem to be a universal measure of a person’s worth?

  • How might these beliefs appear arbitrary or unfounded from an outsider’s point of view?

Now here's the fun part!

EVALUATE which parts of your self-image might be more reflective of the societal norms and fables I mentioned earlier rather than your genuine self-image.

HIGHLIGHT any discrepancies where societal expectations diverge from what truly matters to you personally.

LIST the qualities, passions, and values that you feel GENUINELY represent who you are, uninfluenced by societal standards.

REFLECT on how these insights might adjust your self-image and self-identity.

SHARE & PROCESS your insights with someone you trust. Discussing these revelations can clarify and solidify your understanding of your authentic self-image versus the limiting one you inherited.

This topic was heavily inspired by a fantastic TedTalk by America Ferrera - the way she spoke about our relationship with the system reached right into my head and heart - I hope you'll watch it when you have a few minutes.

The system may have started your story, but you get to decide how it unfolds from here.

I'm not suggesting this is THE solution, but it's definitely a start!

Let me know how it goes.


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Self-image transformationOvercoming societal normsAuthentic identity discoveryPersonal empowermentDiversity and inclusionUnconscious biasesAlien perspective exerciseRedefining valueReleasing inherited beliefs
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Asia Bribiesca-Hedin

Asia Bribiesca-Hedin, MBA, MPA, CPC, CPCC, Principal Coach and CEO of Bridgewell LLC Professional Services

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