How Embracing My “Weird” Set Me Apart in My Career

Junior high was my worst nightmare. You see, I’m Lebanese, and I’m an only child, so from these facts, we can immediately discern three things:

  1.     I had an inordinate amount of body hair.
  2.     I was bringing strange lunches to school before Sabra had popularized hummus.
  3.     I didn’t develop a solid set of social skills until about three years ago.

In junior high, all I wanted was to fit in with the skinny, blond, popular girls, and when your arm hair rivals that of the entire football team, that’s no easy task. I did everything I could to tame and disguise the things that made me different. I fried my curls into straight submission, got highlights (yes, I have receipts of chunky blond streaks cannibalizing my head), and singed off my arm hair with horribly scented depilatory creams. I layered on the Abercrombie & Fitch and doused myself with Beyonce’s True Star, but no matter how many apple pies I consumed, I couldn’t outrun my heritage.

Flash-forward about fifteen years. At 27 years old, I’ve worked on one of the hottest shows on network television, signed with a literary agent, and started my own blog. I have worked consistently in my field since my junior year of college, and if you ask me how I’ve achieved longevity, I will tell you work ethic and kindness. If you ask me how I got in the door, I will tell you “arm hair.”

Over time, I have learned that all of the things that I tried to suppress — all of the things that made me “weird” in junior high — those were the things that made me unique and afforded me a fresh perspective in the workplace. When I began to embrace all of the things that made me different, I turned my perceived liabilities into my biggest assets.

 

 

Over time, I have learned that all of the things that I tried to suppress — all of the things that made me “weird” in junior high — those were the things that made me unique and afforded me a fresh perspective in the workplace.

 

 

When people hear the word “brand,” they immediately think of logos and slogans and golden arches leading to crispy, crunchy fries. (Man, apple pies and fries? My wedding diet is crashing and burning as I write this). They think of lengthy statements of purpose and well-developed business plans intended only for the largest corporations.  

I’m going to challenge you to think of branding differently: your brand is simply the qualities with which you want to be associated. But it’s not enough to just be thought of as “hard-working” or “detail-oriented.” Yes, those are important qualities, but they are follow-up qualities.  When building our brands, we must identify and lead with the things about ourselves that make us different and unique and weird. All of the things we tried to hide as kids to avoid negatively “standing out” are all of the things that will make you positively “stand out” in the workforce.

Remember how I said I was embarrassed of my heritage as a kid? Flash-forward to my career as a writer. My goal as a television comedy writer is to get Middle Eastern people on mainstream TV in a role that’s deeper and more complex than just a suspicious terrorist. All of my original scripts have Middle Eastern people in them, and the most personal script to me is the one that tells a story loosely based on my eclectic Lebanese family. Being Middle Eastern — being the only daughter of an immigrant — being the daughter of a flight attendant and an international engineer construction manager — THESE are my unique perspectives. While they’re completely normal to me, they’re part of a story that is special and personal and belong only to me. They shape how I approach my writing. They shape how I treat people. They shape how I do business. And I believe my understanding and embracing of the things that make me me are why I’ve accomplished what I have. People are intrigued by my ability to articulate these unique experiences and world-views.

 

 

These are my unique perspectives. They shape how I approach my writing. They shape how I treat people. They shape how I do business. And I believe my understanding and embracing of the things that make me me are why I’ve accomplished what I have.

 

 

Being a minority is not a requirement for building a strong brand — it just happens to be part of my story. In order to learn to tell YOUR story, we need to identify your unique perspective and learn to harness them for the enhancing of your career.

But how, Natalie? How? — you ask.

French fries, child. And apple pie.

WEDDING DIET.

Okay back on track.

We’re going to peel you like a potato! Outside in:

  1. THE SKIN: Start by making a list of facts about yourself. For me, it would be Lebanese. Only child. Musical theater major. Transfer student. Media management major. Chicago native. Etc. — the list goes on. Start with undeniable facts about yourself — we’re easing into this.
  2. THE MIDDLE: Let’s talk about experiences: What have been the biggest moments in your life so far? Keep working on the list. For me, changing majors was HUGE. I had to admit that my dreams were shifting. It was truly a challenge for me — but I came out stronger for it. My parents working overseas and traveling while I was a kid significantly impacted me as well. List the significant moments in your life that have shaped or changed your perspective in some way.
  3. THE CORE: What do you value? What’s important to you? Is it family? Your faith? Your career? What would you say are your core values? The things that, no matter what changes or moves around you, never shift?

What we’re doing here is dissecting you — your life, your personality, your experiences. In order for you to communicate to people what makes you different, you need to be able to identify it first.

I believe that the foundation for success is hard work and kindness — no matter how many interviews or how many companies hire you, kindness and hard work are necessary for career longevity. But as far as getting in the door — as far as why people should hire you — that boils down to your brand. We have to have a solid understanding of ourselves in order to clearly communicate it and apply it to our daily work. You have to learn to articulate the stories and experiences that have shaped you into the person you are today.

 

 

I believe that the foundation for success is hard work and kindness — no matter how many interviews or how many companies hire you, kindness and hard work are necessary for career longevity.

 

 

If I could tell my junior high self one thing, it would be to spend less time suppressing the things that made me unique. In his Tony acceptance speech for best actor in a musical, Ben Platt said: “To all young people watching at home, don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody else, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.”

Your power lies in everything that makes you different, and the most important thing I’ve learned is to embrace those things fiercely.

Except the arm hair. Thank you laser hair removal Groupons.

  • I love reading this. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and outlook on the matter

  • Sophia Castano

    This is a great essay. As someone who definitely resonates with at a young age feeling different in a negative way, I can’t agree more. My personal uniqueness has aided my career more significantly. My mom is an artist who uses sculpture/painting to destigmatize sex. When I was a kid this meant other kids would criticize me by saying “your mom draws naked people.” However, having this kind of role model gave me a sexually confident perspective that even colleagues I admire struggle to uphold. Which inspires the kind of content I create, and contribute to my mom’s mission, through writing.

  • Erica Lauren

    Funny and poignant. One of the most thoughtful bits of original content I’ve seen on this consistently great site.

  • This was a really good post. Very good writing skills and storytelling!

  • Amanda Ray

    Unfortunately, the CFU courses that you need to obtain the certificate are not free but there are plenty of other great options in this post! Thanks!

  • Gemma

    This is brilliant, what am uplift to read something so empowering and something to support us rather than change us. Loved this piece and hope to see more of it.

  • Rachael

    Wow, this is my favorite article I’ve ever read, just because I found it so applicable my life. I’m also a middle eastern single child. I can not relate more to the torture of going through middle school and I’ve always felt ashamed of that part of my past until now.. Thank you.

  • Rachael

    Wow, this is my favorite article I’ve ever read, just because I found it so applicable my life. I’m also a middle eastern single child. I can not relate more to the torture of going through middle school and I’ve always felt ashamed of that part of my past until now.. Thank you.