It’s hurtful to be “pigeonholed.”
When someone pigeonholes you, they see you according to THEIR filters. Being “pigeon-holed” keeps you ‘in a box.” They don’t see you becoming more than you are currently. For example, at work, you may be perceived as excellent in your current role, but not ready for the next level of leadership. This perception limits your ability to be chosen for more strategic and higher-paying positions.
In your family relationships, this might look like your family of origin still sees you as ‘not good enough.’ If you don’t feel truly seen or heard by your family you’ll face constant frustration and conflict.
Here are 4 strategies to move past being pigeonholed:
1. Don’t accept the projection
The way you can stay in your power is to not internalize other people’s projections. Just because they are stuck in their view of you, doesn’t mean that you have to agree with or believe it. Sometimes their view is motivated by needing to think they are ‘one-up’ on you, other times they could be blinded by a stereotyped bias.
In response to someone who states something that is currently untrue about you, simply reply to yourself, “Whatever!” (internal eye roll!) And let it roll off you, like water off a duck’s back.
The key is to stay objective about your actual abilities. It’s great to keep a running document of the wins you’ve had. Keep testimonials from people you’ve helped, positive remarks on performance evaluations, etc., close at hand. Regularly update your resume with wins. These practices remind you of your accomplishments.
It’s important that as women we don’t downplay our greatness just because others don’t see it (yet!)
2. Update others’ perception
Even though it seems there is nothing you can do, you can work on updating others’ perceptions. Often people are open to new information if you show them in a way that is relevant to them.
If your company only sees you in your current role, try carrying out a Bold Goal. A Bold Goal is an initiative/project that takes you out of the box of your day to day work. It showcases your ability to do something MORE.
For example, Ebonee was in a business development role in a pharmaceutical company. Her company only saw her business development talents. As a Bold Goal, she started a network that brought increased value to the salespeople in the field. The initiative was so successful she was invited to present the idea to the top leadership of the company (leaders she would never otherwise been in front of.)
3. Sort out “Their” stuff from “Your” stuff
Know that what others say tends to be more about them, than you. If your self-view is more favorable than their view of you, you may feel more disappointed than angry.
However, if you are genuinely hurt by their negative perceptions, it is usually because you have the same view (much as you might not want to admit it!) Their words only serve to activate your self-doubt.
In this case, you can stop being upset with them. Instead, refocus internally and address your doubts and negative self-perceptions. Every time their dismissals hurt you, make it an opportunity to accept and love who you are now. Find a simple action every day to that will help you be proud of who you are – whether that’s exercise, getting a credential, or truly feeling the love of your friends and family.
4. Create a new ecosystem
To create a new perception at work, make a ‘stakeholder map.” This maps the people who can help develop a new understanding of who you are within the workplace. Include not only your manager but colleagues across functions, a mentor or sponsor, and even a senior leader in your division. Then get going on meeting with those people!
Share with them and ask for their input about your Bold Goal so they can start seeing your abilities in a new light. Paint a mental movie in their mind about the next level of contribution you want to make, so they start to ‘see’ you doing that role. Seek their assistance in finding new opportunities to contribute, so they have to you talk to others about your expanded skill-set.
In your personal life, surround yourself with people you feel connected to, seen by, and enjoy. Initiate regular gatherings with other women who give you a sense of permission to go for your bold dreams and who reflect your specialness. Create a sisterhood around you that erases the projections of negative people and allows you to see yourself as you truly are.
The points in this article are the opinions of the writer.