My Biggest Mistake: The Professional Mask

I take the microphone and sing my heart out.


It sounds awful.


A grandpa on the countryside of Vietnam – he is half my size – just invited me to his house for karaoke.


Only Vietnamese songs available.


I don’t know when to start singing, what is the required pitch, and how to pronounce the words.


Still, countryside grandpa tells me - via Google Translate – that I am a great singer.


His 5-year old grandchild is more honest: after 20 seconds of my performance she leaves the room with fingers in her ears.


I love the honesty of children.


A virtue we often lose as grown-ups.


Children are completely free.


They don’t worry what other people will think and simply express what is inside them.


Growing up, we are shaped by unwritten rules and social norms.


Sometimes these are helpful guidelines, but too often they are stories we make up in our head to protect our image.


We win our reputation. We lose our authenticity.


I see the same happening in corporate offices.


I have been guilty of this too.


A Paradoxical Path to Excellence


When I came out of university and started working I thought: OK, now the seriousness starts.


Multinationals, big brands, and knowledgeable people.


I wanted to come across as competent.


So I was hiding behind a ‘professional’ mask. 


Swallowing a question because it could be a stupid one.


Not speaking up because I wasn’t sure.


Avoiding a personal story because it may not be suitable for the corporate world.


My thoughts, emotions and behavior were not congruent.


As a result, I wasn’t real.


I was striving for excellence.


But putting on the Professional Mask was not serving anyone.


Rather, in my striving to excellence, I needed to do the exact opposite.




I had to take off my Professional Mask for two reasons:



1) Business opportunities are revealed through exploration and risk taking


Innovation is founded on the unknown.

New ground is covered by high-quality questions.

Creativity is sparked by curiosity and not being afraid to pitch that ‘weird’ idea. It may just lead to a better one.


Business problems are an enormous puzzle, where no one has the box with the complete picture.

Everyone holds a few pieces of the puzzle in their hand, but no one knows what the other pieces look like.


If I think I need to know everything, I’m building a wall around me.

The wall prevents others from seeing that I


don't have all the pieces of the puzzle.


However, the wall blocks my own sight too.

This feels safe, but it prevents me from exploring.