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Q&A

Avoid the pink slip -- stop trying to fit in

Globe and Mail Update

Ever walked into a workplace feeling like you were in Grade 9 all over again? It's been years since you had a mouth full of metal, but you're feeling a little insecure, different from everyone else. Maybe your ideas go against the grain or you're a woman in a sea of men. And in today's tortured economy, you might get the feeling that it's safer to run with the pack than to be the office oddball. Not so fast, says Robin Fisher Roffer, author of The Fearless Fish Out of Water: How to Succeed When You're the Only One Like You. These days, trying to fit in is a big mistake, the Los Angeles-based executive of Big Fish Marketing told The Globe and Mail. There's no time like the present, she said, to take advantage of what makes you different.

Who would you call a fish out of water?

I think it's anyone who feels out of step or out of place in their career or in the work force.

It could be because they're a different colour, they have a different ethnic background, they're from a different country or they just think differently. As a female business owner in the entertainment industry I am really an anomaly, but I've used it completely to my advantage.

You say that fish out of water tend to be very insecure. Why? And how do you shake it?

Different is good and I think you've got to own that within yourself. We put on these masks, we feel that people will accept us better if we become the follower, the caretaker, the party girl, the performer. But they can see right through it. And it's peeling away these masks and owning what's different about us that's important. In the book, I'm always talking about the people who have done this successfully - look at Ellen DeGeneres, Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama. Different is good. [But] we're still holding on to this idea that we have to conform to the norm, and if we really look deeply we can see it's not working any more. It's about standing out and standing up.

Why doesn't it work?

There's just too much competition for you to blend in. You have to put your flag in the ground and declare who you are in no uncertain terms. And when you do that, it needs to be authentic, consistent and clear.

Everybody's on this search to figure out who they are and what they want to do. But is it tougher for someone in an environment where they just don't fit in?

It's way more of a struggle. We have trouble accepting ourselves as we are because we are different. For the fish out of water, there's no path to follow. You're trailblazing and you're writing the script for your life as you go along, because it has not been written.

How important is it to still be a part of the pack but stand out? Do you risk being so different that you just can't work with people?

Absolutely. I mean, every single bit of communication you do in business has to be communicated in the language of the person that you're trying to influence. You don't want to be that person who's always naysaying, trying to be the maverick and butting heads with everyone.

Is it natural to want to blend in during the tough times?

It's absolutely what's happening and it's absolutely the thing that will probably get you the pink slip. There's just no room for anybody any more who's just coming in to their job 9 to 5 and hoping they're going to keep it.

So what should we do then? Share our out-there ideas, embrace our little quirks?

Right. It's about not wavering, not apologizing for being different but celebrating it. You can have a very unhappy life being a fish out of water if you're always looking for what's wrong with things instead of what's right and embracing those things.

So we should even dress uniquely?

This is so important. Who you are inside should be expressed in the way that you dress. You have to dress within the confines of what's acceptable in your industry or in your corporation, so if everyone's wearing a suit to work every day, fine. But how are you accessorizing it?

And why the emphasis on fish? Your name is Fisher, after all....

I ended up marrying a Pisces and he's the president of our company. There's something about fish that's part of who I am. There's so much beauty and colour and diversity in the ocean, and no one's blending in down there.

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