The Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council (ERIEC) administers a mentorship program for immigrant professionals unfamiliar with the skills required to acquire professional employment in their fields of expertise in Alberta.
I mentor in this program as often as my schedule will allow because I selfishly enjoy hearing about the journeys people take to arrive in Edmonton. For mentees, access to mentors can expedite their job search by helping with their resumes, cover letters, interviews and networking. However, one skill that consistently causes resistance and distress amongst mentees, is the need to differentiate themselves by cultivating a personal brand.
I had one mentoring experience in which the mentee repeatedly dodged activities related to personal branding. After a few conversations, I found that he was not comfortable differentiating himself from everyone else. He told me “the nail that sticks up is the one that gets hammered down”. It simply felt wrong to him.
Although there are informative intercultural lenses from which to explain his feeling of ‘wrongness’, using the liminal thinking lens, Gray would say personal branding challenges his governing belief about how a reputable, credible, honourable, and professional person should act.
“A belief that is deeply tied to identity and feelings of self-worth is called a governing belief” (p.53, Liminal Thinking)
But it still leaves the problem. To increase the likelihood that my mentee would get a job in his field of expertise in the Canadian labour market, he would need to understand the importance of ‘being the nail that sticks up‘…..at least a little.
This would require altering his governing belief that personal branding activities were shameful, changing how he sees himself and inevitably how all the people in his life see him. If it sounds formidable and transformational, it’s because it is. But it helps explain why, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, people refuse to change.
In liminal thinking terms, governing beliefs are the foundation for the bubbles of belief a group uses to navigate and survive reality together. Being the member of the group to challenge a governing belief can jeopardize relationships, making them risky to discuss and very difficult to change. But being a liminal thinker means having the awareness to identify your governing beliefs and the courage to confront them.
Over time my mentee began building a personal brand because he was seeing that he was having limited success without it. No matter how many resumes he sent, he still received few requests for interviews. Circumstances forced him to challenge his governing belief. Ultimately, it lead to forging new relationships while letting others go. He was co-creating a new reality with a new group.
To shed light on your governing beliefs Gray has an excellent exercise Begin by writing down the beliefs that make you the person you are and form the foundation for all the choices (large and small) in your life. Then sit down with a person you trust, and ask them to tell you what they think your governing belief(s) are. Comparing notes will lead to a lively and revealing conversation.
Liminal Thinking Principle #6: “Beliefs are tied to identity. Governing beliefs, which form the basis for other beliefs, are the most difficult to change, because they are tied to personal identity and feelings of self-worth. You can’t change governing beliefs without changing yourself.” (p.57, Liminal Thinking)