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  • Writer's pictureJenn Donahue

Take Off the Camo: Be the Real You

Camoflauge boots and jacket from US Nacy on carpet floor

When you go into different situations, are you becoming a different person just to fit in?

Oftentimes we hide parts of ourselves so we don’t stand out. It’s like we are wearing camouflage, either figuratively, or in my case, literally.

As one of very few women in engineering, and one of even fewer female engineers in the military, I know what it’s like to wear real camouflage. For the last 26 years I’ve been wearing camouflage part-time while the other side of me, the genuine Jennifer, has been able to live camo-free.

So how do we balance all sides of ourselves in an authentic way?

I’ve noticed that when I put on my uniform, I change. When wearing my camouflage, my posture becomes straighter, my voice becomes more assertive and direct and my body language becomes more confident. This feels necessary for the position I lead, but is it authentic to me?

It can be hard to know when to take off the camouflage completely and when it is necessary to keep it on.

Recognizing when you’re wearing it, evaluating the situation, and taking action are the first 3 steps to taking off the camouflage so that you can be the real, authentic version of yourself in every aspect of your life.

STEP 1: Recognize When You’re Wearing Camo.

The first step in taking off your camo is to recognize that it is there and when it is present.

The best way to do this is to first start by looking within. Ask yourself, “Am I being my genuine self when I’m at (work, the office, presenting, etc.)?” Are you using a different language, changing your tone of voice, altering your appearance, or taking on a persona that isn’t like you? Are you acting and speaking differently in different situations with different crowds?

Ask friends, colleagues, and others if you are being different at work than when you’re at home. Talking to your friends and those closest to you will help you with your examination of who you are in different types of situations.

For example, I’ve noticed that when I’m on military duty, I swear more. This is me trying to fit in with my surroundings and peers in a way that is not like me at all.

Finding your authentic leadership style means having the awareness to recognize when we are not showing up as your truest self, and having the courage to take off the camo in front of others.

STEP 2: Evaluate the Situation.

After you’ve recognized when you’re wearing the camouflage in different aspects of your life, you must now evaluate the situation. Take a hard look in the mirror and do a self assessment to understand who you are.

Ask yourself...

● In what areas of my life is it okay to leave some camo on?

● In what areas of my life must the camo come off?

● When is the right time to take off the camouflage?

Using these questions to evaluate your situation will help you to understand where decisions need to be made.

It is okay to keep some camo on, especially if you’re new to a position, office, or environment. Observe and take in your surroundings. What are other people wearing, doing, and saying? Maybe you need to wear some camo until you can get a better lay of the land and learn how to both fit in and shine through.

It’s not okay to wear the camo anymore when you become unhappy or miserable. If you look inside yourself and find that there are aspects of you that are not comfortable with the way you’re acting because you’re having to “fake it,” then it’s time for that camouflage to come off. If you’re not being your genuine self and it’s hurting you or others because you’re trying to be someone you’re not, then it’s time to shed the layers that are no longer authentic to you.

Having the hard conversations with yourself is necessary to growth and authentic leadership. Don’t be afraid to see what is making you miserable so that you can make the necessary decisions to alter your leadership style.

To determine the best route for you, I recommend starting with a list that includes all of your accolades, rewards, achievements and accomplishments. Focus on your value. What gifts do you offer? What skills do you bring to the fight? What talent do you bring to your organization?

Track your successes, too. What have you done over the last couple years? Have you been promoted? Have you won awards? Realizing your true value in this way will help to build your confidence and you’ll be able to see clearly how much you really have inside you that is ready to be brought forward and out of hiding. Maybe you end up deciding to remove some camo right away and leave some on, maybe you decide it all must come off right now.

Whatever your decision, determine the right time to ACT.

STEP 3. Take Action!

So you’ve decided you’re going to take off ALL the camouflage or maybe you’re going to take off your full uniform, except for the pants.

That’s what I did. In my military life, I stripped off all my camo aside from my pants. Because I decided that If I were to strip off all the camo at once, my peers would have no idea who they are talking to!

It was important to me that I leave a piece of the camo on until I decide that I’m ready to take it all off completely.

The way you do this is up to you and determined by you.

You have to decide how much of the camouflage to take off and when. Once you’ve decided, it’s up to you to do it.

Challenge Yourself: Take Off the Camo Step by Step

We wear camouflage at work or in other areas of our lives because we don’t want to stand out. We want to fit in. But when we hide parts of ourselves, we lead inauthentically and that causes our business to suffer, and people lose trust and respect in us.

How often are you showing up as the real, genuine you in your business?

When taking off your camo, remember to remind yourself of the positives, embrace your strengths, and don’t compare yourself to others. If you can realize how great you are on the inside, it will help to transform your confidence on the outside and allow you to move forward as an honest leader.

Implementing these 3 steps will encourage you to grow, reflect, and shift your mindset so that you can lead your team effectively in your own unique style, establish trust and loyalty with your team, and feel confident to be yourself in your leadership position.

If you want to hear more about taking your camo off step by step connect with me directly and we’ll discuss how I can best support you and your team.


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