Narrative by Christina Schappacher
As Barbara Ray shared in her recent post, understanding your gifts, acknowledging them, and leaning in are critical to building confidence into them.
I have always been a connector. A relationship builder. A fun finder. A “people’s person.” While it comes naturally, it also feels like a prerequisite for my life: my dad’s job required we move every three to four years, so I was always “the new kid” looking for more friends.
Looking back, I realize it’s not just a survival tactic – it’s core to who I am as a person. No matter the situation, I focus on connecting with those around me; I do that by bringing energy, having fun, building trust, being goofy, listening to listen, trying to help. My mom loves to tell a story of me from third grade: realizing that my teacher was stressed out one afternoon, I brought her a cup of water and tried to do some neck massage therapy. May have been dangerous at the hands of an 8-year-old, but the care was obviously there.
I entered USC as a Chemical Engineering major, and for the first time perceived a disconnect between my natural focus on relationships and my technical mindset– engineers are decidedly not “bubbly,” “social,” or driven to personally check in with their 28 classmates to see how they were feeling after a significantly-more-grueling-than-usual Thermodynamics midterm. One of my now best friends confided that when he first met me he was “instantly annoyed” because I was “too positive’ … but I persisted, using the college environment to find a balance that felt authentically me.
My career in Oil and Gas taught me that the ‘professional’ world required me to be more technical and less personal. I had very few female colleagues, and none of them were as exuberant about being an engineer as I was. My performance reviews reinforced this notion: a boss once told me he questioned if I was serious about my job because I “laughed too much at work.” It seemed my true nature was not a gift, but instead something that distracted from my technical abilities. So, I decided to fully commit to “being a real engineer,” which meant acting like everyone else. I shut down the energy, stopped smiling, stopped engaging with my coworkers. (For anyone with whom I’ve crossed paths at North Highland – I know, I know; it’s hard to believe.) Even though I was still connected to a vibrant life outside the office, and excelling as an engineer, I felt like I was two disjointed parts of myself – and struggled with what to do next.
A downturn in the industry, and my resulting layoff, gave me a chance to rethink everything. What kind of job required such a drastic personal price? What kind of environment would encourage fitting in over embracing a unique approach? Who had I become if I wasn’t my authentic self and being connected at work?
To reset, I reached out to friends, family, classmates, colleagues, strangers, having great conversations about their passions, their work, their perspectives. I looked and listened for something that would allow me to be my whole self, to care about people and leverage my technical skills.
My search led me to Change Management, where we are constantly trying to solve the most complex problem: why people behave the way they do, and how to influence it to affect positive change. I have found passionate colleagues who engage through high energy, quiet confidence, and everything in-between; most importantly, I’ve found colleagues who are authentic about who they are and how they work, and who encourage me to do the same.
It seems silly that I initially pursued a path that was so at odds with the people skills I have spent my whole life developing; however, the experience taught me that being able to be the ‘real me’ – being energetic, connected, goofy – is really important to me. I cannot separate my personal and professional selves.
My biggest takeaway? Find what feels authentic to you and stick to it. Even if it makes you stick out! We are all born with natural gifts, which not only make us who we are, but allow us to bring unique value to the table. I think Oscar Wilde said it best: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Christina is a Manager/Client Lead based in Denver, CO. After graduating with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the University of Southern California (Fight On!), Christina spent 8 years in Oil and Gas working with a lot of data to determine the appropriate technical solution, characterize the financial implications, and manage the operations for asset development across the US. Realizing that people – not data and great solutions – drive change, she shifted into consulting, and has thoroughly enjoyed the transition ever since.
Beyond consulting, Christina enjoys being outdoorsy (hiking, skiing, camping, biking, yoga), being indoorsy (cooking, reading, singing), and most importantly being a wife to Jon and mom to Newton and Nikola (fur-babies) and Lillian (real baby).