I don’t always drink soda, but when I do, it’s Diet Coke. Cold, bubbly Diet Coke, sometimes with a lime (does it count as a serving of fruit?), and always with the lingering taste of aspartame.
Of course, Redmond owns Real Foods Market, and in the world of raw foods and homemade kombucha, aspartame is a four-letter word. My Diet Cokes have only earned one or two disapproving looks from well-meaning associates, but in my imagination, every satisfying sip of soda comes with a social penalty attached. It sounds a little silly when I write it down, but I sometimes wonder if I should give up soda so I can fit in at Redmond.
Diet Coke isn’t the only thing I wonder about. Redmond has a strong culture, and with every culture comes social norms—unspoken rules that lend a sense of “should” and “should not” to what we do and say. Whenever we recognize something about ourselves that doesn’t match our perception of what’s normal—maybe it’s a Diet Coke, the wrong brand of work boots, the political party we support, or the way we spend our weekends—we feel shame.
Shame is the fear of disconnection. It’s the nagging sense that if our peers knew who we really are, they wouldn’t want us in their group anymore. We all feel it from time to time, whether we’re the CEO or an associate in her first week at Redmond, and the less we talk about it, the more likely we are to experience it.
In most cultures, the goal is to avoid shame by fitting in. Keep your head down, hide the things that make you different, emphasize the ways you’re most like the people in charge, and you’ll get ahead. Redmond tries to turn that system on its head. We’re building an environment where associates understand the difference between belonging and fitting in, and where we choose to belong.
I could try hundreds of things to fit in and be normal at Redmond. Should I give up soda? Vote Republican? Drink raw milk? Attend the right church? In the process of trying to fit in, I’d probably misinterpret what “normal” means, miss my target, and lose sight of myself in the process.
So I try to belong at Redmond, not just fit in, and the only way to really belong is to be more like my best self, not more like the people around me. It can feel risky to share an idea, volunteer for a project, or defend an unpopular opinion. I’m not even sure I know who “the best me” is, and it takes guts to let others see me trying. But it’s the only way to find my voice and make a contribution that really matters, and that is ultimately what Redmond is all about.