(Editor’s Note: PPAI Media’s Voices series introduces the opinions, experience and advice of promo industry influencers. The opinions and ideas belong to the individual writer.)

People are always searching for the next great tip or trick to gain a competitive edge in the world of business. What’s the perfect tech stack? How do I optimize my email marketing sequence? How do I nail my elevator pitch? What combination of words will close the sale? How do we win that seven-figure RFP? 

I get it. Business is hard, and winning is fun. Winning at hard things is the most fun. You want every possible competitive advantage to get that winning edge. So do I.

So what’s the No. 1 thing you can do to level up your career and gain a winning edge in the world of business?

Just be normal.

What’s normal? Well, let’s start by getting clear on what normal is not. Normal is not some society-wide prescriptive measure of what constitutes average or, heaven forbid, boring behavior. It certainly is not some top-down corporate-defined standard of conduct. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of the typical phony “corporate” nonsense that makes your spidey senses tingle in all the worst ways.

You know “corporate” when you see it. It’s phony, inauthentic, bureaucratic and deeply uncomfortable for anyone with a scintilla of emotional awareness. Corporate is fake laughs at lame jokes and incessant talk about the weather during a Zoom call about a city that you have no interest in ever visiting. Oh, it’s moderately humid in the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area this time of year? Fascinating.

Corporate is mechanical, boring, transactional and cringe-inducing. Corporate nibbles away at your soul, one case of the Mondays at a time.

Normal is an entirely personal and subjective reflection of who you actually are underneath all the layers of comfortable artifice that you feel like you’re supposed to project in a business setting, your safe and carefully constructed “work persona.”

Let me ask you: when has “safe” and “comfortable” ever been a measure of greatness? You’re not a mid-sized family sedan, stop measuring yourselves against adjectives that are best used to describe a Volvo. Your objections are insecurity masquerading as arguments. The truth is, the real you is the best version of yourself and it’s the No. 1 thing you could share with the world to become more effective in the world of business.

If you want to be more successful in the world of business, stop pretending to be the version of yourself that you think other people expect you to be. That version of you sucks. If you want to gain a winning edge, you must close the gap between the image you are projecting in business settings and who you actually are. In other words: Just be normal.

So, what is normal? Normal is who you are when you are hanging out with your college buddies, coaching a t-ball game, having a vulnerable conversation with your spouse, or drinking a beer while working the grill on Sunday afternoon. It’s the gif you send to your wife because you managed to score tickets to the Eras Tour. Normal is admitting that you’re a giant Swiftie and you don’t care who knows it.

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I can hear the objections of the faint-hearted: “If I allow people to see me for who I actually am, they won’t see me as a professional.” Nonsense. Stop conflating inauthenticity with professionalism. You can be yourself and be a professional. They are not at odds.

Being a professional is all about how you show up and perform.

Do you show up and give it your best, particularly when you don’t feel like it? Do you refuse to compromise your integrity by always doing what you say you’re going to do. Do you show up on time, take your work seriously, provide value for others, make those around you better, and find ways to turn problems into opportunities. Boom, you’re a pro! Own it. Hiding the real you behind a façade of corporate inauthenticity doesn’t make you less professional – but it will make you less effective.

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I’ll grant you just this one caveat: You might work in a position or a corporate environment or a role that demands “executive presence,” or that you “put on your work face.” Admittedly, every company is different. Some companies really are bureaucratic, corporate hellscapes that suck the soul out of your body one phony interaction at a time.

If you’re at a company like that and this message speaks to you: Leave.

Those aren’t good companies and rarely do they get better. They always degrade over time. Conversely, great companies are built on a foundation of trust and communication. Fundamentally, to trust people, you need to know them – the real them, not the façade they put on when they get to the office.

Great communication requires honesty and transparency. It requires a bunch of people willing to just be normal and show up for one another as they actually are. If you’re certain that you couldn’t possibly just be normal at your company, try it anyways. If that doesn’t work, find a better company.

If you want to gain a competitive edge, flip your thinking. You don’t need to do another thing. You need to be who actually are. Show up with authenticity and vulnerability. Be an actual human being with flaws, feelings, and a unique perspective informed by your unique personal experience on this planet.

Be a professional, compete like hell, and be a decent human. Most importantly, just be normal. It’ll all work out.

White is the head of strategy and general counsel at BAMKO as well as a member of the PPAI Board of Directors.