Don’t fool yourself. If you are someone’s “secret weapon,” you’re being undervalued.

Last Friday morning I received a phone call from a client who needed a messaging strategy delivered by noon on Monday. She expected gold in that timeframe and I was determined to give it to her. I was going to save the day where my competitor had failed and craft the right words that would ignite an entire sales team.

It was a suicide mission. Why do it? Well, the money was a factor, but it wasn’t my entire reason for taking the project. I wanted to prove my worth to a client who had not hired me in few years and remind her how smart I was.

Bringing me in was a political hot potato. I was told that my involvement would have to be top secret. I was hired to save the day, but no one could know I was actually doing the work. Wanting to prove myself, I climbed aboard promising to hit the target like a stealth fighter pilot.

I worked like mad over the weekend to produce a winning strategy. On Monday when I presented it to my client, I received a lukewarm reception.

I was angry with myself for taking the project, for agreeing to be invisible, for working over the weekend, taking time away from my family and for thinking that what I had created was so great that it would blow them away. Was I simply in love with my own work to the point of delusion? Perhaps.

Looking back, I could have done one of two things to prevent this: 1) refuse the project or 2) take it and say, “I’ll do this, but you realize that I have a process that is proven and without it, I can’t guarantee a positive outcome.” Either of those paths would have kept me from feeling like a failure.

When someone wants to hide your involvement or take credit for your work, think twice about how it might harm your personal brand and your self-esteem.

In the end, I listened to my client’s feedback and turned in a revised strategy the next day that made her very happy. She would take credit for my work and possibly give credit to my competitor. I would be forever branded her “Work Mistress.”

Yesterday I visited my business coach and regurgitated the story. As I was talking, I flashed back to when I was a student at the University of Alabama. I remembered a frat boy from the Phi Gam house that treated me like a mistress – never taking me to parties or football games – only to quiet restaurants across town where no one would find us. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew he was ashamed to be with me because I was Jewish. I just wanted to be at his table without having to admit to myself that he was marginalizing me with every clandestine date.

Over the past 20 years, there have been a number of times when I’ve played that same role in business. Each time I agree to go undercover, I stop myself from stepping into my power and living my true purpose. Just like a foolish woman who thinks that being a mistress will lead to marriage, my willingness to be invisible tells the world that that I am second rate when I am so much more than that.

Being invisible, behind-the-scenes, under-the-radar… call it what you will… if your work is being hidden, your personal brand will be diminished.