Did you know we get over 80,000 messages every day telling us who we are, what’s acceptable behavior and how we should treat others? Most of us don’t consciously pay too much attention to these messages. But years and years of research demonstrates these messages do have an effect. For women just think about the messages we receive about beauty. How many times is your self talk about some form of “I’m not good enough.”
Not tall enough. Not skinny enough. Your hair not straight or curly enough. You weigh too much, too little or your body frame isn’t curvy enough or too curvy. Your boos are too big… too small .. not round enough or the droop too much. Too many wrinkles, freckles, age spots, dry skin, oily skin or well you get the point.
I’ve been “the ONLY” for a very long time. The only woman in a leadership position. The only black in a leadership position or sometimes in any position at work, at school or in the club. As a result I like to think I’m use to being OK standing out in a crowd. In fact, I consider it part of anyone’s leadership journey. At some point if you decide to follow your passion, your belief in your purpose and decide to use your gifts to make an impact on others then you’ve also decided to take the path least traveled.
Although I consider myself a spiritual person, these days. I choose to attend a Baptist church. One Sunday, we had a visiting minister speak at church. The sermon was on “This is how we do it here.” If you recognize the title that’s because it’s from a mid-1990’s hit by Montell Jordan of the same title.
The minister started out by saying” different religions practice their faith in a number of ways and that’s fine but here this is how we do it”… meaning here it’s done with lots of passion, hands clapping, shouting, standing, swaying and moving your feet. As she swayed she shouted, “If your neighbor isn’t moving, let ‘em know this is how we do it here!” As the morning service progressed, she repeatedly said, “if your neighbor isn’t moving then it’s because they just don’t believe like us!”
What a powerful message! As I looked around the church I saw a couple of hundred people standing, shouting “Amen! Yes! This is how we do it here!” I sat there confused and feeling like an outsider. As I looked around I felt like an outsider.
What does it mean if I don’t act like you? Does it really mean…
- I don’t believe like you,
- I don’t think like you,
- It’s OK for you to judge me, my intent, my spirit and my abilities without knowing me?
We like to be with people who are easy to be with and that is especially true at church and at work. While my emotional side said, “Just do it! Compliance will eliminate the discomfort you’re feeling and you’ll feel like you belong.” But that’s just not true.
As humans we have a strong need to belong. It’s part of our DNA. Every day we get subtle and sometimes not so subtle messages and signals about belonging. It takes a lot to decide be ourselves. After all it’s easier to “go along to get along.” As I mentioned earlier, much of my career choices have placed me in situations where I was the only African American or women. For years, I had to be intentional about my behavior. Do I speak up at this meeting? Did I come across as too aggressive or not aggressive enough? How do I dress so that I am taken seriously? If I talk about my children will others think I’m not serious about my career? If I don’t talk about my children how will I make others feel like we have something in common? How much of me do I share at work without negatively impacting my career? When I was insecure, others questioned my ability to perform. When I second guessed myself, they second guessed me too. All those feelings and thoughts came rushing back to me.
For one brief moment, I contemplated behaving like everyone else rather than being true to myself and my beliefs. Then I took a deep breath and simply exhaled!” I regained my self confidence and comfort in knowing I do think differently than some people. After all if I can’t be me in church then where can I?
I guess this is what Thomas Harris meant in his book called “I’m OK, You’re OK” when he said don’t make big decisions about your values and who you are in the midst of the storm. Having taken the time to intentionally reflect and decide who I am gives me the freedom to be OK when I chose a different path from the crowd. It also helps me understand I can make a different choice and that doesn’t make anyone else bad or not OK.
It’s more than a notion to decide to be the CEO of my life. Stepping out and embracing the fullness of who I am, taking the risk to do something really different and not buckling under the pressure to conform. Today, I applaud each of you who followed their destiny; to break away from the crowd embracing your leadership and choosing the challenge to conformity. To each of you …
May you act in wisdom
Conquer you fears and doubts
Discover your hidden talents and gifts
And face each day with hope and joy.