I had an 18-year a corporate career, and on the outside it was very successful (I earned a lot of money, rose to the level of VP, managed large budgets and global initiatives, etc.), but on the inside, it was not successful. It was bumpy, challenging, and sometimes even harrowing. Throughout that long chapter in my adult life, I couldn’t figure out what was really at the heart of my challenges, nor could I determine the best steps to take to free myself of the pain and unhappiness I experienced in the workplace.
Finally, in the years following a crushing corporate layoff after 9/11, I did figure it out. I totally changed my life and career, and moved into the helping profession (therapy and coaching) which was so much better suited than corporate life to my core values, personality, talents and passions, and my desires for making an impact that meant something personally meaningful to me. And I became a researcher and writer on professional women’s challenges, and I loved it. In short, I braved up and finally began speaking up and honoring who I am inherently rather than trying to cram myself into a mold that never fit.
After 11 years of doing this work and research, and working with thousands of professional men and women around the world, I stepped back to evaluate if there is one core missing element that’s at the heart of so many of these unsatisfying lives. I re-examined all my research, and the assessments, surveys and quizzes I’ve developed and administered as well as hundreds of case studies of professional crisis in women (and men), to attempt to identify the one most basic issue underlying the majority of these challenges.
It turns out there is one core factor undermining our happiness and success.
My research revealed this: Thousands upon thousands of people are simply not brave enough yet to honor their true selves.
Women and men by the millions haven’t yet mustered the necessary courage, passion, confidence, commitment and perseverance to rise up, speak up and stand up boldly for themselves, and shift what needs to change in their lives and in the world around them.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t see, experience or acknowledge the many societal, cultural and institutional influences and barriers that limit and constrain women today. I do. I’ve personally lived through gender discrimination, sexual harassment, toxic colleagues, being passed over for a promotion by a man 10 years my junior with no relevant experience, and being told I was the “B” word when I was doing exactly what my male colleagues were doing, and getting a promotion for it. And the list goes on and on.
But my perspective now that I’m on the other side of that treatment and behavior, and in running my own business and calling the shots, is that all individuals who feel that they can’t create life as they want it need to rise up more bravely and boldly and take control of their lives. That is the only the pathway to shifting your life, and altering how society, culture and institutions treat individuals who are finding their pathway to success, reward and impact blocked.
What are the top three areas we need to muster more bravery today?
In my recent TEDx talk for TEDx Centennial Park Women, I share my take on why it’s time to brave up, and how specifically to do it.
The three most critical ways we need to brave up to be happier and more fulfilled are:
#1: See yourself as you truly are – amazing, talented, gifted and important to the world.
I’ve reviewed hundreds upon hundreds of responses to my Career Path Self-Assessment – a survey I created with questions I wished someone had asked me 30 years ago. The most pivotal questions are “How are you special? How do you stand out in the world that makes you different?” (Here’s a link to the survey – don’t make a move without taking it.)
Over 90% of the women who take this survey cannot answer this question. They either leave it blank or offer very vague descriptors. They don’t see about themselves as I see them – extremely gifted, brilliant, talented, accomplished, important and necessary in the world.
The problem is, if you don’t see your amazing gifts, then you can’t act on them, and you waste them. Now’s the time to understand exactly how you’re talented, gifted and deeply valuable in the world, and start doing something important with your special talents.
So, do you know how you’re special, talented, and vital to this world?
#2: Speak up bravely and share the real truth of what you think, feel and believe.
Research study after research study has revealed that women are viewed significantly more negatively than men when perceived as forceful or “assertive.” Our society just isn’t comfortable yet with passionate, authoritative and confident women who don’t hold back. Hundreds of women have shared with me personally that they’ve been penalized at work and at home, for being assertive and bold, and standing up for what they believe.
What’s the answer? Don’t hold back. Period. The time for that has passed.
Clearly, the world needs millions more examples of powerful, authoritative and confident women, and each of us needs to be a role model.
But research also reveals there are two critical ways both men and can speak more forcefully yet mitigate and lessen the negative backlash.
First, the fascinating research done by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny on gender bias reveals that, if you offer a “framing” statement that is grounded in a core value prior to making a forceful comment that may anger people, you’ll mitigate the backlash.
The value statement helps listeners hear you in a different way, and allows them to understand your intent more deeply.
Here’s an example: If you’re participating in a board meeting and don’t like the direction the group is suggesting taking the company, you can say, “I believe fully in honesty and integrity, so it’s really important for me to share honestly what I think here. I’m just not on board with the direction we’re discussing, and here’s why.”
Secondly, it’s critical to say what you need to say but with care, compassion and empathy in your heart, showing respect for all people and all ideas. You can vehemently disagree with an idea, but it’s critical to hold compassion in your heart for the individual sharing the idea.
When you analyze the words and language of some of history’s most memorable and inspiring leaders (for instance, Mother Theresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King) you’ll hear language that uplifts, inspires, enlivens, and presents a compelling vision of a better world for all, and a world that represents a higher version of us all. These amazing leaders don’t condemn, tear down, ridicule, or demean with hate or condemnation. They uplift.
To be assertive and compelling – to be a true visionary leader — avoid all hate and divisive language. Stay far way from sharing critical, biting, disrespectful and demeaning messages. I’ve found that anything can be said when it’s said with the utmost respect, empathy, care and compassion for all human beings.
#3: Leverage the fantastic talents you possess, and do it in service of others.
Finally, the third way we need to brave up more powerfully to live happier, more rewarding lives is to “shine” bravely. By that I mean,
Stop hiding your light. Let it out and let it shine. Identify those core talents you possess that come easily to you and that you love to use, and bring them forward in exciting ways.
(And don’t focus on skills you struggle to use; leverage those that are a joy.)
One key to this is focusing on leverage your talents to be of help and service to others. When you do that, life becomes more rewarding and joyful. Don’t let money, age, time, education, or any other excuse stand in your way. You have only one life to live on this planet and this time, and if you waste it, it’s gone forever and you’ll end up with painful regrets. (Read more about the top five regrets of midlife professionals.)
The one mistake I see professionals make over and over is believing two damaging myths:
• That they have to struggle incredibly hard and work themselves to the bone every day to be “successful.” (If it’s too easy, they feel it’s not success.)
• That they’ll need a total reinvention to be happy.
They’ve come to believe that they have to throw the entire baby out with the bathwater, and change everything in their careers to be happy. It’s simply not true.
What’s required is simply taking one small but bold step every single day – the step of acknowledging your core talents that you love to use, and finding new ways to use them.
When you do that – commit to exploring new ways to use yourself in service — you’ll begin to find new pathways to more exciting work, or you’ll start using your talents in new ways as a hobby or volunteer experience that enriches your life.
Either way, you’ll find that shining bravely means you’re finally honoring exactly who you are, and pursuing your highest potential rather than thwarting yourself at every turn trying to be something you’re not.
If you want to write, write. If you want to be an artist, take a class and hone your skills. If you want to sing, find a local group and start singing. If you want to learn more about becoming a coach, interview five coaches. Stop making excuses, and start finding ways to do the work you long to.
When you take these steps, and call up the bravery you need to honor who you are, your life will radically transform and you’ll finally experience the success and happiness you’ve been deeply longing for.