When my mother died, I went shopping for a nice dress for her to be buried in. She’d been in a dementia ward for some time, and almost all of her beautifully handmade (by her) clothes had vanished.
The dress I found was perfect, but had cap sleeves and I, perhaps strangely, was concerned that she’d be cold. After a prolonged search for a scarf to complement the dress, I found one that was perfect in every way, except it had a fringe. I liked the fringe, but my mother would definitely not have. I considered cutting it off, until my oldest and dear friend Helen, who’d offered to join me and help me shop, said, why don’t you keep the fringe? It’ll be a little bit of you that goes with her.
A sob caught in my throat. It felt so poignant, because my mother in life was rarely interested in me being me. It felt like a liberating moment when I could decide to be me anyway, whether it was well received or not, when she could no longer object.
It’s a lifetime of growing to be you. To be the leader that you want to be.
Being the leader you want to be, to have the impact you want to have, will not always be well received.
You might take that as a failure. In fact, it may feel like a full face plant.
In a meeting I attended a while ago, I kept raising the issue of diversity. Let me just say in the corporate-speak that allowed me to survive in that environment, it was not universally well received. I felt that diversity wasn’t being adequately addressed. After being told by one person to stop making them feel bad and to be more positive, a stunning example of privilege in action, I had a flashback to my corporate days and why I was so glad to be out of that environment.
It’s always a choice how you choose to show up. On that day, I chose to show up fierce. One of my values, equity, was and is worth advocating for, even if my advocacy is not well received.
Yes, some progress was made. But not enough, in my view. Equity issues starkly remained.
Perhaps I helped sway things to more equitable than the outcome would have been otherwise. I’ll never know. I certainly hope so.
I could perhaps have been more diplomatic, less direct. I could perhaps have worked to assuage the guilt and discomfort this person felt beneath their attempt at silencing me.
The point is, I was willing to do things badly rather than remain silent. I was willing to fail rather than feel that I hadn’t done everything I could. The issue was and is just too important.
And perhaps I didn’t fall on my face as much as I feared. Direct communication is clear, and clarity is a good thing. Assuaging people’s guilt and discomfort is not my job, even though women are often placed in that role. No one can make anyone feel anything (though they may try). If someone feels bad, they have an opportunity to look at their discomfort and what it might mean.
It can feel sometimes that you’ve failed, that you fell on your face. Whether or not that’s true, it’s important to honor what you believe, to be fierce when the stakes are high, to be yourself as a leader even if you can see it’s not being happily accepted.
That’s the work of impact.
I join you in the circle of people who applaud you for showing up, advocating, sometimes falling down, and still carrying on to have the impact you want to have. We’re with you.