I attended a women’s leadership conference in December where the speaker asked us to close our eyes and imagine ourselves 4 years old again. What were we doing? Were we dancing? Singing? Playing? Could we see ourselves with that innocent, unbridled energy, racing along on bikes with training wheels, a parent running breathlessly behind us? The first image that came to my mind was when I would put on my red two-piece bathing suit and danced around our living room to Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”. My mother, of course, was horrified. I, however, felt liberated, energetic, not focusing on the lyrics of the song but the way the freedom in which my body moved, the way it made me smile and laugh and swing around with my arms wide open. This exercise was meant to place ourselves back to a time where we felt most confident, most daring, and most carefree with not a concern about what we looked like and with no effort to suppress our enthusiasm or emotions. So, it got me thinking, where did that 4 year old self go? And what would she tell me today?
Here’s what she would tell me:
Dance like no one’s watching.
On that stage of life, it’s just you sometimes, and it can feel very lonely, but sometimes so very empowering. So give it all you got – sometimes one chance is all you have.
Strut your stuff.
Okay, so maybe not wearing a bikini to work. But don’t be afraid to flaunt authentic, silly you. It’s okay, and it’s a fact that people gravitate to those who are confident and most authentic. You have what it takes, sister.
Embrace life with your arms wide open.
Life doesn’t stop and so you shouldn’t either. You need to embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly with the same passion and energy that you would in eating that last slice of birthday cake with extra frosting.
If you aren’t having fun, something is probably wrong.
This is not to say that every day of your work life has to be a three ring circus, but sometimes, it will feel like it. And in not such a good way. But find a sense of humor and some good colleagues to laugh with. Sometimes, the most creative thinking stems from laughing about its ridiculousness. And if you aren’t doing work that at the core you are passionate about, the fun part falls away and you are left feeling pretty empty. Trust your gut. It might be time to move on.
Forgive yourself when you fall.
Skinned knees and elbows came fast and furious when you were four. But you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off and got back on that bike/dance floor again. So what’s the difference now? We make mistakes because we are human. We learn how to do things differently next time; that’s the beauty of mistakes. We had some thick skin back then that some band-aids and Bactine could fix. So what’s different now?
Don’t let someone suppress your good energy.
Just because mom disapproved of the song, she didn’t stop you from dancing. She might have suggested something else that was more “appropriate”, but she still let you dance, that crazy, spinning around the room, tapping your toes dancing. There will be people in life who will tell you “no” and people who will tell you “yes” about something that you are passionate about, something that you really want to try. Listen to them both. And do it anyway.
Above all else, be you.
I think it might go without saying that you turned out pretty well. But you also lost that sense of unbridled energy somewhere along the way, the twinkle in your eyes darkened a bit. Although you have had some pretty great moments of success, what has unfortunately stuck with you are the voices of people who told you couldn’t, or that you can’t, or that you aren’t good enough, or that maybe you should think about other options, or don’t be so emotional. Emotional is who you are – it has driven you to much success and to some of the most hardest, most passionate of conversations.
So, for old time’s sake, why don’t you put on a little Rod Stewart? Who cares who is watching? It’s up to you, after all.
Originally published at https://engineeringleadershipdevelopment.wordpress.com
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