Allow me to introduce you to my inner critic.
She’s quite stern, with her thin, white hair severely pulled back in a tight chignon. Her face is lined, and if you give her half a second, she will tell you that she’s seen it all – multiple times over. Her mouth is pursed tight, as are her arms tucked across her chest, and she whispers to me, eyebrows pinched, “You don’t belong here.”
I call her Edith.
As an entrepreneur, I fully realize there are lots of perks. I create my own schedule and I don’t answer to anyone but my clients. But there are drawbacks too. One of those drawbacks is that in addition to being a head coach delivering our products and services, I am also the East Coast’s chief sales person.
If it rains, it’s because I summon it. And if we get a little parched around the edges, it’s likely because I’ve been far too busy delivering for our clients and not creating new ones.
So when I am out there in the region, I am always looking for opportunities to share the best practices I’ve learned about what works – what really works – in the leadership space. I’m curious if your company is investing in their mid-career talent – and why or why not? I want to know if retaining Millennials is a topic of debate in your hallways. I will ask if you know of any organizations who want to engage and retain their female talent. I have a hundred questions.
But then Edith stalks up behind me. Her breath is hot on the back of my neck, and her long black robes pool around a starched white dickey so bright it hurts my eyes.
“You ask too much.”
“Quit being so self-promoting.”
“You look obnoxious.”
And, just this week, “you don’t belong here.”
This time when I heard her fierce whisper in my ear, I was in a regional community meeting where I was the youngest in the room by far. I was also one of only three people who were self-employed. As I looked at the powerhouses seated around the table, my stomach began to churn. The chairwoman began the meeting and as the pace picked up, so did my anxiety.
What can I contribute? What of my insight is even relevant?
Should I say something? If I do, what will they think?
What if they think I am being – gasp – self-promoting?
…What will they think if I say nothing at all?
With Edith’s hand tightly clasped over my mouth, I silently listened as a question about engaging young women went answered. The conversation started to turn in a direction that my intuition told me was not the best course of action, but I held back because of the fear that someone, maybe, possibly, kinda-sorta could judge me as self-promoting.
In the midst of my internal debate with my not-invisible-enough-foe, I heard my own voice and the clear tenor of my knowledge and enthusiasm ring out (because if there is one thing that overrides Edith and her haughty demeanor, it’s my passion).
Yes, just as we were about to move to the next topic, I found my voice. Deep down, deeper and stronger than Edith, I knew that the insight I had to offer was aligned with my business – after all, my insight is directly correlated with my expertise – it’s what I know and what I do. And I also knew that was okay because it was the right feedback to share.
As I offered my opinion to those powerhouse leaders, I remembered for the first time that day that I didn’t sneak in the back of the room and find a seat at the table – I was invited there.
And I was invited there for my voice, so I best use it.