Posted byat 27th March, 2011
by Tara Sophia Mohr, Woodhull Alumna
Several years ago, I was attending a conference for professionals in philanthropy. I attended one session focused on one of the big challenges in the industry. I knew I held a very controversial view: that the older generation of professionals and institutions was preventing the very kind of change they were calling for, because of their attachment to realities that no longer existed. Normally, I would have kept quiet about that. After all, lots of those older generation folks were in the room – and they were powerful. Plus, no one else was mentioning it. And what would it do to my professional reputation to say something so confrontational?
But for some reason, that day, I raised my hand and spit out my view to all fifty folks in the room. Quite honestly, the main reason was fatigue – I was too tired from a 5am flight to operate with my filter on. I said plainly what I thought was wrong with the situation, and how the older institutions and professionals weren’t dealing with changing realities. I spoke about one particularly hot button issue that people tended to avoid talking about. I was blunt and passionate.
What happened next shocked me. People in the session became energized, and starting talking about the issue I had raised. People kept referring to me and my comment, talking about me like I was an important person: “The issue that Tara raised” … “As Tara noted in her comment…” “I want to respond to what Tara said…” When the session closed, many of them came over to me. They wanted to get coffee later in the conference, invite me to sit on this committee, hand me their card. That group included many of the more established professionals and institutions I’d criticized in my comment.
As I wandered back to my hotel room, I realized: Everything I had believed about the costs of making that comment was wrong. In fact, in making my controversial comment, I found visibility, connection and belonging with the group.
I realized: I was making this kind of misestimation every day, keeping my most radical views to myself, not sharing ideas or critiques of the status quo. I thought I was “being appropriate,” maintaining relationships, and doing the professionally wise thing, but actually I was preventing myself being known, from standing out – and from being seen as a real leader in my (then) field.
For me, this experience was about—yes—authenticity and professional success. But more deeply, it was about participating and belonging. Sometimes I fall into the illusion that if I show up in the room (if I attend the conference, the dinner party, the meeting – whatever it is ) and be friendly and nice – then I’m participating and as a result I’ll feel a sense of belonging. Not so. Belonging depends on authenticity, vulnerability – because it’s only in being ourselves do we get to feel we truly have been seen, that we truly belong. For me, that always feels scary, but it also makes life exciting. The most mundane-feeling experiences become exciting when we challenging ourselves to really show up authentically and share our point of view. The conference experience was so illuminating for me because it said to me so clearly: in ways beyond what you think, you can be you and belong.
When I’ve decided that my view is so far from what is mainstream I can’t even share it; when I’ve decided that the changes I’d like to see are just never going to happen, when I’ve decided that they are idiots, or that they just don’t get it – and then out of that judgment I don’t even share my point of view (except when ranting to friends on the phone after the fact, of course)– it only ends up isolating me, and reinforcing the idea that I have to somehow hide myself in the world. It robs me from that incredible experience of being seen and welcomed.
Maybe, at some earlier points along the way, I just didn’t have what I needed, internally, to speak up. I didn’t have the skills or the inner strength or the insensitivity to praise and criticism. Maybe you didn’t either. But now we are grown up. And we want to play big and change the world. We aren’t powerless kids or teens fighting for social survival any more. We’ve recovered from earlier experiences when we shared our ideas and got hurt or rejected. We are educated, wise, and diplomatic. We can start really bringing our voices – big, bold, bright – to the table.
Where in your life have you been shrinking or covering up your voice?
Are there areas in your life in which you are assuming that conforming is the path to belonging and connection – when in fact maybe sharing your real ideas/voice/feelings might be the path?
Where in your life are you willing to experiment with sharing your voice more fully?
Tara Sophia Mohr is a writer and coach and a Woodhull Alumnae. To learn about her Playing Big leadership program for women, CLICK HERE...