I was coaching a client this past month, and early in one of our sessions, she said: "Roberto, I'm a young woman of color, and I had to put up walls to function well, so I won't get hurt and can focus on business."
Being a father to a daughter, hearing something like this goes straight to my heart. And that is without talking about race.
When we step forth into the world, we do it with an innate desire to grow. And if you doubt this, think about your childhood, or look at any child around you. You will remember and see that we all strive to do something new, look for change or start a new activity that will keep our brain active while giving us purpose.
Every time we take a step, we move into transformation. By nature, that desire will move us close to our limits, on the edges of our comfort zones, and if we persist, we will go beyond them. It is a drive that comes from within and asks us to become a better version of ourselves. It is also something that moves us to understand our greatness.
Choosing to follow this force means that we will need to confront the areas we need to develop. If we don't, eventually, we realize that living in our current circumstances, or with limitations, is not something we can tolerate, and we understand that there is a gap between who we are now and who we need to be.
I spent hours reading self-help and leadership books from renowned authors. They all offered profound insights that resonated with me. However, it was not always easy to apply what I read. My reluctance stemmed from deep-seated habits that were hard to change and walls that I raised to protect myself. I soon realized that keeping everything inside could only cause me to remain wrapped in my dilemmas, ruminating about every possible reason not to take a step forward.
Through work and a whole bunch of gut-wrenching moments, I realized that if I wanted to follow my innate need for growth, I would have to be vulnerable and reveal myself to people and experiences that would challenge me.
In the process, I learned that I first needed to have compassion for myself and have no shame in sharing my struggles with others. Brenee Brown writes about this in her book Gifts of Imperfection: "Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen."
In the session with my client, she shared that she wanted to push people to learn more about cultural diversity and establish new organizational norms. At the same time, she shared that she had a hard time opening up, and she recognized that her relationships with her peers were not strong enough.
So, I asked about her story and how she got to where she is now. We talked about her struggles, how she surmounted them, what she learned, her determination, resilience, and successes. She then said, "This is what drives me. I want to create change and educate people, so they don't have to experience what I went through."
Then I asked: "If instead of pushing people to learn, you inspired them with your powerful story? What would that look like?"
Through tears and realizations, she understood what she needed to do. Starting with self-compassion and taking down those protective walls, she took it upon herself to acknowledge her power and establish better and stronger relationships. She chose to take little steps, show up with authenticity, share her story, and leverage it to inspire others.
At our essence, as humans, particularly as leaders, we have a calling to serve. And to serve others and the world, it is necessary to first tend to our own needs, embrace who we are, and recognize the power of our stories.
As you step forth into the world, starting with simple interactions, through words of encouragement, giving guidance, or inspiring people to realize higher accomplishments, you will contribute to their development and the development of the human race.
Not doing it would mean robbing yourself from the opportunity to experience something more significant and robbing the world from reaching higher standards. What a shame and what a loss that would be!
So, please don't stop, "young woman of color," because as you honor yourself, you inspire us to become more fully human, and you honor humanity for its constant need and desire to evolve.