Saddle Back Up!

If sometimes we need to do a little Texas two-step to keep moving forward, we also need to learn to saddle back up!

A seasoned rider since the time I was small, I recall with great clarity the ease with which I once rode my proverbial horse wild and free, feeling on top of my game! I had grand vision, relentless drive and an enthusiasm that left little room for doubt. I vacillated between a Western style that afforded me more opportunity for hard-charging freedom, and the more structured and controlled nature of the English saddle.  Always prepared, I rode in environments that encouraged me to explore and expand my limits, while challenging me to step around or jump over obstacles in my way.

But even with the best preparation, things don’t always go as planned. Even with strong skills and experience, we can be knocked off our horse (though the choice to get back up is always our own).

Until the first fall, our courage, strength and resiliency remain untested. Until the first fall, we do not fully understand risk, fear or failure.

I remember my first significant fall.

stamp.phpHer name was Polly. A stubborn, yet beautiful pony. Returning home from an English hack, we stepped out of the woods and into an open field that led to the barn. “Be sure to stay together!” our leader told us. “Always maintain control!” we were again advised, for it was this time above all others that posed the most risk to riders. From the ponies’  perspective, it was a race to the finish where the reward (food) could finally be reaped.

Sandwiched in the middle of the group, Polly broke out ahead of the rest. Unable to restrain her, I was violently thrown off, lying perpendicular on the ground to the remaining ponies who proceeded to jump over me along the way. A single kick to the head could have been fatal, so I held tightly on to my hat, closed my eyes, breathed deeply and waited for the stampede to pass.

Shaken, tired, sore and frightened, I stood up and wandered back to the barn in a dazed and haphazard way. As I approached the gate, Polly looked up at me from her oats as if to say, “What took you so long?”  

In that moment, I had a choice: Walk away or saddle back up.

Never one for quitting, I brushed off the dirt, secured my hat, and climbed back on. I walked slowly at first to regain my footing. I reflected back on my missteps and took measures to refine my technique. Polly would smell no fear from me and I would ride again.

And so we did.

Many times.

Sometimes she would stubbornly stop short of a jump, refusing to budge. At other times, we moved seamlessly in sync. When she taunted me, I learned patience. When I struggled to hold on, I learned to dig in. Over time, I learned that fear would always undermine progress, while courage, confidence, trust and respect could take us both far.

I’m curious…

Have you ever had a time when you fell off your horse and struggled to saddle back up? What lessons did you learn and how have you applied those in your life moving forward? What did the circumstances teach you about others in the process? How did your understanding of courage, strength, resiliency, risk, fear and failure deepen as a consequence of your fall?

 

 

 

“Trenches”

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Trenches

Standing Up to Dumbing Down

If life is less about what happens to us than how we respond, the same holds true for our children who bear witness to our lives, values, choices and attitudes, day in and day out. They absorb the good and bad, the fair and unfair, forming opinions about the world that have the power to influence and shape the very course of their lives. As a mother, I am acutely aware of this, ever mindful that I am my daughter’s first and most important role model for what it means to be female in this world — at home, at work, and in life at-large.

With that in mind, I share the following story:

A few weeks ago, I received disappointing news regarding a job opportunity that was well aligned with my strengths and experience, in an environment well-suited to my temperament, values and drive for achievement. After multiple rounds of discussion and review, it was determined that I was overqualified and would not be further considered for this particular position. The merits of the decision aside, I tried to handle the news with as much grace and good sportsmanship as I could muster up in the moment.

overqualified

I was admittedly disappointed on multiple fronts and for various reasons, though far more significant than the disappointment itself, was my ten-year-old daughter’s response:

“But mom…” she earnestly asked, “can’t you just make yourself less smart? Just forget things. You know… Tell them that you don’t know as much as they think you do. Isn’t there some kind of test you could take? If you could, it might be easier for you to find a job.”

“Maybe she’s right,” an associate remarked early the following week. “Have you ever considered just not including all of your experience on your resume? You know, Sharon, people don’t want to hire someone who might one day want a bigger role. It’s too threatening… It’s the whole hierarchy thing.” (In my book, it’s also called fear.)

Privately incensed, I thought back to similar messages I received in recent years since my accelerated, albeit bumpy rebound and re-entry into the workforce; advice I was determined to ignore: “Stay in your lane” (though I think in circles). “Practice being underwhelming” (what exactly does that mean?). “Pretend to be a beta” (which by all accounts I am not). I’ve resisted the advice because pretending to be someone you’re not is not sustainable and betrays both the self and ultimately, others. I’ve resisted because authenticity is foundational to building trust with others and influencing lasting change. I’ve resisted, because these messages contrast sharply with past advice that had heretofore served me well in the early years of my career: “Have a succession plan Sharon, and seek to grow others beneath you.” “Always surround yourself with people smarter than you so that you can continue to learn, grow and move up.” “Don’t be afraid to step up, take risks and speak out.” So I did and here I was, at a once unimaginable and seemingly unnavigable crossroad in my career.

Publicly incensed, I thought about the challenges and complexities of raising children as a single mother and why as mothers, we sometimes choose to step out or step back in our careers, perhaps pursuing new endeavors or those that we might well be over-qualified for, not from a mindset of ‘settling’ for less than we are capable of, but from the satisfaction of knowing we can leverage our experience to create and add value for others while choosing honor the needs of our families.

As I listened to my daughter’s words, filled with love and eager to help, I was deeply touched. For a moment my heart melted, before it gave way to a deep ache and later anger, as I contemplated the implications of her reply. She had only been trying to help, but perplexed by my reaction, she told me she felt guilty, afraid she had said something wrong, wishing she had said nothing at all.

That’s when I began to worry…

What message do we send to our daughters when (for women) ambition, achievement and self-determination are potentially viewed as liabilities instead of the assets they are? How can we encourage our daughters to rise up and lean in, when far too often, the world’s message back to us is to dumb it down, blend in, and play small? Most significantly for mothers, if we choose to step up, how do we navigate and balance leaning into our leadership with the complexity of raising a family? If we step out or step back for our families, how do we overcome barriers to re-entry or the challenge of over-qualification?  

In the aftermath of her reply, I told her I couldn’t… no… I wouldn’t dumb myself down, try to forget things or choose to stay small. I would not deny, diminish or discount what I’ve worked hard to achieve, acknowledging that my achievements have been tempered with an equal dose of humility along the way. I would not succumb to the notion that I’m somehow threatening to others when the foundation of my success has been built on the principles of team, collaboration, transparency, and trust. No, I would not do these things — not just because I’m stubborn, but because true leadership is rooted in authenticity; because personal integrity is non-negotiable; because while being sensitive, situationally aware of others and making tweaks and adjustments accordingly is often necessary, appropriate and good, subjugating your strengths, minimizing your experience, and pretending to be less than you are is not.

That day I made a choice for my daughter, as much as for myself. I couldn’t change what had happened, but I could choose how to wisely respond. I couldn’t change her response, but I could guide her to a better solution. I could choose to seek understanding, fight for myself, and in the process, begin to build a better dream. In doing so, I chose to honor the truth of who I am and the potential of all that she might become.

Postscript: This post is less about the outcome of an interview than it is about my daughter’s response.  Principally, this post is about the power of influence and how our choices, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, particularly as mothers, have the potential to shape the course of our children’s lives by what we model every day.  

Nevertheless, while the outcome of my interview was unrelated to gender, the notion of ‘dumbing down’ is.  As I have shared this story with others, I’ve been stirred by the number of accomplished women — leaders in their own right, who’ve admitted to ‘dumbing down’ or modifying resumes to avoid gender bias, age discrimination or the challenge of over-qualification.  I’ve also heard from women who have made choices to ‘dumb down’ in other ways, too — all circumstances that raise the delicate issue of standing on principle vs. dumbing down in the face of individual and/or familial economic need and/or social and relational acceptance.  

As I’ve sat with this post, editing and re-editing as if different words might somehow change these truths, I’ve struggled.  Even as I write this, moments of self-doubt and deep reflection have challenged me to think about the implications of my own choices — not just for myself, but for my family and others, too.  What needs do I have in the present?  What legacy do I want to leave for my children?  How can I balance the two, while serving as a model for positive change?

What roles do gender, authenticity, integrity, courage, fear, ego, and ambition play in your own decisions, both  professionally and personally?  In an age of social media, digital recruiting and personal branding, how do we navigate the challenges of transparency, which have the potential to screen out as much as screen in?  How do we courageously stand up for ourselves, that we might model and teach our daughters how to do the same for themselves?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post!  Please leave a comment and let’s continue the conversation.

Standing Up to Dumbing Down

If life is less about what happens to us than how we respond, the same holds true for our children who bear witness to our lives, values, choices and attitudes, day in and day out. They absorb the good and bad, the fair and unfair, forming opinions about the world that have the power to influence and shape the very course of their lives. As a mother, I am acutely aware of this, ever mindful that I am my daughter’s first and most important role model for what it means to be female in this world — at home, at work, and in life at-large.

With that in mind, I share the following story:

A few weeks ago, I received disappointing news regarding a job opportunity that was well aligned with my strengths and experience, in an environment well-suited to my temperament, values and drive for achievement. After multiple rounds of discussion and review, it was determined that I was overqualified and would not be further considered for this particular position. The merits of the decision aside, I tried to handle the news with as much grace and good sportsmanship as I could muster up in the moment.

overqualified

I was admittedly disappointed on multiple fronts and for various reasons, though far more significant than the disappointment itself, was my ten-year-old daughter’s response:

“But mom…” she earnestly asked, “can’t you just make yourself less smart? Just forget things. You know… Tell them that you don’t know as much as they think you do. Isn’t there some kind of test you could take? If you could, it might be easier for you to find a job.”

“Maybe she’s right,” an associate remarked early the following week. “Have you ever considered just not including all of your experience on your resume? You know, Sharon, people don’t want to hire someone who might one day want a bigger role. It’s too threatening… It’s the whole hierarchy thing.” (In my book, it’s also called fear.)

Privately incensed, I thought back to similar messages I received in recent years since my accelerated, albeit bumpy rebound and re-entry into the workforce; advice I was determined to ignore: “Stay in your lane” (though I think in circles). “Practice being underwhelming” (what exactly does that mean?). “Pretend to be a beta” (which by all accounts I am not). I’ve resisted the advice because pretending to be someone you’re not is not sustainable and betrays both the self and ultimately, others. I’ve resisted because authenticity is foundational to building trust with others and influencing lasting change. I’ve resisted, because these messages contrast sharply with past advice that had heretofore served me well in the early years of my career: “Have a succession plan Sharon, and seek to grow others beneath you.” “Always surround yourself with people smarter than you so that you can continue to learn, grow and move up.” “Don’t be afraid to step up, take risks and speak out.” So I did and here I was, at a once unimaginable and seemingly unnavigable crossroad in my career.

Publicly incensed, I thought about the challenges and complexities of raising children as a single mother and why as mothers, we sometimes choose to step out or step back in our careers, perhaps pursuing new endeavors or those that we might well be over-qualified for, not from a mindset of ‘settling’ for less than we are capable of, but from the satisfaction of knowing we can leverage our experience to create and add value for others while choosing to honor the needs of our families.

As I listened to my daughter’s words, filled with love and eager to help, I was deeply touched. For a moment my heart melted, before it gave way to a deep ache and later anger, as I contemplated the implications of her reply. She had only been trying to help, but perplexed by my reaction, she told me she felt guilty, afraid she had said something wrong, wishing she had said nothing at all.

That’s when I began to worry…

What message do we send to our daughters when (for women), ambition, achievement and self-determination are potentially viewed as liabilities instead of the assets they are? How can we encourage our daughters to rise up and lean in, when far too often, the world’s message back to us is to dumb it down, blend in, and play small? Most significantly for mothers, if we choose to step up, how do we navigate and balance leaning into our leadership with the complexity of raising a family? If we step out or step back for our families, how do we overcome barriers to re-entry or the challenge of over-qualification?  

In the aftermath of her reply, I told her I couldn’t… no… I wouldn’t dumb myself down, try to forget things or choose to stay small. I would not deny, diminish or discount what I’ve worked hard to achieve, acknowledging that my achievements have been tempered with an equal dose of humility along the way. I would not succumb to the notion that I’m somehow threatening to others when the foundation of my success has been built on the principles of team, collaboration, transparency, and trust. No, I would not do these things — not just because I’m stubborn, but because true leadership is rooted in authenticity; because personal integrity is non-negotiable; because while being sensitive, situationally aware of others and making tweaks and adjustments accordingly is often necessary, appropriate and good, subjugating your strengths, minimizing your experience, and pretending to be less than you are is not.

That day I made a choice for my daughter, as much as for myself. I couldn’t change what had happened, but I could choose how to wisely respond. I couldn’t change her response, but I could guide her to a better solution. I could choose to seek understanding, fight for myself, and in the process, begin to build a better dream. In doing so, I chose to honor the truth of who I am and the potential of all that she might become.

Postscript: This post is less about the outcome of an interview than it is about my daughter’s response.  Principally, this post is about the power of influence and how our choices, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, particularly as mothers, have the potential to shape the course of our children’s lives by what we model every day.  

Nevertheless, while the outcome of my interview was unrelated to gender, the notion of ‘dumbing down’ is.  As I have shared this story with others, I’ve been stirred by the number of accomplished women — leaders in their own right, who’ve admitted to ‘dumbing down’ or modifying resumes to avoid gender bias, age discrimination or the challenge of over-qualification.  I’ve also heard from women who have made choices to ‘dumb down’ in other ways, too — all circumstances that raise the delicate issue of standing on principle vs. dumbing down in the face of individual and/or familial economic need and/or social and relational acceptance.  

As I’ve sat with this post, editing and re-editing as if different words might somehow change these truths, I’ve struggled.  Even as I write this, moments of self-doubt and deep reflection have challenged me to think about the implications of my own choices — not just for myself, but for my family and others, too.  What needs do I have in the present?  What legacy do I want to leave for my children?  How can I balance the two, while serving as a model for positive change?

What roles do gender, authenticity, integrity, courage, fear, ego, and ambition play in your own decisions, both  professionally and personally?  In an age of social media, digital recruiting and personal branding, how do we navigate the challenges of transparency, which have the potential to screen out as much as screen in?  How do we courageously stand up for ourselves, that we might model and teach our daughters how to do the same for themselves?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post!  Please leave a comment and let’s continue the conversation.

The Gift of the Struggle

As we journey through life, sometimes we have to struggle to uncover the gifts along the way.

Sometimes we must step away from the known, the familiar and the comfortable, before we can finally make our way back home.

Sometimes we must face fear or the temptation to quit, that we might learn to overcome and persevere, and in doing so, develop the courage to live our convictions out loud.

Sometimes we need to be challenged to finally know our value, stretched to learn our limits, and tested to understand our strength.

Sometimes we must climb hills to develop endurance or visit the valley of tears to know true compassion, for how can we offer to others what we have never experienced for ourselves?

Sometimes we must endure the disrespect of others on our own journey towards self-respect, or have our egos shattered and dismantled before we can learn to see the true light of humility in leadership and service to others.

Sometimes we must suffer pain to know healing or deep sorrow to know joy.

Sometimes we must endure the sting of betrayal to know the honor of truth, or suffer the pain of false masks, that we might finally learn to walk in the truth of who we authentically are.

Sometimes we must experience painful loss that we might know gratitude, uncertainty that we might know Faith, and disappointment that we might know hope.

Sometimes, we must simply journey through the dark forest of our lives to reach the clearing on the other side — for in every darkness there is light, in every failure there are learnings, and in every struggle the gift of growth and invitation to journey on.

I’m curious…In what ways have you been tested, challenged or stretched on your own journey called life?  Do you view these challenges as gifts of growth or another burden to bear?  How have your struggles strengthened you, enabling you to become a wiser learner and leader in your own life?  What are the lessons of your own journey?

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