Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?
At some point, someone somewhere put it in my mind that I should be a doctor.
I don’t know who that person was. I remember when I was a child, I was told I was smart. Most people acted surprised as they would say, “wow, you are smart!” I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I must not have looked very smart and it’s pretty funny.
When you are a child, what you hear from adults shapes you. I heard I was smart and I should pursue a degree in science or medicine. My father told me repeatedly I should be an engineer. A mechanical engineer himself, he always wanted me to be one. I remember arguing with him that there were too many polyester pants where he worked and I wasn’t spending my career in black pants with a calculator. Haha!
The things we hear about ourselves impress us tremendously as children. Some kids hear the opposite of what I did. I have friends that were told they were stupid, fat, ugly, slow and dumb. I have friends - smart, successful friends - who somehow chose to ignore the constant undertone of their environment. They rose up in SPITE of what they were told. These friends amaze me.
Almost every friend I have who has overcome extremely negative feedback from adults (many times parents or family members who raised them) will tell me about that ONE voice. The one voice who stood out, who told them a different story, who whispered hope in their ear.
They will tell me of a teacher, an aunt, a coach or a parent of one of their friends. Someone who despite their current circumstances saw their future potential. Someone who looked past their external appearance and saw their inside beauty, their intellect, their unique qualities.
What amazes me about these successful adults, is something I want to share with you. It is so powerful, so listen up.
These adults CHOSE to listen to that one voice.
One voice they heard as children, saying something different than all the rest, changed their direction as adults. One truth, wrapped in hope, gave them a different identity. Someone else speaking truth to them allowed them to see good in themselves. One voice allowed them to see their own potential, their own worth. And they then started to believe it.
I have many friends who still struggle with undoing harsh things they were told as children. We can’t forget things we have heard, even as adults. Our self-confidence is so impressionable as a child. I have friends that could literally be on the cover of magazines, and think of themselves as ugly. Why? Because their fathers told them they were. I have friends who are brilliant and hold several advanced degrees from Ivy League schools who have to tell themselves they are smart enough to stand on stages and give lectures, despite earning high accolades and academic accomplishments. Why? Because their mother called them stupid on a daily basis.
I have a friend, Deb Gilg, who is a brilliant lawyer. Deb served as a United States Attorney. The first time I met Deb, she was speaking to a group of professional women. I sat in the audience, brimming with excitement to learn from her, to hear her story. She was powerful, a force, confident, and yet had compelling warmth and beauty. Prior to deciding to attend her speech, I had looked up her honors, her successes, and her amazing career. I sat in the audience anxious to hear how this woman had accomplished all she had. What was her secret? How could I learn her insight and be as successful?
When she started to speak, the entire room fell silent. The first sentence out of her mouth was shocking. She calmly and collectively described an abusive childhood. She repeated with ease the things her alcoholic father told her, over and over. She was not smart. She was not pretty. She would never amount to anything.
But then she said something I will never forget. In fact, the minute she said it I reached out and grabbed a napkin and scribbled the following words on it with a pink sharpie (SS Fact: I never go anywhere without a pink sharpie).
She said “But my Grandfather would whisper opposite things to me. He would say ‘you’re smart’. Or ‘you better get a good grade on your math test, because you are going to be something someday’.
And for some reason, it was his voice that carried me.”
Tears formed in my eyes.
I sat there stunned. She went on to talk about her job, her career, and what she had learned. But I couldn’t get past those powerful words – that she chose ONE VOICE to carry her to success. One voice to change her future, to change her value. One voice to instill an inner fight in her that made her the amazing mother, wife, friend and lawyer she is today. She heard hundreds of negative things; but she clung to the one that had hope.
I went up to her directly after the talk and introduced myself. I basically told her she had to be my friend. That’s how I roll. And I am now blessed to call her one.
There have been many times in my life where I have been criticized for my choices. I am not a conformist. I am not a follower. I speak up. I am loud and decisive and a real pain in the butt to some people. I have a mission. I have a vision. And I know who I am. I was lucky enough to have parents who spoke truth to me and I have a solid foundation in my faith that secures me.
But that is not to say that I don’t struggle with the external voices, the pressure, the plans that others place on me. The limitations and the structures and the boundaries that others put on us, because of whom THEY think we are, who they TELL us we are.
Perhaps you’ve been living in the shadow of someone else’s voice for some time. Perhaps you’ve been letting the plans others have for you shape your future, while you sit and listen to all the reasons why you must be as they want you to be.
I want to tell you that no amount of money, no person, no position or amount of power can ever satisfy you if you are not living your calling and being who you were meant to be.
Listen to that ONE voice.
If you turn off all the others, you will hear it loud and clear.