The past month has been profoundly inspiring for me. I had two incredible opportunities to connect to big ideas, challenging questions and inspiring people. On October 22, I spent a day at the TEDx Toronto conference. And for three weeks in October I was a Partner, host and ambassador of the Global Woman’s Leadership Summit (GWALS). So many speakers, so many wonderful stories, lessons and insights!
So much to share. One theme in particular that emerged from both these events was related to identity and the masks we often hide behind – knowingly or not – to fit in and be the ‘same’ as others. Two woman, in particular, spoke of their personal stories and the real masks they wore for much of their lives. Both raised big questions about identity, authenticity, courage and power.
Talli Osborne: (Twitter@nubs416) spoke at the TEDx Toronto conference about her life story. Richard Branson recently named Talli one of the “top 10 most inspirational people”. After hearing Talli speak, I know why.
Talli, born without limbs, was put up for adoption at birth. Adopted by loving parents, she went on to live an extraordinary life. While she stands at just three feet tall she has a passion and positive presence that defies any height or boundaries imaginable.
Talli wore prosthetics growing up as she tried so hard to fit in and look like others. But she knew she never would. While in university, she decided to get rid of her prosthetics and instead, chose to show up in the world as her unique self without the fake limbs. She learned to love her own unique differences (as she says ‘she loves her nubs!’).
The expression “beauty is within” enrages Talli because it implies that people who have different or unusual physical appearances are only beautiful on the inside and that their outer beauty doesn’t meet the standards.
Talli challenges that notion with pure, authentic pride: “I’m different and I love it! Everyone is different and that is what makes the world beautiful,” she told the 1,000 plus audience at TEDx Toronto.
With her own signature spunk, confidence and courage, Talli takes a big stand for others to embrace their differences too. She encouraged everyone in the room to take a look in the mirror because we all wear some sort of ‘prosthetic’ that holds us back.
The idea of freeing yourself from your self-imposed prosthetic is indeed a powerful proposition — don’t you think? Prosthetics come in many forms. What perceived flaws do we try to hide — that in fact could be part of our authentic genius? Where do we wish we were more like ‘them’? What parts of ourselves are needing to come out from hiding? If you had to name your most unique strengths and what makes you, ‘you’, could you do it? Or do you default and go to your ‘script’.
Coincidentally (if there is such a thing), this business of hiding behind a prosthetic emerged just a week later when I was hosting one of the many GWALS session.
Dion Johnson from the U.K, shared her very compelling personal story that also related to the masks we hide behind. Dion was born with a facial disfigurement. For years she wore a prosthetic eye and dark glasses to cover her face up. One day something changed that inspired her to uncover her face. From that day on she discovered the power and fulfillment she could have when she showed up unmasked. As a result, Dion transformed her career as a mid-wife and gave birth to a new vocation. She mentors and coaches mid-life career women and takes a stand for a concept she calls ‘Radical Authenticity’.
She says it is crucial for women leaders (and I would think all leaders) to get in touch with ‘who they really are’ (e.g. their gifts, strengths, values, passions, and more). It’s from that place of authenticity that one can truly stand in their courage, thrive and boldly impact their work, lives, relationships with more possibility and influence. She believes if more of us do this we can collectively have a greater positive societal impact. Dion really lives in this bold, big vision. I heard it in her voice, soul, psyche when I spoke to her before and after her presentation.
As I reflect on both these powerful women and their message, I feel like it was a wake-up call that we can all tune into. No matter who you are and where you are in your career or lifecycle, I believe that better things happen when we come from an authentic place and celebrate our true special uniqueness. I also believe that even the most self aware can continually rediscover themselves and likely find moments or areas of ‘hiding’ that doesn’t serve.
As I said recently to the group participating in my Career GPS program it’s easy to forget who we are. With the nose to the grindstone, we focus on getting through our tasks, days, week and so on. But our life and careers need to be set with intentional direction. Only knowing yourself – and knowing yourself well — can set the GPS for that direction.
How do we reconnect and rediscover our special unique selves? How does one begin this process if they haven’t taken steps already to rediscover who they are?
Dion was asked this very question in her GWALS presentation. She said if she had to recommend one starting strategy it would be this:
Take time to reflect and be in conversation about YOU. And do this regularly. Do this on your own and seek a collaborative, supportive partner. Be it a coach, or a mentor or trusted friend who can help you illuminate the insights you need to embrace and honour you.
Amen (but of course!). I couldn’t agree more.
If you would like to engage in a collaborative, reflective experience (via coaching) to help you become more aware and more personally powerful in your life, career and choices then send me a note and we can talk about how to get started.
This is one time when it is A-Okay to make it all about you, you, you! Good things occur when we bring the best of ourselves to our lives, communities and careers.
Here’s to YOU!
….would love to hear your thoughts. Bring them on.