What Does It Mean About You?
Have you ever thought about what determines the way you define yourself and the choices you make?
I remember when I was in college studying theatre, the only career option that was discussed was becoming a professional actor. Yes, I get that we were studying theatre, but in a profession in which only 2% of people graduating with a theatre degree are able to make a living wage working their craft, you would think someone would be talking about back-up-plans that could leverage the skills we were learning and how to make a viable living beyond waiting tables and temping. But no. Nobody talked about it. Ever. It was as if simply having the discussion was taboo.
About 8 years ago, before the birth of OnStage Leadership, I had actually put together a session around the “Transferability of Theatre Off Stage”, recognizing that the skills I learned in the theatre were the most valuable skills I used. I was accepted to speak on the topic at International Theatre Conference in Bovec, Slovenia, to a group of theatre students and theatre educators from around the world. During the session they were all very nice and participatory as they looked at me like I had three horns on my head. A very nice German theatre professor said to me, following the session, “It was interesting, Kimberly. But actors don’t want to think about doing anything but theatre.” Several months later I took the same session to the largest Theatre Educator’s Conference in the US. I spent hundreds of dollars on handouts and travel expenses. My PowerPoint slides were flawless. I was ready! Nobody showed up to the session. Not one person. They simply didn’t want to have the conversation.
As I stewed on “What happened? Why did nobody come?” I realized that I was up against something far bigger than theatre people simply not wanting to discuss the value of their skills. I was challenging deeply held beliefs that rocked the core of how they defined themselves in the world. In the theatre, there is no choosing to leave. You either make it or you don’t. You’re either a success or a failure. Special or not special. It’s very black and white. In a world of such fierce competition – that requires extraordinary devotion and commitment in the face of overwhelming rejection – to even engage in the conversation about stopping means that you’ve failed. It means that you are a failure. To stop isn’t an option because of what it means about you.
Some of the most brilliant, gifted, collaborative, insightful, creative, intuitive men and women often stay with a theatre career long past loving it. They’ll minimize their abilities and earning potential, taking low-wage jobs to survive. They often lose confidence in themselves, struggle with depression and emotional paralysis, because they don’t allow themselves to choose anything differently (or they beat themselves up if they venture to think about anything other than theatre) because of what it would mean about them.
Standing on the other side of it, having left the theatre world and found my way to what, for me personally, is even more fulfilling, I can see that this belief is completely flawed. That there were always more options than “all in” or “failure” – that one could actually choose to do something else and it didn’t mean anything about you other than you simply made a different choice.
I think we all do this from time to time and it keeps us from being as powerful as we can be. We hold on to our beliefs of where we have to be, or what we have to do, or what we can’t do because of what it would mean about us.
We stay in careers that are no longer a good fit because of what it would mean.
We follow a prescribed career track because of what it would mean.
We hold back our ideas, opinions, and concerns because of what it would mean.
Parents who would like to stay home with their kids, don’t, because of what it would mean.
Mothers who would like to go back to work, don’t, because of what it would mean.
We do what everyone else is doing – join the right clubs, buy the right house, put our kids in the right activities, rather than crafting our own path in life because of what it would mean.
It might mean we “don’t have what it takes”. It might mean we’re “not a good person”. It might mean we’re “a quitter”. It might mean we’re “not successful”. It might mean we “don’t care”. It might mean we’re “not good enough”.
What if it doesn’t mean anything at all?
I found myself bumping into this whole “what would in mean” thing this week, realizing that it was getting in the way of me making powerful choices. On Monday we leave for a long-anticipated trip to Costa Rica. Given that I am solar-powered and we live in snowy NY, this trip is something I’ve been looking forward to since October. And yet I keep thinking, what about my business? Should I bring my computer? Should a blog along the way? Should I work on my book?
If I don’t, what would that mean? Am I not as committed as I should be? Will I disappoint people? Will I disappoint myself? Am I not ambitious enough? If I decide to set my work aside for a week, what would that mean about me?
How might it change my experience if I take the meaning out of it?
Yes, I’m a woman on a mission, but I’m also a woman with a family. I’m a grateful woman who has been given the extraordinary opportunity to explore a magical corner of the world with people I love. I want to be present for this experience. What does it mean about me, if I choose to put my work on “pause” while I’m away?
When the emotional dust of it all settled I realized that…it means nothing.
And in taking the meaning out of it I can make a powerful choice that will serve me better. Instead of being a stressed out and not-present, I can soak up every moment of our experience. I can return a rested and revitalized woman-on-a-mission. No regrets. Choice.
Take a look at the “meanings” you’re making. How might they be effecting your experience? Eroding your confidence? Holding you back? Sending you down a path that is not your own? If you take the meaning out of it, how might that change things?
How might meaning be preventing you from making the best choices for yourself, for your organization, and for your family? Because there is power in choice.
Examining the meaning we’re making is critical if we’re committed to bring our best, most powerful self to our work and our life. It’s not easy to do – it takes courage to challenge the way we’re looking at the world. But I suspect as I’m hiking through the jungle looking for two-toed sloths and toucans and howling monkeys with my handsome husband and curious little boy by my side, I’ll be glad that I’m not worried about getting my blog out!
(“See” you when I get back!)
©OnStage Leadership, 2015
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Upcoming sessions of OnStage Leadership: NYC: March 20th (5 spaces left); Dallas: April 16th (Full) please notify us if interested.
Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying! If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, or Presentation Skills we’d love to hear from you!