What I did when he called me “Sir”. Lessons in self-acceptance.

I rented a car last month at the Philadelphia Airport.  As I drove up to the car rental booth to leave, the gentleman in the booth said, “Good afternoon Sir…I mean Ma’am.”  This is not the first time I have been called “Sir”.  But it is the first time I actually didn’t get upset and decide to grow my hair out to at least Julia Roberts-length, wear fake eyelashes or put on low-cut shirts.  My lame attempt at pushing my woman-ness to the forefront so that not another soul on the planet will ever get my gender wrong again!

self acceptance

I remember distinctly the first time someone called me “Sir.” I was at the Concord Mall, home for Christmas Break from college in the middle of my senior year.  I had just gotten what we referred to back then as the 80’s “corporate do”.  It was a short haircut to help make one look more like a professional and less like a co-ed.  I was milling around a Thom McAn shoe store and a guy came up behind me and said “May I help you, Sir?”  I was mortified.  He caught his error almost immediately but as we can see by this post, I have not forgotten it.  Ever. And this is some 30 years later.  In my twenties, my solution was to look for something to “prove” I was a woman At.All.Times.  Happily, that is not my solution now.

So you are probably wondering how I can react differently now.  Here are my lessons in self-acceptance:

  • Stand in their shoes. It’s really embarrassing to call someone by the wrong gender (unless it’s what they want to be identified as).  I imagine that the guy at the shoe shop and the guy from the rental car place were just as embarrassed as I was.  Empathize for their embarrassment and it makes it easier to let go of your own.  That sounds counter intuitive but give it a try.  I think you’ll be surprised.
  • Tap into the energy. I reflected on the mistake as I drove away.  Perhaps I was exuding power.  The attendant felt that power as I approached.  As Amy Cuddy’s work has shown, when someone sees a non-anatomical figure walking powerfully, 80% of the time they assume it’s a man.  I remember in my final coaching class with CRR Global, I was facilitating with a tall, charismatic man name Michael.  At the end, I remember the insightful instructor Marita Fridjhon said, “This is a power couple.”  I realized that I had taken on Michael’s power. So take that testosterone driven energy and tap into it. Own it.
  • Test your assumptions. I had taken note at the airport about how many more men travel solo than women.  In fact, I rarely see women traveling alone, sitting in restaurants alone and checking into hotels alone.  I don’t know that many women who are comfortable eating in restaurants alone, heck, I wasn’t comfortable with it when I first started traveling for business some 25 years ago.  So for all I know, that attendant assumed a solo driver was a man. Check your assumptions.
  • I have been practicing meditation for over three years. I have learned to separate from the reaction and make space for a pause.  This helps me get off the self-critical talk that thirty years ago was, “OMG, he thinks I’m a man.  I am too tall.  I am too fat.  I am unlovable.” Crazy talk.  I am sure that I ruminated about it for months as I desperately sought to be more less masculine.   But now?  I can easily respond with a friendly smile and say, “Oops.”  I love Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, where he says that meditation is like “…getting behind a waterfall.”  All those thoughts are flying by but you can step back and not get attached to it.  Practicing mindfulness helped me stay out of the drama and it can help you.
  • I will never be petite. It is impossible to be 5’2 when I am 5’8.  It is what it is.  I’ll also never be an astronaut, or ballet dancer or president of the United States.  I’ll never be a father, or a judge or cowboy.  But what I can be is a great author, fabulous mother and most importantly, make a difference in people’s lives every day.  This is not dependent on me being more petite or less masculine.   I’ve learned that I can accept myself as I am.  I am perfectly imperfect.  Freckles and all.  Accept yourself as you are.  There is less of a battle that way.

I am me.  Can you be you?

Tenacity. My Son’s Secret to Success.

My son, Benson, just won a gold medal in a weightlifting competition. He wasn’t even a competitive weight lifter 12 months ago. I’m dumbfounded. How the heck did he do it? What about the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell espoused in his book, Outliers? My son hasn’t been lifting anywhere close to 1,000 hours. So what gives? The only thing I can figure is that it’s his tenacity. He has that in spades. Tenacity.  My son's secret to success.

He has always been an athlete. He started playing soccer at the age of 4, then basketball in elementary school, followed by football, then wrestling and track to fill out his school year with sports. I have to say, he always showed up to win. No matter the odds. The cross town rival high school with kids twice the size of our team and a bench twice as deep, Benson always planned on winning. No matter, he would plan on winning the next game.

So what is the secret to being tenacious? Here is my take.

1. Humility. Tenacity becomes stubbornness with the loss of humility. As written by The Innovative Brain, “We all have experienced the stubborn person, and know from direct experience that stubbornness gradually causes a person, no matter their brilliance, to be marginalized.” I have to say that this is where my son really has developed in the last few years. I can remember lost soccer games when he was about 8 years old and he would be inconsolable. It was almost like he didn’t understand how If he did his best, the team could possibly lose. I don’t remember the tipping point but he has gained humility in recent years. Perhaps it’s maturity, or self-awareness, maybe a coach. Maintain humility.

2. Point B. Benson always knows where point B is. Whether it was qualifying for a state wrestling championships or a gold medal in the state championship track meet. Benson always goes big. You have to have aspirations for tenacity to show up. What’s the point of perseverance if your point B is getting to Friday at the end of the workweek? Benson has had so many audacious goals that if he told me he was going to go on a mission to Mars, I’d believe him. Be very clear about what your point B is and go after it.

3. Work. You can’t just wish things into happening. Tenacity involves a lot of work. Hard work. Rain or shine, my son has been lifting weights for the last 9 months, regardless of the sport. If it’s Wednesday, and therefore practice day, and we are in Key West on vacation, then he’s running sprints at 6 AM. I remember when we were looking at colleges, we would have to stop so that he could do his allotted training in a random college track. “Mommy, it’s Wednesday, I have to work out”. I think he knows every Crossfit location in lower Florida and eastern Carolina. He does the work without fail.

4. Risk. Benson embraces risk. I wasn’t there the first time he lifted 300 pounds over his head but if he wasn’t willing to risk having that barbell fall on his head, then he might as well stay home. Tenacity always involves pursuing something regardless of the risk. This can be dangerous of course. I remember him at the age of 2, running to the deep end of the pool and jumping in (with no one to catch him). When I arrived, I saw his big brown eyes looking up at me. He obviously survived but he’s always been willing to jump. Accept risk.

5. Support. Have a team to support you. Whether it’s a running club for a half marathon or a spouse willing to support you as you pursue nursing school. Tenacity is pointless without strong support. Benson has always managed to find a group or coach or friends for support. Sometimes I think he must cast a spell on those folks. He always has an entourage of supporters. This is lucky for me because, we always get video and photos of his accomplishments (even though we are a twelve hour drive away). He has a gift with people; find yours.

6. Angle. Benson always has an angle of how he’s going to get there. And he’s flexible about how to get there. He wanted his girlfriend to come to our house in North Carolina over winter break. Benson started coordinating and strategizing some 3 months in advance. Dates and modes of transportation and accommodations were moving and changing. But I knew once he said he wanted her to come, that he was going to make it happen. Tenacity is flexible and always has to have a strategy.

7. Inspiration. Benson is inspired by others and inspires others. I remember the Monday after my marathon, Benson tweeted “My inspiration for getting to my 8am today is my Mom’s WDW Marathon 2015. Bucket list item” He texted me right before the weightlifting competition started, “If you’re pulling for me, I can pull this weight”. I have to say that this year I am on a team to walk/run 2015 miles in 2015. I have to walk at least 3 miles a day to stay on track. When my alarm goes off at 5:30 AM, I know I need to get up and get going. My inspiration is my tenacious son. I know he’s showing up and doing the work. I need to as well. Find your inspiration.

8. Own it. As Benson has shared, “My lesson to anyone is play your own game. When wrestling, you can’t let your opponent dictate your game. You’ll end up on your back. I went two years without being pinned, and each of my opponents had to go 6 minutes with me if they really wanted to win. In the 400m, every step counts. Even the last 50m matter, especially when running against Benny. Looking back, I might have crossed 300m first only one time, but I always kept coming through the finish.”

9. Be yourself. Benson again, “That’s why I like the bar. There are a lot of ways to get the bar from the floor to overhead, and you have to craft a form that works best for you. It’s the best training partner too, because it never has a bad day! So showing up and sticking around is easy, because it’s always on my own time, and I play in a way that is uniquely me.” I can imagine that if I told Benson to be a weightlifter or a juggler or a race car driver, it wouldn’t matter. He would not have lifted a finger. It has to come from inside and not from anyone else. Tenacity is about living your own dream.

My son insisted I watch “Survive and Advance“, a documentary on Coach Jimmy Valvano‘s road to the NCAA National Championship. Jimmy V kept telling his dad that he wanted to go to the Final Four in the championship. His dad’s response was always, “My bags are packed”. If you are truly tenacious, you better pack your bags, because you are going somewhere. Are your bags packed?

I am Intelligent and Witty. Blind Spots and the Johari Window

I’ve been working on a coaching certification for the last 5 months and the class work last week involved the Johari Window.  The Johari Window is an instrument developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham and it helps you understand the way you view yourself and how others view you (or don’t).  It has 56 adjectives and if you’d like to try, take this link.  So our assignment last week was to coach a class mate through the Johari Window and my class mate, Stephen Starkey, coached me. blind spot 3

Blind spots on the Johari Window are those adjectives that others selected to describe you but that you did not select.  Of the friends and family that participated, the majority chose intelligent and witty to describe me.  I was taken a back by this and my coach, Steve, helped me uncover why.  Although I think I’m smart and that I can be witty, I don’t really own it.  It’s OK for me to describe someone else with those adjectives but it seems egotistical to own them myself.  Wow.  Was that a breakthrough!  I’m thinking it’s OK for me to describe others as intelligent but I can’t embrace it myself.  How is that holding me back?

This brings up a recent book I read by Sheryl Sandberg called “Lean In”.  She describes how women hold themselves back and offers advice on how to “lean in”. I can remember being in the top of my class in elementary school and then, suddenly, flicking the switch.  Smart girls (intelligent girls) weren’t valued.  At least from my skewed eleven year old female perspective.  Time to lean into and recognize my attributes.

If you think your blind spots are holding you back, let’s look at some ways to embrace them:

1. Own.  The first thing I did was set up an action item to own the words.  My action item was to incorporate the words into my daily meditation.  You might need to incorporate them into your daily prayers, affirmations or gratitude at the end of the day.  You can’t live the words unless you own them.  Obviously, others already know you own them so it’s time for you  to pick them up and carry them around.

2. Utilize.  So start using them.  If one of your adjectives in your blind spot is “happy”, then go out and “be happy”.  Live it so that you feel it.  Smile to yourself in the mirror.  Don’t forget, it’s you that you need to prove this to.  Most others already know that you are “happy”. Utilize the adjective so that it comes alive in you.

3. Free.  Set it free.  I have to say I found this to be quite empowering since acknowledging these two blind spots.  Suddenly it’s not as hard to write or develop a solution to a problem.  I’m saying to myself, “Cathy, you’re intelligent and witty, writing a blog post shouldn’t be that hard…pssssht.”  Like I said, it’s like a road block as been removed.  Now I am free.

4. Get over it.  I have to say I was terrified to write this post.  I initially felt like an egomaniac to actually put those two words out there.  I can’t embrace it unless I “get over it”.  Everyone out there has attributes and it’s obvious to everyone else that you are “happy, compassionate and adaptable”.  Get over it, they already see it. You’re not an ego maniac (yeah, it’s not one of the adjectives available).

5. Live.  Live your acknowledged adjectives.  Keep them alive and depend on them going forward.  Don’t forget to make them apart of your everyday life.  This is what you “are”, so live it.  Quit trying to hide your “happiness” or “silly” sense of humor.   There is a reason you were gifted these adjectives, so go live it.

I hope you check out the Johari window and see what blind spots you might be ignoring or hiding.  Can’t wait to see what you embrace.