Just the other day bestselling author, speaker, podcaster, and founder/CEO of Chic Media, Rachel Hollis, called me out on my bullshit. When I say she called me out on my bullshit, I don’t mean in a figurative I-read-her-new-book-and-it-spoke-to-me kind of way. I mean standing a few feet away staring me squarely in the eyes kind of way.
I was at a conference where Hollis was one of the featured speakers. For a crowd of a few thousand women and a handful of dutiful husbands she bounded on to the stage, a bundle of infectious energy, bouncing around to Beyoncé’s Run The World (Girls).
As the music faded she explained how the next hour was going to go; that she wanted to help us work through the things that hold us back. It wasn’t going to be a generic, pre-packaged, rah-rah session with PowerPoint slides. She was going to give us everything she had, and in return we needed to participate, too. It was going to be interactive. I’ll admit it, I’m all in when it comes to participation!
She started by asking, “Why do you feel like you haven’t gotten to the place in your business that you wish you had?” It’s a room of 3,000 women entrepreneurs—these are no shrinking violets—I yelled out, “I feel like a fraud” which I was sure would be drowned out by the sound of everyone else’s responses. I heard my voice as clear as a bell over, maybe, six other timid answers. If years of theater camp taught me anything, it was to project my voice! Did I mention I was also wearing a bright red dress?
She asked, “Who said fraud?” I raised my hand, “I did”. She asked me to stand and repeat what I said. Suddenly my throat got tight and my big voice became incredibly thin; I barely choked out, “I feel…” and the tears started. “Alright, we’re already crying,” and she hopped off the stage and ran up the stairs to my row, standing in the aisle, a few seats away from me. I thought she might hand me a tissue, instead I was handed a microphone.
From there she asked a flurry of questions. What did you mean? Just a week ago I had been offered an incredible role as the COO of a start-up media company and I didn’t think I deserved the job. I couldn’t figure how I had gotten here. I didn’t think I deserved a seat at the table. How long have you worked towards this? I guess 20 years. You guess 20 years? Yeah, I’ve looked at my career trajectory as dumb luck, two decades of serendipitous events. Are you always this hard on yourself? Yup. Are you a perfectionist? When it comes to some things. Okay, when it comes to most things. Do you celebrate your accomplishments? Do you ever think it’s good enough? Do you work until you make yourself sick? You can probably guess how well I did. Had she been watching me for the last, I guess, 20 years?
It sounds cliché, but it’s true, everything leads back to your childhood. “Which parent did you crave love from most?” Almost inaudibly I chirped out, “my dad”. Cue more tears. What did you have to be to get that love? Perfect, and thin. But I never managed to be thin. I can still be self-deprecating through tears.
She asked if I had children. I do, two boys, ages 16 and 22. Okay, what you’re teaching your boys is what achievement looks like. You are teaching them in real-time that they should chase something as hard as they can and never really give themselves any credit for it. You’re also showing them that a woman in business needs to work really hard to have a seat at the table, but never own that she deserves to be there. Ouch. Yes, of course, I want my boys to chase their dreams and work hard, but I also want them to celebrate their achievements. They need to know—I need to show them—that women are their equals, that women do run the world, that women deserve a seat at the table.
I need to stop hustling for my worth. I need to stop chasing the things that aren’t real. I need to stop the crazy thoughts that play on repeat in my head. If one of my girlfriends landed an amazing job and said to me any of things that my crazy brain tells myself, I’d grab them by the shoulders and try to shake some sense into them.
I had forgotten I had been in a room of thousands, so I was surprised as friends who were dotted amongst the crowd started texting me heart-felt messages; when strangers came up and thanked me for my honesty, for being so vulnerable. Who? Me? Clearly, I need to really work on this because I couldn’t even take credit for blubbering about my shortcomings—to a media mogul I have complete respect for.
Later that night at dinner with a group of girlfriends, I was regaling them with my hilarious therapy session with Rachel Hollis. One of them had been sitting just six seats away and hadn’t realized who it was until I stood up. “You’re always so poised and put together. I thought it was one of our other friends, you’re not the vulnerable one.” Maybe I need to be. We talk about authenticity all the time, but how often are we really?
Here’s the thing I learned, your life isn’t a happy accident. Wherever you are, you earned it. But that sword has two sides; it wasn’t dumb luck that got you to the top of your industry, but it wasn’t bad luck that got you fired from your last three jobs.
You need to own your journey. You deserve to be where you are. You deserve a seat at the table, more than that, as Rachel Hollis told me, “You deserve to sit on the table.”
Oh, one more thing, if you’re ever in a room with someone you really admire, and they give you a chance to participate in something–do. And, speak loudly and wear a red dress. The entire hour with Rachel (clearly we should be on a first name basis now) was incredible and thought provoking, but those few minutes were priceless. Step out of your comfort zone. If you’re going to own the things that you do, make yourself proud.