The Courage to Tell Your Authentic Story
Last week I had the honor of serving as the keynote speaker for the Working Mother Media and National Association of Female Executive’s All In Conference in San Francisco. The purpose of the summit was to help participants - mostly mid-career women - hone their influencing skills. While I feel completely in my element public speaking—and had a bit of a coming home feeling since Subha Barry, President of Working Mother Media, has been a longtime friend and mentor and has asked me to be a panelist in previous events—this was my first official keynote after launching my workplace consultancy practice a few weeks ago. I had a lot riding on this talk.
This was also the first time that I would go on to share the journey I’ve been on this past year - my “year of the heart” as I call it - where I reflected deeply on my purpose and mission. While I’ve written about my experiences, this time I was connecting all of it - from my childhood to my career to my current role. My goal for the talk was to leave all participants feeling confident that they had the power to influence and lead with intentionality, purpose, and mission. As I set out to write the keynote, I felt incredibly exposed and many times overcome with emotion. But I knew that to honor my experience meant that I needed to share it all - the good, the bad, and the scary.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved talking to crowds and individuals alike. My family often jokes that my stories as a child never ended—they went on and on and on. And, admittedly, I still lean on the verbose, but that comfort with storytelling has never wavered. The morning of the event, I let the good energy flow through me, locked eyes with one participant, smiled at another, and started my speech.
At the end of my talk, there was a long line of women and men waiting to speak with me. I heard everything from “You are fire!” to “You told my story.” A group of young women spoke to me in Spanish thrilled that they could speak to someone during a work event in their native tongue. One woman instantly broke into tears and said, “I never cry at these events but so much of what you said deeply resonated. Thank you. I’m now ready to heal my heart.” By this point, we were both in tears. To see myself reflected in her, and to know that I had helped her see the light ahead, filled my heart with joy.
This is my superpower, I thought, to inspire hearts and minds for positive change.
It took me time to clarify my values, define what success means to me and the leader that I want to be. I shared with the audience, that in the process of transforming organizations for good and protecting my place in the corporate pecking order, somewhere along the line I had given up small parts of myself, letting my courage shrink, my voice diminish, my heart fracture. When I asked the group, “How many of you have suffered quietly from toxic managers?” And “How many of you have fought to earn and keep your seat at the table while your own value is questioned on a daily basis?” There were waves of raised hands throughout the room. The courage that we needed was slowly revealing to each of us.
We talked about passion, purpose, getting clear on your values, how you define success, and the leader you want to be. And this piece of advice:
Understand and tell your story - By staying true to who you are, your core values and sharing your truth, you can’t be shaken.
I closed by sharing this news: I recently learned from my cardiologist that he could no longer detect the mitral prolapse valve I had been diagnosed with as a child - a medical condition that had marked my life. When I chose courage, everything changed. Somehow, in the midst of healing my heart, I had literally healed my heart.