There are certain conversations, both good and bad, that you never forget. Maybe it’s because of how I was brought up— almost certainly— but the bad stick with me more, those that don’t ask, but say directly that I don’t have a place, that I don’t deserve to be there, that my voice doesn’t matter.
The story I tell in keynotes all the time is this one below (in brief— and so fun to revisit this conversation!).
But here’s another:
I remember sitting in a graduate school official’s office with a request to study with a specific instructor in the next term, an instructor known for deep and specific feedback, one with whom I had connected and I knew I would have the best chance to learn and grow. It was a basic request, well within the construct of what was possible and appropriate.
At the same time, I knew in advance the conversation wouldn’t go well. This was the same official who, when I responded honestly with feedback from my first term (by request), had asked for a call and screamed at me. I’d sat down to plan out this meeting, explaining the original interaction (which was accompanied by warnings from many other students), and received excellent advice.
“This person is a narcissist,” my advisor said. “The key with talking to a narcissist is never to take the bait. He will try to lead you down any number of other paths, and you very calmly and clearly stay focused on the purpose of your conversation.”
I remember the first few minutes going well. I was invited to sit in an overstuffed chair facing his desk. I remember beginning my request, by his invitation, with a brief explanation. And then he stopped me, raising his voice to a yell so that anyone in the surrounding offices would have heard, and demanded:
“Who do you think you are?”
The rest of the conversation didn’t matter. He continued on a rampage. I made very measured responses connected only to my first question. At the end of the meeting, my request was denied.
I left the office walking calmly, with effort, feeling nauseous enough I had to sit in my car until I could breathe evenly again.
Have you ever had anyone ask you such a question? Of course it isn’t a question at all, but a statement:
You are insignificant.
You have no voice.
You have no relevance.
I am in control and I will not permit any challenge of that control.
It’s asked—or stated— in other ways, too.
“That’s not how we do it here.”
“You must know how that (work/decision, etc) looks.”
“You aren’t xx enough.”
All indicate small minds— unable to expand and grow to accommodate new ideas, new challenges, or new opportunities. Unable to self-reflect. Unable to connect to others.
What do you do with these questions? Assuming of course that you’re doing your work, and have a sense of the work that must be done, and your role in that work, then there is a one word answer to this:
These are not comments or questions of thoughtful people, or people interested in engaging meaningfully. Retired Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum noted once that “mediocrity loves company,” and the desperate grasp for that company is all that is indicated by questions like this (that or an indication of narcissism.)
File away the question — and who asked it— into the “do not engage/disregard” file, or toss it in the bin as you walk out the door and toward making a difference. (remember Kramer? I loved Kramer…)
WHY someone might ask this really isn’t your concern, nor is it worth your time to consider it. Making a difference is where your time and energy should be focused, and must be focused in order to be successful.
This isn’t easy. It’s hard to push through that resistance sometimes. I know. I’ve been there more times than I can count— and bet some of you have too. These are places to recall and use to draw strength for whatever resistance you face ahead.
(and if you need a little support, take advantage of this limited time discount on Going for Grit, designed to give you a solid foundation for grit and resilience, and build the skills you need for success in the midst of transition or challenge!)
When you have some down time, go back and think about your story (the foundation of our Grit Triad)— which is your answer to that question for yourself: who do YOU think you are? You’re the only questioner that matters.
The world needs courageous leadership. Don’t let yourself be sidetracked.
SEASON 2! I NEED YOUR HELP!
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I’m excited to share a poem that was recently released in the fall issue of Wrath Bearing Tree, a literary journal for veterans. It’s linked here— and I hope you’ll also peruse the rest of the journal and the excellent work they’ve helped bring to readers! Publishing poetry was part of my personal goals for this year— #50for50!
Two more poems coming later this month, so more to follow.