Each day, women around the world wake up and realize their potential isn’t fully utilized, their contributions are stifled, and their voice is muted. Each day, around the world, these women take the brave and bold steps to build their legacy in ways that make the rest of us marvel at their success. As a personal brand strategist, I have the distinct honor of working with these women, helping them articulate their value, set the expectation of their personal brand, and then put themselves out there to get noticed. Some of them want to lead. Some want to make a difference. Some want to be seen. They all want to know their lives mattered. Here are the stories of three women who found the courage, capacity, and confidence to lean into what scared them, push past expected norms, and use their voice and reputation to positively make a change. As they were each client of mine, I’ve changed their names and some of the details here to respect their privacy.
A young, talented, and “up and coming” executive in a growing consulting firm, Marissa called me with a unique challenge. As the social unrest of the summer of 2020 thrust the Black Lives Matter movement into the headlines, she felt she could no longer look away. “Growing up as an African American female,” she told me, “I always knew things looked different for me, and I might have some challenges. But I didn’t realize how bad it was for some people.”
Marissa continued, “I grew up in a diverse community, yet I had advantages. My parents are both prominent attorneys, and we had a nice house, cars, and vacations, and I received a stellar education. Today, I’m having a hard time turning away from the news. I feel like I need to do something. I’m just not sure what.” What Marissa was describing is what I call being drawn to your purpose. We’re all tempted with opportunities that seem enticing or interesting, but when you feel a pull to something that almost feels like a force you can’t resist, that could be your purpose tugging at you.
We’re all tempted with opportunities that seem enticing or interesting, but when you feel a pull to something that almost feels like a force you can’t resist, that could be your purpose tugging at you.
Marissa was established in her career and community and was accelerating to the leadership ranks in her industry. Her reluctance to “do something,” stemmed from a fear that acting could cause her reputation damage in her current role and position. She’d worked hard to build her career, and social or racial issues had never been a platform on which she stood.
In speaking with her, I asked, “Do you want me to tell you how your story ends here?” She took a pause. I couldn’t predict how she’d leave the earth, but I could assure her that if advocating for issues surrounding racial tensions was her true purpose, it would be futile to resist or try to argue her way out of that path. “I believe that when you’re supposed to do something, you can try to look away, but it’s always there, tugging at you,” I shared.
Months later, I heard from Marissa. She was elated! She’d brought the issue to senior management at her firm, and they embraced her and the initiative and gave their full support. She crafted articles and began speaking to media on the issues that she, an African American woman, felt passionately needed to be shared from her perspective. She took charge of a diversity council at her company. Quickly, Marissa found herself greeting each morning with enthusiasm, vigor, and purpose.
It’s only been a few months since all of this happened for her. But, to Marissa, there’s no turning back. We laughed when we discussed the prophecy of Mark Twain’s famous quote: “There are two important days in your life: The day you’re born and the day you realize why.” As she realized why she’s here – at this time, in this place, with this set of circumstances – and for whom she’d make a difference, she realized she was living her purpose.
In her culture, Mari learned early that it was important for her to be proficient at her work and not cause disruption. She would be rewarded for compliance and quality work but was not expected to accelerate – particularly past the men in the company. When she later moved to the United States to pursue medical school, Mari saw different options. I met her several years after she’d received her medical degree and was working as an ER doctor.
Things worked fine for Mari for a while. She was good at triaging challenging cases, always documented her patient files accurately, and was known to be an excellent option when another doctor needed someone to cover for them. Then something happened. The hospital where she worked became front-page news over a billing scandal, and to deflect from their challenges, administrators terminated Mari. They tried to make the case that she’d been inaccurate in her record-keeping (along with others) and the hospital was cleaning house. But that wasn’t true. Mari took meticulous notes, kept excellent records, and had never made a billing error. Not one to challenge authority or make a scene, Mari accepted the severance package and left quietly.
When I met her, she was ready to reclaim her career. She was working at a small, local clinic but missed the energy and chaos of a hospital setting and wanted to get back there. The challenge was, a Google search of her name revealed all the press surrounding her previous employer, to which she was tied. “Can you get my name off Google?” she asked? I wish it were that easy, I explained. While the Internet searches of her name were a challenge, the bigger issue for Mari was that her side of the story was clearly missing. She had deferred to others whom she deemed more entitled to speak and allowed them to communicate on her behalf. It was time she started to speak for herself.
She had deferred to others whom she deemed more entitled to speak and allowed them to communicate on her behalf. It was time she started to speak for herself.
Our first step was to reclaim her narrative. We developed messaging that she could confidently deliver to explain her path to America, medicine, and the hospital life, which had ended unfavorably. She needed a powerful, clear, and confident way of answering questions about what had happened and her role. There were legal parameters to consider, and Mari recognized that to move through the events and get past them, she had to move through them.
The messaging gave her confidence. More and more, the questions became fewer, and her ability to explain away what happened and declare her innocence grew. She was soon being asked to compete for public opportunities to present on her research papers, she began advocating for additional funding and resources for the clinic, and was contacted by a prominent nearby hospital to discuss an ER opening. Admittedly, she was nervous about interviewing for the job. The panel of interviewers asked technical, ethical, and procedural questions to her for over three hours. Then came the question she anticipated. “What happened at the last hospital?”
Instead of shrinking, she confidently and calmly explained as much as she was permitted to disclose. She spoke with the pose of a woman who had nothing to hide, who was secure in her position and skills. She was given the job offer. I followed up to see how she was doing and asked about her feelings about her Google search. “Oh, that!” she laughed. “I know people will always look at my story on Google, and that’s fine. But now, they see my published articles, my awards for community service, and even the blog I started to help others who’ve been in tenuous situations.”
I was introduced to Clarisse by one of her primary investors, a client of mine. He explained, “Here’s a woman who has no idea of her potential or the impact she can make. Can you help her get her confidence up?” My client had invested a great deal in her organization and felt that if Clarisse could be more visible as a spokesperson and public figure, the organization’s credibility and value would rise.
The organization focused on advancing children’s literacy options in underserved communities. As such, Clarisse had always put those issues before her own and rarely shared personal details about her life or past. After some probing, I learned that she’d pioneered many of the advancements in children’s literacy, had authored several published papers on the topic, and was a natural public speaker. She was clear, compelling, and interesting to listen to. However, she often passed up presenting opportunities because she didn’t feel confident on stage.
Standing at six feet tall, Clarisse had vibrant red hair that made it hard to miss her when she walked into a room. She was a presence! In working with Clarisse, we did a perception mapping exercise to gauge the areas where her self-assessment deviated from or matched, that of her target audience. The goal was to confirm perception that aligns with reputation goals and identify blind spots before they become problems.
What the study revealed surprised Clarisse. Overwhelmingly, feedback respondents talked about her passion for literacy, the influence she’d had on significant improvements to reach at-risk children, but they also referenced her appearance. They described her noticeable and attractive looks and suggested she not hide the fact that she was born with presence. To Clarisse, this idea initially seemed to indicate that she should sexualize her looks to get more attention, but that’s not what was being offered.
After consideration, Clarisse understood that if she stood tall in her presence and stopped hiding who she was, she could be seen as more confident and influential. She began to see how believing in herself fully meant she could project a more confident and credible presence for the organization and the issues she was passionate about.
She began to see how believing in herself fully meant she could project a more confident and credible presence for the organization and the issues she was passionate about.
I saw Clarisse give her TEDx Talk a year later. Remarkably, this strikingly tall and passionate woman took the stage and spoke with such depth of experience and enthusiasm I almost didn’t recognize her. She paused at the right moments, so the words landed with emphasis, she quoted information that drove home important points and she finished with as much passion as if she’d just jumped off the balance beam and stuck the perfect landing. She embraced all of who she was – inside and out – and the response was extremely positive. No longer did she defer and delegate speaking opportunities to others. Now she confidently advocated for her cause, her community, and herself.
I even noticed she started wearing high heels!
These stories are special, but certainly not unique. Here’s what they each did:
- They recognized a pivot was presented to them and they evaluated their options. Do they lean forward and take the risk? Do they lean back and wait for better conditions? They each made choices to accept the risk and reward of the pivot in front of them.
- Each of them struggled with personal, cultural, or societal “tapes” that played in their ear about what they should do, what’s expected of them, and what it means to be successful. They re-wrote those tapes to their own goals.
- The three of them leveraged their personal brand strategy to move forward into self-promotion. They felt scared and courageous at the same time. They moved into the light and saw their potential in new ways. They were rewarded with more opportunities and positive feedback. This is the essence of personal branding.
Each day I hear from women around the globe who struggle to find their place, who seek to make a difference, and who fear they’re not being taken seriously. Some are looking to be more well-known, have more influence, or be more inspiring. Some struggle to leave behind the protocols and standards of the military as they enter entrepreneurship, still wanting to serve others. Some look to clear their name so they can provide for their families and continue a career after a misstep. These women are all remarkable for their tenacity, resilience, and perseverance and I’m honored to have been a small part in their long and inspiring journeys.
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