The question posed to the five-member discussion panel was one of those-simple-but-loaded ones: “How did you learn to change yourself?”
The women who answered before me outlined impressive and proactive change strategies they’d used to propel themselves to positions of status and influence. One shared how she watched for and logged unacceptable patterns in how she performed and then set up a timeline for making modifications.
Another talked about how she benchmarked her approach to that of successful colleagues, noted areas where she needed to change, and then gave herself incentives as she made progress.
With each piece of logical and methodical advice that was shared, I became increasingly worried that maybe I had been an incorrect choice to be on the panel. Compared to my four panel colleagues, I was going to be the outlier on this question—the one without a textbook perfect answer for personal change.
My brain was racing. Do I affirm what someone else said as a best practice? Should I talk about change management strategies in general? Do I answer the question honestly?
My briefcase-toting inner critic was shouting. Skip the personal stuff and go with facts. The audience is high profile women working in a male-dominated industry. Go with something from Kotter or Deming. Their advice is timeless.
Moment of truth
Finally the moderator turned to me. It was my turn, and this is what spilled out.
Wow! I’m impressed by what my colleagues shared. Great advice! I wish I could say my approach is more like theirs. But it isn’t.
(A few chuckles from the audience)
My approach to personal change is radically different than my corporate approach. Personally, I’m not planful if there is such a word. I confess to needing a cosmic two-by-four whack before I initiate changing myself.
(Lots of head nods, a little applause, smiles)
Usually it’s something big, ugly and really hurtful that pushes me to embrace personal change. Is that the best way? Probably not. But it’s me.
Many women approached me after the event to tell me they appreciated my candor saying they, too, needed a big push before starting personal change. Several said they felt intimidated by what the other participants had described, saying they were uncertain if they could marshal the level of personal discipline displayed by the other participants.
Doing it anyway
My candor probably cost me a client or two. But that’s OK. My second act of life is about walking the talk.
To change stereotypes, we have to model behavior contrary to the stereotype generalization.
Had I followed the same path as my panel colleagues, my message would have fit the pattern of information shared. But, I would have also contributed to a model of perfection and logic that doesn’t translate to personal behaviors. Well, for most of us anyway.
What would you have done?
Image source before quote: morgueFile.com