We’d crossed through “Checkpoint Charlie” from the Allied side to the East German side and almost immediately I could feel my body reacting to the change – it was truly as if the world had transformed.
Our surroundings suddenly appeared devoid of all color -everything was gray - and it was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the air. You could feel the wall wrapping around you and sense the soldiers and the guns watching your every move.
At one point we took a wrong turn and found ourselves alone with a line of maybe 20 soldiers suddenly “appearing out of nowhere.” We turned and went the other way…
There was very little sound in East Berlin – and I mean that literally. Even though we were in a very populated area we heard very little sound.
No conversations. No laughter. No joy. No hope.
I don’t think I have felt in my bones the real definition of freedom until the moment I walked back through Checkpoint Charlie and finally felt my feet safely touch the American Sector. Those last few meters between the two different worlds felt inexorably long – as if I’d walked them in slow motion.
I could finally breathe again after feeling as if I had been imprisoned in an invisible fortress all day. And I never wanted to feel that way again…
Well, just like the walls that I felt around me on that unforgettable day, I realized only recently that I’ve been unintentionally erecting walls around myself for years. I’ve been living in a self-created invisible fortress and it’s been affecting my life and my career. You see, unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t really breathing.
I put the walls up subconsciously at first to protect myself from getting hurt – by mean things teenaged girls say and then by boys. Because after all, if there’s a wall between you and me then I’m not really “letting you in” – so how can you really hurt me, right?
I suspect that because I got so comfortable with the walls that I simply kept them up when I moved to Chicago by myself after college for a great corporate job that paid wonderfully but was a poor fit for me.
I discovered that I could be very successful working – and ultimately leading – from behind the fortress wall. I could follow the rules, obey corporate politics, put in the hours, take only calculated risks and be rewarded for meeting the numbers. The less of “me” in the mix the more likely I was to quickly advance because it seemed doing things “one way” was “the way.” Advance quickly is what I did.
Let’s be honest, acting like a man – using the analytical, male side of our personalities - is what is generally expected and rewarded. Now, I mean this as no disrespect to my male colleagues. I have the highest regard for all of them and count more men among my closest friends than women. But, to be clear, there has not been an ounce of the feminine me in my career to this point.
Until this blog. Which has been freeing in the most unexpected way.
Here’s the key question for this blog post – how many of you can relate to some, much, or all of this because you’re also leading (and maybe living) from behind walls – walls that may have gotten thicker over time – to protect yourself or because you think that’s what you have to do to be successful?
I’ve only very recently begun to understand the importance to my career and to my life of tearing down the walls, stripping away the drywall – layer after constricting layer.
The fact that I was able to be successful “dressed as a man” in a man’s world and trapped behind walls makes me more determined than ever to be wildly successful dressed “as a goddess” in a man’s world with my soft, gooey, female side that melts like dark chocolate fully exposed for all to see.
Perhaps this is my “goddess manifesto” (gods, you’re welcome to exclaim it too): I am ready to be vulnerable.
The reality is, it’s the basis of a Leadership Manifesto as well.
Why? Because being vulnerable means that we have taken away our protective mechanisms and can get terribly hurt – as leaders and as individuals. I’m at the glorious point in my career where I can accept that risk knowing:
- I’ll be free to take risks
- I’ll learn more because I’ll fall down more often
- Falling down will lead to the greatest successes
- The highs will finally be full of laughter, joy and color – gray will be a color of the past
- I’ll start sharing my passion with the world without worrying about just how that “might be perceived” by people who are afraid of emotion in business (last time I checked business was done between humans, most of whom have real emotions)
- I’ll share my enthusiasm – for my teams, colleagues, clients, partners and projects – more fully now that I’ve learned that in Latin and Greek the word “enthusiasm” literally means the spirit of God within. I think we should all be sharing the spirit within us in all parts of our lives including our careers!
- I’ll be a better leader because I’ll create more genuine relationships – relationships that no longer have a fake foundation of me pretending to be a man by using only the masculine part of my personality
- I’ll also be a better leader because according to a new study by IBM, the most important quality for CEOs is now creativity – a trait that we all tap into from our feminine side – and a trait that I think we allow ourselves to more fully express when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
When I envision inspiring leaders I see people who live with their hearts and their souls. Who have stripped off their own drywall, torn down their own walls and have no pretensions. People who let their true light shine from within each and every day without fear.
That’s the kind of leader I desire to be. That’s the goddess power I intend to unleash. And in the same way that I felt a gust of freedom when I stepped back into the American Sector through Checkpoint Charlie and was no longer constrained by a wall, I aim to harness that same feeling of “finally being able to breathe” – but in a much more powerful way…
Who’s with me? Grab your hammer and let’s tear down the walls…
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Photo is the fall of the Berlin Wall by GavinAndrewStewart.