Image :: Eugenia Loli
“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”.
—Don Draper :: Mad Men
A few weeks ago I was swimming in the deep end with a client of mine who was preparing to launch her new business.
She’s a self-aware and savvy artist who lives in the Bay Area— which is basically a tech-startup boomtown. It’s an ideal location for her, and her biz— which delivers her experience and enthusiasm for creative expression into startup company culture.
These are small companies with big potential that rely on being consistently, prolifically creative in the innovation jungle.
At face value, her vision is spot-on. She lives in the ideal location. Has a brilliant business plan. Arranged for the gorgeous confluence of doing what she loves, for those who want and need it.
But that afternoon there was still one big albatross, hanging doubtfully around her neck.
“Who is going to take me seriously?” She said. “I’m only 24.”
Damn those albatrosses.
They’re like bad reviews that we write for ourselves before the production has even begun.
Sometimes our bad reviews assure us that we’re too young, or under qualified. Sometimes we don’t know enough, or we’re under-prepared, or past our prime, or don’t belong, or too flighty or undisciplined, or it’s because we’re a Sagittarius, or Scorpio moon, or really what have you.
It’s an anticipatory move. A maneuver of protection at best. But one that stifles our most sincere impulses before they ever see the daylight.
I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, sometimes what we consider to be our biggest flaws or detractions, have the potential to be our greatest assets in disguise.
That perhaps it’s not a matter of concealing our perceived flaws, or working extra hard in spite of them, but rather changing the slant of the conversation we're having about them.
Flipping the script. Seeing new views.
Finding the asset in the albatross.
I had this experience on a recent trip to New Orleans, where my cards were read by a Congolese voodoo priest (what a bizarre sentence to write), who began by telling me that I was “a sensitive, empathic intuitive” that is a “sponge” for the energy around me.
My first thought was that this might be my threshold for “woo-woo”. My second thought was that he was dead on. And my third thought was “Well, crap.” He was basically saying that I’m totally ill equipped to live in this world.
The conversation I was buying into is that our culture is too fast and hard for sensitive people. The premium is on extroversion, cynicism, and competitive ambition, which means that a sensitive little spongelike creature such as myself is basically an invertebrate out of water. Crippled for survival. Roadkill on the highway of life.
My fourth thought, though, was a new conversation.
That yes. I am a sensitive being. And frankly, I’m better for it. These are exactly the same qualities that fortify my ability to do what I do. To be a perceptive coach. An instinctive meditation teacher. An empathetic friend. To give a genuine and sometimes heartbreaking f*ck about our planet and the people who live on it. To revile against oppression in it's insidious forms, while also striving to have understanding for those who oppress.
Crippled for survival? Psssht. Please.
One message, two potential conversations,
The first says “flawed and faulted." The other says “blessings and assets”.
In the case of my client, one quick Google search revealed that the median age of all tech-startup founders is 24. After college.The golden number. Which meant that not only was her age not a detriment to her ability to be taken seriously, it was actually an asset.
Her clients are her peers. Her relatability is a boon.
As for not knowing enough? It also means you have the gift of Beginner's Mind.
Inexperienced? There's a lack of baggage there. It means you're not stuck in your ways.
Past your prime? That prime is old news, anyhow. But I bet you learned a TON about what a new "prime" feels like...
A few days ago I walked past a coffee shop in the West Side that proudly displayed a chalkboard inviting patrons to "Come inside and have the WORST cappuccino that a guy ever had on Yelp."
It was a brilliant display of taking a bad review, and changing the conversation.
I laughed to myself, took a photo, and went in to try it for myself. I couldn't resist. I was charmed. Curious. And the cappuccino wasn't half bad.
Our own "bad reviews", our albatrosses, are probably more flexible than we believe them to be. When we look for the assets within them, we have an opportunity to change our view.
When we change our view, we have agency to own our stuff and change the conversation altogether. And on the other side of that?
The sweet sweet freedom to invite others inside.