Yesterday, I went to a retirement party for a former co-worker. I spent almost 14 years as an engineer at the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland. I left in 1997, but I’ve stayed in touch with many of my former peers. Gary, the man whose retirement we celebrated, was in my group. We were both facility managers of large research test facilities, and we had similar technical backgrounds. We shared a two-person office, and developed a wonderful friendship. He was, and is, special to me, so I was really excited to go to the party.
While I was driving to the party, I reflected back on our years together. I was always so impressed with Gary. He’s got a calm and peaceful demeanor; he’s very disciplined and orderly; he had an uncanny way of thoroughly evaluating information, dissecting facts and making a brilliant analysis that led to a wise and effective decision. His technical knowlege is astounding. And he’s a genuinely nice guy. I was in awe of his style of management. He had an extraordinary work ethic, and he got things done. He was well respected in our industry, and I considered it a privilege to be his office mate. I had him on a professional pedestal.
In contrast, I often felt completely inferior to him. I felt like I had no clue about what I was doing. I didn’t feel smart enough compared to him. Sometimes I felt I was in a job which was way over my head, and I was completely inadequate for the task. I would watch him and try to learn from him. My style was different…I was people focused, and I figured I could cover up my technical shortcomings with lots of laughter and pizazz. I am far from calm and peaceful. I am a swirling, twirling whirlwind of energy and fizz, often leaving an enthusiastic wake of “what just blew through here?” in my path. But I also feared being “found out” as a fraud, especially by someone who I had on this professional pedestal.
At the party, I was elated to see Gary and many others from my former NASA days. We got to reminiscing about the “good old days”. We sounded pathetic, like a bunch of old people. Which is exactly what we are, I suppose. But then Gary said something to the group that blew me away. I paraphrase, but he said something like “Maureen was amazing. I never knew what I was doing. But she was amazing. She would smile and laugh, and have all the customers wrapped around her finger. All these outside visitors loved her. She would charm them into anything. She had such a way with people.”
Wow. He glowed when he said this. His smile was genuine. His heart was part of his words. And I was blown away. On two levels: First to hear that he didn’t know what he was doing…that was shocking to me. Because that’s how *I* felt! Second, to hear him be impressed with MY style and MY approach, to see that he admired that in me, well, that was so profoundly touching to me. I had no idea. He spoke straight to my fears. Straight THROUGH my fears.
I realized that not only are we our own worst critics, but that people around us are also our greatest fans. We need to realize that oftentimes we come across way more positively and with way more impact that we give ourselves credit for. We really have a stronger presence than we realize. YOU have a stronger presence than you realize. Your presence in the world matters. It has meaning. It has influence. You have influence. You are more powerful than you imagine.
So, what would it be like if you started to believe that? Would it change how you interact with people? Would your confidence soar? Would it change how you spoke truth to someone to silence their own fears? Would it change your own self-talk? Would it change how much you can accomplish in your own life? What would it change?
Why not try it? Try walking through life today with the firm conviction that your presence is powerful and has impact. I don’t mean in a prideful, egotistic way, but in a way that releases you from fear to be invested in building up other people. Walk like that, and see what happens. That’s a cool way to change!