Last week, I needed some “out of the office” inspiration, so I went to see the movie Hidden Figures. It left me with a host of emotions like pride, elation, and awareness. This was an untold story that needed to be told in a way that I could see it. That’s the benefit of a great movie!
I reflected on how fearless these ladies were. Their accomplishments changed the world. They didn’t elect to be hidden. They wanted to shine, to help, to contribute their expertise to something that mattered and be acknowledged for it.
Many of us want those same things, as we work diligently to make significant contributions in the workplace, and we should expect to get them.
I also reflected on the comment the John Glenn character (Glen Powell) made that still holds true for many of us today. He said, “You know, you cannot trust something you cannot look in the eyes.”
You see, when I was living in Chicago working for a very large telecommunications company (today known as AT&T), I flew to Atlanta to do a Human Resources Compliance Training for the South East Management Team. I provided HR support to this group, and I spoke with them on a regular basis.
The night before the Compliance training, I was in the hotel lobby chatting with a few people, when a sweet lady from Montgomery, Alabama, who I had spoken with many times before, came up to me and said, “Oh, my goodness! You are Paula?”
I immediately recognized her voice, and she recognized mine. It was our first meeting in person.
She said (in her best southern accent), “Paula, I thought you were some petite, blond-haired, blue-eye lady.”
Now, we all are guilty of imagining what people look like when we speak to them without seeing them, so I get it. However, I was lost for words. Mostly because she actually said what she was thinking, (which most people do not) but also because I was the complete opposite of what she imagined and she was so very stunned. Her stunned reaction absolutely surprised me.
The next morning I couldn’t help but think about her reaction to meeting me. Nevertheless, the training went very well, and she made sure to let me know how impressed she was with everything I taught the team. She and the entire team celebrated with me once the training was complete, and eventually things were back to normal with us. Our congenial moments continued throughout the rest of the meeting and beyond.
The following year, I relocated to Atlanta and eventually started my own international business, J. PR and Associates (a dream and a company name I’d had for years). However, that dream was tainted by that lady’s reaction to me on that faithful training day. Ugh! I heard her words again and remembered her stunned face.
What if the people in the South, or anywhere else for that matter, had a problem with my skin color or something about me?
The fact was, putting my face out there and even writing authentic newsletters, left me open to other people’s opinions, good or bad. I was not sure I was ready for that. After all, starting a business took all the courage I had.
Because of my doubts, I decided to become a Hidden Figure. Working with my web designer, I made sure that visitors to my site had to search for a picture of me. I told myself if we (J. PR and Associates) would simply do good work, then our work would speak for itself.
No one needs to see me to believe the company is great, I told myself.
That sounded good, but I was allowing fear to rise up instead of my dream. I was proud of my business, but fear gave me permission to hide my face.
One day I became completely frustrated with hiding. I kicked that voice of fear and doubt out of my head. I had to acknowledge that I was doing myself a disservice by allowing fear to win. This is MY business and I had to own it in every way.
I remembered that I was created for success. I knew the services we offered made a real difference in the workplace. I also had to remember that people are entitled to their opinions, but I didn’t have to take them on as my own, unless I absolutely wanted to.
It took a while, but after that long talk with myself, I decided to come out of the shadows. I placed my face and my name just where they need to be–easily visible on my website. I am no longer a Hidden Figure.
No one else is qualified to live my dream but me, and so I do. The value that comes from kicking fear in the face and running over it is priceless. If you want help doing that, then call us!
We help people and businesses go from where they are to where they want to be.
All The Best,