My first year as a teacher I had 29 students in my 3rd grade classroom. Seventeen of those students were the cutest, most high-energy boys you could ever encounter. The school district was financially struggling and there was no class-size policy in place. I was hired because the previous teacher took early retirement, as she knew what she would be facing in the fall. I was so grateful to have gotten the position straight out of college that I resolved myself to the fact that there was no room to complain. I was tossed in the deep end and it was one of those life “sink or swim” moments. I was determined not to sink.
I knew I had to find a mentor fast. My principal assigned me to a well-respected teacher I met during my interview process. She was organized, dedicated and filled with a wealth of knowledge. I was so grateful to have a wise mind guide me and support me during those early days. I am convinced I may have left teaching all together in that first month had it not been for her. This is something I told her and our administration often.
As the months moved on I began to feel my confidence grow. I could feel and see that my students were thriving and the sense of accomplishment was something that still gives me goose bumps today. Yet, as I began to thrive myself and share some of my victories with my colleague/mentor I held so dear to me, I could feel a “coldness” from her. I was confused at first. Had I done something? I asked her with concern and she brushed it off as nothing. I chalked it up to my sensitivity and proceeded as if all was normal.
However, that coldness continued to surface. I felt it when I was tapped to sit on a special committee for curriculum. I felt it at lunch in the teacher’s lounge when I was laughing and making connections with these new faces. I felt it when we had in-service days and aspects of my teaching were highlighted as examples for the other teachers. I really felt it when I was nominated for New Teacher of the Year for the district. At that point, she stopped talking to me all together. I was sad and confused. This woman was someone I wanted to share these exciting moments with. She was a foundational piece of my success. Yet, it was clear a shift had happened and in my naiveté I thought it was me. I thought I had done something wrong. I was convinced that I had wronged her in some way.
I spent sleepless nights contemplating how I could rectify this relationship. I tried addressing the distance and it did not work. I found myself dimming my accomplishments in her presence. Could I include her more? No, I tried that and she wasn’t interested. Should I do more to highlight her success? I was already doing that every chance I got. The hardest part for me was I had such respect for her and was confused by what was happening.
One particular day I was feeling overwhelmed by the situation and I reached out to a professor I respected in my graduate school, who was seasoned and very wise herself. She gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten in my life. Here is what she said,
“Kelley, in life, you may find that your light gets too bright for some people and they will want to dull your shine. It is your choice if you will let them do that. This situation is an opportunity for you to learn and let me tell you why. Because forever, now, you will know when to set a boundary with someone because they can’t handle your shine.”
The exhale that came out of my lungs when she spoke those words will be one I never forget. I was devoting so much of my time, energy and worry to something I had no control over.
I have used this wisdom in countless sessions with clients, with friends and even with my children. I have seen this play out in the workplace for many of the women I work with. Especially when they are growing and advancing in their careers. It happens when they are working on projects or excel at something their colleague or boss doesn’t. It can feel scary, lonely and isolating. It can cause them to feel like they are bad and wrong in some way. If this is happening to you, I recommend the following:
-Take a deep breath.
-Remind yourself of who you are.
-Connect with people in your life you trust and share your story. Don’t ask them to fix it. Just ask them to listen.
– Decide…does this person really get a vote in your life?
-If the answer is no, then determine what boundary you might need to set to keep yourself from letting this situation disrupt your goals.
-AND last but not least…Without apology let your light shine!
This story is 21 years old. Yet this kind of issue plays out in my office with women everyday. One of the most disheartening aspects is that more commonly than not, it is women doing this to other women. What is gained when we don’t support each other and let the best parts of each other shine? What is the cost of letting situations like this perpetuate day after day in both the workplace and in life? I can’t think of one true benefit. One of the most beautiful aspects of the work I have the privilege of doing is mentoring, cheerleading and supporting the women clients and colleagues around me. Watching their light shine brightly only inspires me to do the same with mine. I know I will never be them and they will never be me but the value we both can add to the world is needed and necessary.
Yet, until we really work on this type of dynamic amongst women, there will be some people in your life that can’t handle your shine. They may even be people you once loved and adored. That is not easy. However, you get to determine who gets a vote in your life AND the world needs your shine.
So turn it up!