*Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network.
In simple words: a friendly, supportive place to face your fear of public speaking and discover and fine-tune your leadership style.
There we were. On the rooftop terrace, sitting across each other.
What he said next broke me into pieces.
Kate, you are NOT a LEADER, not in the technical sense, not in the organisational sense, and not even in the people sense!!!
I was speechless. Before I could utter a response, he left me hung out to dry.
What am I supposed to do with this feedback?!
A colleague, a peer, someone who I trusted and even liked… Until that moment, that is …
What have I done to earn this feedback?
A month earlier…
I was given the biggest assignment in my career. A team of 20 people and 3 months to accomplish a project goal.
The first thing I did was to set up daily sync up with my team. Yep, all 20 of them. A terrible, terrible idea.
Not only did they work on separate parts of the project and they didn’t care much about what their peers were doing. But they also didn’t buy into the project itself.
Neither did I, by the way.
It never occurred to me to create a compelling story or a business reason for this project. It never occurred to me to work with higher management to craft one.
Instead, I bit my teeth into it and I run with it.
We developed a few prototypes, we tried a few different things. But one month down the road, I knew something was wrong. I knew I was not the leader I aspired to be.
But I never expected someone to deliver it directly in my face. This feedback that broke me like a porcelain vase. Into pieces.
I was so embarrassed I wanted to jump off this rooftop terrace. So the ground would swallow me and nobody would see my face again.
I had ticked all the boxes: good grades at school, my bachelor and my master degree, my first internship, my first job, and the second. My career was progressing, until this moment.
How was I going to go back and keep work with my team as if nothing happened? How was I going to report the progress to management feeling like a total failure?
What saved me
But there was something I could do… You see, for every devil out there, there’s an angel. This angel appeared in the face of another colleague. He suggested I tried a meditation app. You see, I was so desperate, so broken and so lost, I would have done anything.
The first 5minutes were the LONGEST of my life! Not only was my brain over the place like a wild monkey, but my body couldn’t stay still for 5 FREAKING MINUTES!
But I came back to it the next day and the day after.
I liked the perspective they were offering. Why not become a bystander to my own life, and see my life as a busy street? Observe the traffic without jumping in to fix it.
Why didn’t anyone present this concept to me?!
Become a mere observer
I brought this concept to my life and work. Two months later we somehow completed the project. Don’t ask me how… It even was considered a success. Then I completed the next project and the next one. I somehow built up myself again and recovered my confidence.
But this cathartic moment on the rooftop terrace was not only the most humiliating moment of my life.
It was also the single, biggest chance to rebuild this life.
Instead of biting my teeth into life and running, I started asking myself these questions:
- Who do I want to be as a person?
- Who do I want to be as a leader?
- … Do I really want to be a LEADER?!
I stand before you and I’m still pondering on these questions.
You only fail if you stop trying
I am sure you also have many of these painful moments. I don’t know what they’re trying to tell you or where they are leading you. It’s up to you to find the answers to these questions.
But what I can tell you is:
Don’t be afraid of failure.
It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. It matters how many times you stand up.
So dear friends, whenever you fall down, stand up again and keep going.
Photo credit: Kate Apps’ private archive, header made with Canva