I was sitting in a hotel in Brighton yesterday morning after a late night. I had spoken at a business event on Thursday evening and had stayed up well past my bedtime to connect with the people in the room afterwards. It was a buzzy night, and my mind was still buzzing when I woke up two hours ahead of my alarm.
So, to treat myself for waking up so early, I decided to have the overpriced breakfast on offer in my gorgeous seaside hotel. I knew I was tried, so I had to do a double-take and then a triple-take to make sure I had seen what I thought I had seen: an elderly man in a white chiffon tunic with a wide leather belt to cinch his waist and a black bra clearly showing through his shirt.
Now, I was a bit surprised, but I wasn’t disgusted (why should I be?), not like the other diners in the room who were shooting flaming daggers with their eyes at this complete stranger for his sartorial choices. (Let the man wear what he wants!)
And this brief little observation – my own and seeing the responses of others – took me down a path I had trodden just the night before. Namely, how some people just don’t “get” us, and how one “box” doesn’t fit all.
For most of my life I have been a bit of a yin and yang duality: I am an analytical left brain and a creative right brain. I am progressive and modern about some things, and traditional and “conservative” about others. I am alternately “feminine” and “masculine” (how many of us are exhausted playing that game of finding which traits we are “allowed” to show at work?).
I love playing sports and doing chin ups and competing in Tough Mudder, and equally love doing nothing but reading and drinking coffee or eating crunchy mint M&Ms while I write (she says as she pops another M&M in her mouth). I have more than one business, more than one interest, more than one strength, more than one weakness, and more than one identity (entrepreneur, coach, speaker, friend, alumna, mother, partner… different “hats” but the same me).
To put it simply, I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur (thanks Marie Forleo). And a multi-faceted person. And if I had to take a guess, I’d guess that you probably are too.
But it has taken me a loooooooooong time to realize that not everyone understands that. Not everyone feels comfortable with all the boxes I tick. Not everyone “gets” how or why one person would want to do, be, and love so many different things, and work so hard to be good at all of them.
But that’s why communities are so powerful. Because when we are part of the right community, surrounded by the right people, immersed in the right environment, these questions are taken for granted. The many “you’s” of who you “are” don’t need explaining.
That man wearing a bra? It can’t have been easy being him growing up. It probably still isn’t. But he has taken the bold decision to be himself. And that is sometimes the hardest decision we can make: the decision to be ourselves, without explaining or qualifying or justifying why and what (as long as we aren’t hurting anybody… I’m not encouraging narcissistic sociopathy here, people!).
I have curated my life – and built this community – so that as much as possible, I am only surrounded by people and ideas that uplift, challenge, and push me to live my best life and be my best self. In business, in life, in being who we are, we all need a bit more of that. Because it is hard enough without it.
And to help us all get a bit more of that special sauce of finishing-each-other’s-sentences and “we totally get each other”-ness, for the next few weeks (or as long as you keep introducing me to more amazing women), I will be sharing snippets from the life and work of the women in our community in a series called Meet the Entreprenoras.
Sure, part of this sharing will be good PR for the women who are featured and their businesses. But the real benefit to everyone will be from the connections made, relationships formed, friendships begun, networks shared, and heart taken from knowing we are not alone. From knowing that no matter how new or how experienced, we all “get” each other and are here to help each other thrive.
So let’s keep ticking those boxes – or shunning the boxes altogether – and let’s do great things together.
All white chiffon tunics welcome.