When People Want You To Stay in The Shadows

Step into your light.

People don’t like you.

That’s what she said. My best friend in high school told me, “People don’t like you.”

She and I were both part of the music and theater crowd, and we were talking about some recent auditions for our school’s upcoming show.

“What? Why?!” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Because you get up there on the stage like you know you’re going to get the part, and then you audition, and then you do get it. Everyone hates that.”

People don’t like you when you succeed. That was the takeaway, the start of me thinking I needed to stand in the shadows.

Little did anyone know how hysterical I always was before an audition, how I never practiced in advance and waited until the last minute to even try out so that I’d have an excuse when I didn’t get picked. I was always convinced I wasn’t good enough and scared beyond my wits.

And then I would get picked. In fact, on most occasions I’d get the lead. I had no idea why! Performing was something I liked to do and it was what I gravitated to and so I’d drag myself kicking and screaming into auditioning, sure that I was awful and had no business being on the stage, and I’d get picked. It was always a complete shock to me when I’d land the lead. And then I learned no one liked me for it.

I was devastated.

* * *

A little more than a decade later, when I was working at Coca-Cola, we were to have a meeting with the head of our department. In the particular group I was in at the time, we rarely got this kind of audience. All I knew was that each of us was going to have a short period to share an update on our projects. I was excited about the opportunity, so I did what I thought I should do. I went through everything I was working on, looked at objectives and results, and wrote up a summary.

At the actual meeting, it turned out I was the only person who had done so much preparation in advance. I was the only person who had a physical piece of paper to share. I was the only one who had any data. The boss said he was duly impressed. When the meeting was over, one of my colleagues sneered, “Way to show us up, Katherine.”

Again, I was stunned. It seemed like the normal thing to do to be buttoned up and ready to go in front of the Vice President. I wasn’t showing anyone up. It had never occurred to me that everyone else wouldn’t be doing the same thing I had done.

Here we go again. Get back in the shadows, Katherine. People don’t like you.

* * *

I’ve come to believe that each person has a spotlight waiting for them. There’s a light shining down from God, or the universe, or whatever it is that you believe in, and you just need to step into it. It’s your light and no one else’s. It’s the space in which you do what you’re meant to do. In which you are the fullest iteration of you. What’s great about your light is that it doesn’t overlap with others’. There’s no competition. To get into my light, I don’t have to crowd anyone else out of theirs. Stepping into mine doesn’t affect anyone else’s ability to step into theirs.

For a long time I didn’t understand this. I felt like I couldn’t, shouldn’t step into my light. If I did, people wouldn’t like me. That’s what my best friend told me. That’s what my colleagues told me. Don’t do well, for goodness sake! Don’t raise your head up above the crowd. Don’t value yourself, or be proud of what you have accomplished. Don’t stand out in any way. Don’t even accidentally succeed, without strategy or forethought. If you step into your light, you’re taking away from others. I was wrong.

Still, stepping into your light is painful. It’s already bad enough when you have your own fears and anxieties about saying or doing anything special. Having any opinion, or staking your ground. What right do you have?!, you admonish yourself. We all do. Yet you are still pulled toward that something special, so much that eventually you have no choice but to push past your fears and try, only to have someone loudly object, “You were right. You don’t have any right. We don’t give you permission to do or be this.” They are wrong.

I want to step in. I’m going to step in, or at least try, into whatever it is I’m pulled to do, however many things that is, and I want you to know that it is no reflection on you whatsoever. In fact, I’d like to be standing in my light, next to you standing in yours, next to her standing in hers. There’s enough for all of us.

I don’t want to be vanilla just because it’s the most acceptable flavor for all people. I don’t want to stand in the shadows.


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We Don’t Need Another Hero

When I’m doing something I’m afraid of, which is admittedly most of the time, the way I do it isn’t pretty. It’s certainly not heroic. I struggle through. I’m a sobbing mess. You may not be able to see that part, but it’s true. That may be partly why it feels so funny to have been named one of More magazine’s 50 Fiercest Women in America. Fierce people are cool. They can do ten things at once. They are fearless. They are never perturbed. I’m in a general state of perturbance.

For a long time I felt bad about me and my general state. Shouldn’t I be doing this better? Now I’m realizing that there are a lot of people just like me, and it’s perfectly okay to be perturbed.

Fierce people don’t have to be heroic. Being a hero is unattainable, at least for most of us. Heroes are fictional characters. They show up at the exact right moment, fully prepared, chests puffed out, ready to go. They have invisible planes!

Wonder Woman


When I think of heroes, the visual that comes to mind is the video “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions”. Have you seen it? [Read more…]

What It Means To Be Fierce

In the dictionary there are two definitions of the word “fierce”.

Definition 1:  Having or displaying an intense or ferocious aggressiveness 

The first definition is the one most people think of when they think of fierceness.  It’s intimidating.  I imagine a big scary person with pointy teeth and hairy ears and an angry demeanor glaring at me. Like this:


Definition 2: (of a feeling, emotion, or action) Showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity 


For me, fierceness is about feeling so intensely about a thing that you do it anyway. Despite your fears.

I think so many of us expect we require more than just heartfelt intensity to do something big. We should be fearless. Heroic. Have Guts with a capital G. We should be more like ________________ (fill in the blank here with the iconic people you compare yourself to and think you come up short).

For me, being fierce is not about heroism, this iconic vision of aggressive, ass-kicking women. It’s not about looking perfect while you knock down every barrier. It’s about heart and intensity and ugly struggle.  It’s about learning to live with the barriers – that you’re not good enough, that you don’t have permission, that you don’t have the right skills, that you may not get the right outcome – instead of waiting until you’re able to eliminate all of them, which will never happen.

Being powerful is about accepting that anything that tugs at you deeply is valuable enough to pursue.  It’s not about the size of the impact you may have, or your fame or your budget, or society’s view of the worthiness of your purpose. It’s about pursuing your call to be involved in the world in a specific and meaningful way that’s unique to you, regardless of measurements.

I’m not the chest-beating type and maybe you aren’t either. Who cares. We still have definition 2 on our side. We can still be fierce and powerful.


Photo credit: Delphine Perret