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The way we win matters

What’s that? ANOTHER movie reference in a blog post? Hell yes. Buckle up, buttercup. Let’s do this.

It’s no secret that I love science fiction (and science fantasy, where I firmly place Star Wars, but that’s a discussion for another time). I started reading Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison at a very young age. Which explains a lot, really. What I appreciate about the genre is that it is such a mirror of who we are as a society – and who we want to be. Some sci-fi is post-apocalyptic and depressing, some is unnaturally cheerful and optimistic. (You can probably guess what kind I tend to watch.) All of it acts as a social commentary for the time in which it was made.

One story I experienced first as a movie and then as a book is Ender’s Game. Regardless of what you think of the book’s author, the story and world building is brilliant and engaging. Years ago, Earth was invaded by an alien species and barely survived. Since then, society has been obsessed with preparing for the next attack, training children to be the leaders of the battle because their brains can process the multitude of data faster.

Ender, so-called because he is a third child in a society that limits most families to two, is unique among his peers. He is the perfect combination of aggression and compassion, believing that the best way to defeat his enemy is to love them, because only then do you understand them. When confronted by bullies at his school, he gravely injures the toughest boy – an apparent over-reaction to the situation. When questioned why later, he replies that he wasn’t fighting to win that battle – he was fighting to win all future battles, too. (Seriously, go watch the movie and read the book – so good.)JALWS Letterhead I

One line in particular has stuck with me. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Near the end of the story, Ender and his unit have been undergoing simulation after simulation to defeat the Formics (insect-like aliens). In the final simulation, they risk nearly everything to defeat the entire race of Formics. Ender sacrifices thousands of (he thinks) simulated lives to achieve victory. Following the simulation, the adults cheer…it turns out, the simulation was the real battle. Colonel Graff (played by Harrison Ford) explains they didn’t tell Ender because they didn’t want him to hesitate…that they needed him to do what was necessary. Graff insists Ender will be remembered a hero. “We won,” Graff proclaims. “That’s all the matters.” Ender fires back, “No. The way we win matters.

This line says so much. It embodies so much of our humanity…or lack of it.

How many times have leaders claimed winning is the only option? How many organizations sacrifice values, integrity, dignity because they tell themselves the ends justify the means? Win at all costs. No holds barred. You have to play the game to win the game.

How many times do people regret that approach? In the long term, I hope it’s all of them. Because you give up something vital when you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter how you won. In the short term, it might seem like the smart play, but ultimately, history judges us all. It exposes the lies we tell ourselves and lays bare our mistakes.

Right now, American society is at a crossroads. We have an administration that values “winning” and loyalty over all else. We have a majority party in Congress that is willing to “win” no matter what the cost. We have organizations that are choosing to align themselves with a president who has been accused of sexual assault, and then turn around and speak about the dangers of #metoo. We live in a world where the number of  impressions and Twitter followers appear to be more important than values and critical thinking.

Is this what winning looks like?

I’d like to believe we’ll right this ship; that we’ll realize that attention isn’t the same as regard. That small “victories” are meaningless if we lose the larger battle. That sacrificing what we believe for the sake of a photo op means more than a slight PR hit. The decisions we make moving forward as leaders – as human beings – say more about us than short term gains. Are we willing to admit that sometimes the right thing to do IS the hard thing to do? Do we have the courage to turn down what looks good in favor of what IS good? Are we willing to speak up when our leaders can’t? Or won’t?

I hope so.

THE WAY WE WIN MATTERS.

 

 

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The power, and danger, of being liked

There’s a scene in Rush in which the F1 drivers are arguing whether or not they should race the Japan Grand Prix. The weather is questionable…but it’s the last race of the season and the points for the championship are very close. Niki Lauda (played brilliantly by Daniel Bruhl) calls an all-driver meeting to discuss the cancellation of the race. His justifications are reasonable and logical – it’s not worth the danger to continue in the race. James Hunt (played equally brilliantly by Chris Hemsworth) steps in and sways the crowd, arguing that Niki only wants to cancel the race because it will clinch the championship for him. He uses emotion and charisma against logic and fact. The vote is taken – the race is on.

As Hunt walks out of the room, he leans over to Lauda and says: “You know, Niki, every once and a while, it does help if people like you.”


James Hunt is right – it does help if people like you. You’re more likely to get hired if you’re likeable. You make friends more easily. Likeable sales people tend to have higher close rates. Hell, some people argue that Hillary would have won, if only she were more likeable. (And we can unpack THAT little statement another time.) In general, likeable people seem to go through life with a little extra verve and a little less friction.

Being likeable means being relatable to people. If someone feels like they can go and have a beer with their leader or coworker, it humanizes the person, highlighting commonality and empathy. It’s an important trait to cultivate if you’re trying to influence and lead. The grumpy, no nonsense boss of the past only gets so far. Same with the person who is always right and lets you know it. Look around your organization at who gets promoted – is it the charismatic leader that motivates people, or the sharply intelligent person who rubs folks the wrong way now and then in pursuit of truth?


If the above paragraph made you think, “Wait…there are a lot of charismatic douchebags who got promoted at my company and they can’t do shit…” then congratulations! You’ve found the danger of being liked. Too often, being liked is valued over being smart or thoughtful. Being liked can be addictive. People crave it and will sacrifice anything – logic, values, integrity, partnerships – as long as they keep that likeability. The need to be liked can lead to awful business decisions and really, really crappy leadership. Managers who want to be liked have a really hard time telling their employees that they aren’t doing a good job…because what if the employees don’t like that manager anymore???

I’ve seen too many teams struggle with artificial harmony because they think debate means someone doesn’t like them, and the thought of not being liked is TERRIFYING. Fear of not being liked too often keeps mouths shut or breeds defensiveness during serious conversations. It causes people to use gossip as currency and undermines relationships. Chasing likeability will hurt you in the long run – especially if it’s obvious that you’re trying too hard (see aforementioned charismatic douchebags).


So what to do? Be the jerk who is sure you’re always right? Be the charmer everyone loves even though deep down, you aren’t always making the best choice?

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. If people “like” you, it usually means that they trust you on some level. Personally, I’d rather be trusted than liked. I’d rather people think I have character and competence over popularity. In truth, I suspect I’m more like Niki Lauda than James Hunt. But I recognize the power of likeability and want to spend its value wisely.

You get some grace when making mistakes because people trust you’ll do right by them. If you’re always going by “gut instinct” and never consider logic and facts in your decision-making, you’re apt to lose that grace fairly quickly. On the flip side, people who rely entirely on logic and facts are typically seen as cold or non-empathetic. Despite the fact they’re often right, people don’t trust it because they aren’t seeing the human side of the decision-making. Tempering logic with likeability and balancing charisma with critical thinking can go a long way.

Next time someone gives you feedback that you need to be more “likeable,” consider what that means. Do you need to be more open to feedback? Do you need to be more approachable? Do you need to build more relationships? These are all good things to work on. But if they use “likeable” to mean you need to be more outgoing and smile more, feel free to keep on keeping on.

After all, James Hunt only won one F1 championship. Niki Lauda won three.


[Author’s note: Ironically, even Lauda liked Hunt. Despite the way their rivalry was presented in the film, Hunt and Lauda were good friends. Lauda said Hunt was one of the very few he liked, a smaller number of people he respected and the only person he had envied.] 

[Author’s note, Part 2: I really like that movie.]

 

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It’s been a tough week…

Lots happened this week.

Many people are reeling.

Here’s a picture of a kitten in a car.

Take care of yourselves, everyone.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Shout out to the staff: Dispatch from #WorkHuman

A reminder that I am attending the WorkHuman conference put on by Globoforce this week in Austin.


The first day of any conference is typically about getting your bearings. You wander through the conference space, figuring out where all the rooms are, how to find the expo hall, and – most importantly – where the afternoon snacks and coffee will be, and WILL THERE BE DIET COKE????

There are typically some pre-conference sessions, too. And while some may be tempted to skip them, the ones held yesterday were PACKED. Cy Wakeman kicked it off with her guidance on eliminating drama from the workplace; Steve Pemberton (Globoforce CHRO) followed with his remarkable personal story of resilience and triumph; and David Rock brought home Pre-Day (can we call it Day One? I don’t know!) with information on feedback and why we’re struggling so much with it. (Full disclosure: while I love David Rock’s work and like him as a speaker, I went back to my room to take a nap. I got up WAAAAAAY too early for a flight. Sorry, David! Heard it was great!)

Prior to all of this, though, was registration. You know, pick up your badge, get your conference schedule, conquer the world. Normally this is a pretty sedate process – people come in little packs, but seldom descend as one. Except for yesterday. When we descended like a pack of locusts upon an unsuspecting group of WorkHuman helpers. It seemed every attendee decided to pick up their badge RIGHT BEFORE Cy’s talk. As you can imagine, it overwhelmed the staff. People got a little fussy. People were worried about missing the speakers. People don’t like not getting stuff IMMEDIATELY. (People are weird.)

I bring this up not to admonish the staff but to congratulate them for their perseverance. Two workers (one from Ireland, one from Denmark) went up and down the line, talking with folks and offering to get water or hold their place if they needed to step out for a moment. They made the choice to allow people into the sessions without their badge so no one would miss content. They extended the check-in hours to alleviate pressure. They stayed positive. They stayed focused. They stayed friendly.

At a conference focusing on the human side of work, this was refreshing. Attendees weren’t super jerky. The staff stayed strong. There was a collective realization that the world won’t end if you don’t get your badge. The time spent in line was time spent connecting. People were able to reframe and no one got yelled at.

How about that? We can be nice – even when inconvenienced.

So shout out to the people who are helping make this conference happen. It’s hard to coordinate this many moving parts. And shout out to the attendees who remembered why they’re here – to connect and to slow down a bit and to remember we are all just people trying to make it work in this crazy world.

I’m looking forward to today’s sessions. And I look forward to high-fiving some hard-working staff who keep a smile on their face and do what they can to make this conference memorable. Let’s all try to make sure THEY have a good conference, too!

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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Life and leadership lessons from Frank Oz

When I was a kid, The Muppet Show was constantly on. Whether it was Roger Moore’s rendition of “Talk to the Animals” while fighting spies with laser guns, or Lynda Carter just being awesome, I loved watching. My most enduring memories of several songs are the version I saw on The Muppet Show – “In the Navy” (Viking pigs singing); “Time in a Bottle” (one of the more poignant versions rendered); “The Gambler” (old ghost gambler guy!); and “Grandma’s Feather Bed” (one of several collaborations with John Denver).

Even better than the guest stars and music were the muppets themselves. Scooter had dreams and a work ethic. Sam the Eagle suffered fools. The Swedish Chef was…well, Swedish. And I’m pretty sure Statler and Waldorf are related to me. When I started to learn more about the craft underlying the creation of The Muppet Show – and later all the movies – I was amazed by the talent and dedication of the people who brought my favorites to life.

Other than Jim Henson (who created the whole thing), the puppeteer who shined brighter than them all for me was Frank Oz. He created Animal, Fozzie Bear (Wakka! Wakka! Wakka!), Sam the Eagle, and others. On Sesame Street, he was responsible for Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert. And lest we forget…he created Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back – a role for which George Lucas campaigned for an Oscar nomination.

Beyond puppeteering, Frank Oz is an acclaimed director – Little Shop of HorrorsDirty Rotten ScoundrelsWhat About Bob?, well…you can look up the rest on IMDB. He even occasionally made a cameo in movies – including that riveting prison clerk scene in Blues Brothers (sacred viewing in my childhood household).

I bring all this up because I want you to really understand what Frank Oz has accomplished throughout his career. This child of puppeteers who grew up to be so instrumental in so many lives.

And now – Frank Oz is on Twitter. And I adore him. 

Joining Twitter in December 2017 and using the handle @TheFrankOzJam, Oz has been authentically interacting with people in a way that’s both delightful and stunning. He shares thoughts as he goes about his day. He loves talking with fans, asking them where they’re from and admitting he can’t possibly talk to everyone because he still needs to talk to his wife!

Frank Oz on Twitter is a master class of humility – that most elusive of leadership traits we all claim people need, but often secretly dismiss as weakness when we see it. Since he’s been on Twitter, I’ve been glued to his feed and I think there are some things we can all learned from this man:

  • Remember the team: Oz nearly ALWAYS mentions everyone he’s worked with on just about every project. When complimented for his performance as Yoda, his response was it only worked so well because Mark (Hamill) interacted with Yoda like a real person. He throws credit to his collaborators far more than he accepts credit for himself.
  • Be honest and open: One of the more honest tweets came from Oz asking everyone which character the public thought he most identified with. After some guesses, he said, “There have really been wonderful guesses. Thanks! Okay. So. I most identify with Grover and Fozzie. Grover because he’s pure, Fozzie because as a kid I really wanted to be in show biz too. I shouldn’t have put Yoda in the mix. He is way deep inside me, but I’m not that wise.” Later he said, “Yes I identified most with Grover and Fozzie, but there are bits of me in all of my characters. Me being boring is Bert, me pure is Grover, me obsessed-Cookie, me neurotic-Piggy, me insecure-Fozzie, me uptight-Sam, me crazed-Animal. I’m a bit like each of them. And so are you.”
  • Know that luck is real: He very much acknowledges the opportunities he’s had, and knows how lucky he’s been. “I don’t know how I got here. I was this kid with low self esteem and a bit of talent. But a lot of people have talent and haven’t “made it.” Why did the planets line up for me? Why didn’t other talented people get their Jim Henson as a mentor? I don’t think I’ll ever know why.” When a follower mentioned his obvious “passion,” Oz replied, “No. Not true. I wasn’t passionate. I just had fun with Jim and my fellow performers. And I never struggled to find work. Jim always found it and I just delivered. Others have had to struggle.”
  • Don’t forget what work looks like: Frank Oz knows how weird it is that he makes a living through entertainment. He thinks about it a lot. “I’ve always believed the world is lopsided. I get attention & money while others do far more important things to keep our world going: Yes, those who work with their hands, as my father did, but also from teachers to mental health workers. Thank you all for keeping us afloat.” And them he immediately followed it with, “I’m not being humble. What i’ve done in my work life has given value or you wouldn’t be reading this. But what I truly believe is that the lesser known and lesser paid people are the ones holding up the world. So please give kudos to them. I’m doin’ fine here.”
  • Believe in the potential of others: “There are hidden artists among us. A really good short order cook is one. Bacon’s on the griddle, bread in toaster, slice bagel, orders shouted, crack eggs, flip bacon, grab toast, hands moving, body in motion. All rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. A beautiful thing to watch. An artist.” Seriously.
  • Cherish your elders and those who paved the way: Oz often thinks about the older folks he sees in his travels and encourages us to learn from them. “In my twenties, (mid 1960’s) I bought a video camera with a VERY heavy battery case and huge camera. Before they became too old, I recorded hours of footage of my mom and my dad telling me their life’s stories. They are gone now. But I have their stories. Don’t wait too long.”

If you struggle with how to interact with others, follow Frank Oz on Twitter and study his language use, approach, openness, and humility. He’s the internet hero we didn’t know we needed. He is the balm to all the anger in the world right now. If we could just try to lead with curiosity and listen for understanding, maybe we’d be a step closer to being the people we hope we can be.

I view kindness as a weapon. Not the kindness that is paternal or condescending or platitudinous. I mean the kindness that comes from true empathy; that gently acknowledges another’s travails and so makes her/him feel less alone. For me, there’s no stronger weapon. 

Frank Oz, 12/31/2017

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Authenticity, Executive Presence

 

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My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 1

Part One: The Story of What Happened

In June 2017, a few days before the national SHRM conference in New Orleans, I noticed that my ears felt kind of clogged, particularly my left ear. I’d had allergies so I wasn’t particularly worried. Then, later in the day, my left ear kind of went dead. As in…couldn’t hear anything at all. I thought my phone was broken because I couldn’t hear the ring tone when I held it up to my ear. Still, I wasn’t worried because I figured it was congestion. I’d just take some Sudafed and use some Swim-Ear to dry it out.

The next morning, I still had no hearing in that ear.

Knowing I was getting on a plane in less than 48 hours (and knowing how PAINFUL it is to fly with a clogged ear), I went to Urgent Care to see what was up. The doctor there took a look up my nose and in my ears and said it was most likely congestion as he didn’t see any infection. Told me to take Sudafed and use nose drops for a couple of days and it would clear up.

Those of you who saw me at SHRM17 knew I couldn’t hear you if you sat on my left side. I suspect a few of you took advantage of that (bless your evil little hearts). By the end of the conference, I was starting to get some hearing back, so I was confident the doctor had been right and I’d be hearing again in no time.

A “lend me your ears” joke. I regret nothing.

Not so much.

Six weeks later, my hearing hadn’t really improved in that ear and I was starting to get tinnitus (not really a ringing – more like what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear). I went to an ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist who informed me it wasn’t congestion; rather, I was one of the lucky folks who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). This was most likely caused by a deep inner ear infection I didn’t even know I had that damaged my cochlea. Even better…it turns out that had the doctor at Urgent Care recognized it, he could have given me steroids that would have given me about a 70% chance of getting my hearing back. As it stood, it was too late to do anything. The ENT said this with such remorse, I had to tell her it was going to be okay.

That first hearing test showed my right ear was fine. But my left ear was down to 75% word recognition.

I was told to give it a few months to see how it stabilized, then get retested. Oh, and I got to get an MRI because in a few cases (not many, but you want to be careful) some people (hardly anyone, but still) turn out to have a benign tumor growing in their ear bones (really, this hardly ever happens, but let’s just be sure).

No tumor. Nothing structurally wrong.

At the time of my second hearing test, I’d developed pulsatile tinnitus (so imagine hearing your heartbeat in your ear REALLY LOUDLY only it sounds squishy). Oh, and my left ear’s word recognition rating went down to around 35% – meaning it can’t really recognize any words at all, and most frequencies are right out.

Because of the pulsatile tinnitus, I was sent to get a CT-scan with contrast because sometimes (not that often, but you want to check) pulsatile tinnitus is caused by a vascular issue, like a growing aneurysm (don’t be worried…but schedule it soon), so it’s good to check these things.

Thankfully, the CT-scan showed no problems. And the technology is wicked cool, but I couldn’t have my eyes open because apparently it would have made them not work anymore. Which is a bummer, because I really wanted to see how it worked. This lack of underlying cause means 1) I’m in the 30% of people for whom there IS no cause of pulsatile tinnitus, and 2) I may never get rid of it. Or it will come and go.

Having been medically cleared of weird ear things, I made an appointment to be fitted for hearing aids.

I’m 43, by the way.

In case you’re wondering, yes – it does kind of suck to be told you have permanent hearing loss. It sucks even more when you did what you’re supposed to do and went to the doctor right away, just to not be given the right treatment. But I’m not mad about that because I was very congested and have had blocked ears my whole life, and the doctor went with the diagnosis that was the most likely scenario (when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras). It could have had a better outcome, but wasn’t guaranteed. Besides, I can’t do anything about it now, so what’s the point? And my right ear is still at 100%.

I was mostly worried because I’m a singer. And you really need to be able to hear the people around you (and yourself) to be able to sing properly. Luckily, it didn’t impact me TOO much – I just noticed I had to listen differently. I’m sure it impacted my pitch a bit, but no one threw anything at me, so I’m calling it a win.

I do notice that in crowded areas, or in a group discussion, it’s hard to follow anything going on across the way or from my left side. This causes me to pull back in group settings even more than I normally would because it’s just too tiring to try and follow everything that’s being said. I figured if someone REALLY needs me to respond, they’ll repeat themselves.

I’m not writing about hearing aids just yet, because this happened in 2017. Hearing aids are expensive and I need my flex spending account to kick in so I can go buy said hearing aids. I need 2 because just amplifying sound in my left ear would be useless (I’d hear mush LOUDER, which seems pointless). So I will have a receiver in my left ear that will transmit sound from that side to a hearing aid in my right ear, which will interpret the sound as though it’s coming from my left. HOW COOL IS THAT??? Hearing aid technology has come a long way. And I’m hopeful it will help the tinnitus. Basically, tinnitus is a result of your brain freaking out that it can’t hear something from an ear anymore, so it creates fake sound to trick itself into thinking the ear is working. It’s like phantom pain from a missing limb. Our brains are so freaking weird.

Next up: Part Two – What I learned.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2018 in Authenticity, Self-Awareness

 

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Not a joiner? Join the club*

*Author’s Note: See what I did there? 

There’s been a lot written about the challenges of being an introvert in a workplace that tends to value the behaviors of extroverts (see: Susan Cain). From open floor plan workspaces to “collaborative” work styles (e.g., we all sit in a room and stare at the same document until magic somehow occurs), to a belief that you must speak up in meetings or you’re not adding value – the preferred work style of introverts seems contrary to how corporate America seems to want to operate.

Despite this clash of styles, introverts are doing (mostly) okay. Exhausted and fussy at times, but mostly okay. We’ve been figuring out how to adapt to, and influence, our work environments to find a way to not only exist but thrive. We have also made headway in busting the myth that introverts are anti-social heathens who hate people. (That’s only a few of us.) Most introverts actually like people…but individually, and for short periods of time. Or through social media, because this means we can meter the intensity of our interaction to match our energy. Which is nice. Slowly but surely, we’ve started to change the perception that you have to be “outgoing” to be a good leader.

Then out of the blue…someone asks you to join their “group.”

Maybe it’s a bowling league. Maybe it’s a work committee. Or maybe someone tries to throw you into a generalized reference to a “them” when telling a story.

If you just read that and felt your heartbeat climb and your anxiety increase, chances are you are NOT a joiner.

It’s okay…I’m one of you. (Which really is kind of funny when you think about it, because now we’re a group but we don’t really WANT to be a group, and now we hate ourselves for being part of a group. Ugh.)

I know I started this post talking about introverts, but I want to point out that extroverts can be “anti-join,” too. I think anyone who hates being labeled or put into a box (particularly by others) aren’t really a “joiner.” Because introverts recharge individually, though, maybe they’re more prone to not wanting to join the club. (I have no research to support this, but it seems like research doesn’t change people’s minds anyway, so let’s pretend I told a really emotional story and got you on my side on this one.) (And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I just used research to prove that research won’t change your mind.)

Anyway, back to not wanting to be a joiner.

The problem with not being a joiner at work is that it somehow puts a mark on you. People who don’t want to join the club are often labelled as difficult, or maybe they “aren’t a culture fit,” which is often code for “not like us.”  Unfortunately, that mark can be tough to shake. Most people want so desperately to belong, so it’s hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want to belong in a very public, assimilated way.

And that’s where the challenge lies – never try to tell a non-joiner they HAVE to join. They will become stubborn, angry, and most likely will act directly opposite from what you’re trying to get the group to buy into. (At least that’s what my mom says I do. I think she’s lying out of spite.) They will feel put upon, and more importantly, they will feel even more like an outsider because you have put their otherness on display. And now they will never join you.

This is a damn shame, too, because here’s the thing – non-joiners actually do join things. They just tend to be much more selective and only join things that really speak to them – causes, activities, awesome snacks at club meetings. Don’t think of them as non-joiners. Think of them as the Discerning Joiner.

Discerning Joiners recognize they only have so much time and tolerance for meetings, get togethers, busy work, etc. They focus instead on things that they care about. And when they decide to join that “club,” the Discerning Joiner is a juggernaut. They will devote time, energy, attention, resources – anything they need to do in order to make sure their decision makes a difference for someone.

You WANT Discerning Joiners – you just don’t realize it yet. They tend to be the people who can make a real difference in society. They see something they don’t like and refuse to “join the club.” Instead, they make a conscious decision to evaluate the situation and do something to turn people’s heads and make them uncomfortable. It could be something as simple as sitting in someone else’s “spot” in a meeting to break up the monotony. Or it could be something as public as kneeling. Whatever action they take, though, they take intentionally. Don’t discount the power of that. Harness it. Encourage it. See what you can do to create an environment that allows that to happen positively.

And if you ARE a Discerning Joiner, stay strong. Stay principled. Don’t feel pressured to join the crowd. Join when it makes sense. Feel comfortable in being an individual, too.

USE YOUR POWERS FOR GOOD.

Even if you do it alone.

 

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.
– Charlotte Bronte

 

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Authenticity, Personal Development

 

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