Co-authored by Angela Y. Jones
"Her name was Mary Elizabeth Stallworth. We called her Die. And she was my grandmother..."
That's how the conversation started as Angela and I spoke about defining moments in our lives... I went on to share that my grandmother was a maid her entire life. She did the ironing work for many of the white families I went to school with back in Mobile, Ala., circa 1960s. I'd get so embarrassed when kids at school would tell me to have my grandma come pick up their ironing, or do this, or do that.
I remember asking Die why she did that work. Why didn't she do something else? Something better?
She stopped me, sat me down and said this...
"My child, I don't have any other options right now. You will do better. But these things I do for them are important. I make a difference in those children's lives and to those families. Trudy, you remember this...there is nothing more important than touching other people's lives. It's called sewing seeds."
Talk about extraordinary...
Whenever I hear the word extraordinary, I think of Die.
But that got Angela and I thinking: We each have our own definition -- our own understanding -- of that word.
So just what does extraordinary mean to YOU?
Some believe it's about achieving honor or glory. Others will argue it's about being successful in the eyes of others.
But what about being extraordinary simply by being your very best self? And even more -- being your very best bold and authentic self! Because...
Did you know that YOU have extraordinary already inside of you?
Think back to a moment in your life when were so amazing that you were actually proud of yourself. It would have been a situation when -- even if there was a crowd cheering your name or singing your praises -- you didn't even notice because you felt so alive.
Did that moment affirm your sense of purpose? Were you able to use the strengths and courage you brought to the situation to create value in the lives of others? It is important to note that value creation comes in many forms. It could be as human as causing positive feelings of joy, peace, hope, confidence, or gratitude in someone's life. Or it could be as tangible as closing a big deal or completing a major project on time and below budget. Whatever it was, in that moment YOU were extraordinary. Your very best self.
When you strive to be your very best self, you do so without regard to obstacles. You don't blame your circumstances -- a bad boss, more responsibility than "the other guy," or a setback. In fact, you welcome obstacles because you know the skills and experiences you gained by overcoming them made you just all the more amazing. And yes, made you stronger.
Have you noticed that we seem to look at strength as a burden that we have to bear? It seems we wish things could be easier so we don't have to be stronger. But when you are amazing (and yes, strong), you feel inspired and that inspires others. And that is what being extraordinary is all about.
Angelina Jolie clearly comes to mind here. Dollars-to-doughnuts, 99 out of 100 of us would describe her recent surgeries (and subsequent candid communication with the world about it) as "extraordinary, courageous, inspiring and brave." The authenticity and openness she has shown and shared with us is nothing short of beyond extraordinary. But it took courage. It took pain. It took her choosing -- pursuing -- the road less travelled.
So how do you and I set upon a journey of walking out our extraordinary? Try these four steps:
1. Believe that you CAN BE (ARE) extraordinary. (Know who you are. Know your beliefs and values.)
Think back to that amazing moment again. It doesn't matter how big or small the accomplishment was. Remember how it made you feel about yourself. Remember how others were inspired (even if that inspiration was only reflected through a warm smile, a hug, a thank-you, or a cheer). Recall what it was about that moment that made it so special. Why was it that you were at your very best in that moment? Recognize that in that moment you may not have been the best ever... but you were at your own personal best. Then set out on a path that will allow you to achieve that feeling again -- on a daily basis.
2. Stay positive. (Be true to yourself. Be bold. Take risks.)
If you focus on positive emotions, you remain open to new ideas. The playfulness that comes from joy helps you imagine new possibilities. The exploration that comes from interest creates new knowledge. The self-reflection that is enabled by peace accelerates growth. Positive emotions help keep you resilient when the obstacles do come. And come, they will.
A colleague recently asked, "So, how can I keep from bringing 'the angry black man' to work?" Just do it. Leave that part of you at home. Ground him! That anger closes you off. Makes it difficult to see the curve balls that you might be thrown at you. You don't benefit from having him (or her) show up. Moreover, the innocent by-standers don't deserve to have to deal with Angry Man. And those who may have released Angry Man from his cave probably couldn't care less about him (or you). Nobody wins. More importantly, you lose.
3. Surround yourself with people who support you. (People who help empower your boldness.)
That means making sure you have people in your life who encourage you -- who think about you and your needs, first and foremost. It could be a mentor. A friend. A spouse. A sister. An uncle. Whoever it is, it's someone who brings your courage out of you.
4. And finally, be ready to do the work. (Walk past your fear and walk out your courage.)
We all know when we really did our best versus when we only set the bar to be better than the other person. We know when we have settled because it was "comfortable." We remember a few times when we lacked courage but were afraid to be vulnerable and admit that, so we pretended everything was fine. But that fear caused us to stall.
Stay the path. Put in the time. Stretch and challenge yourself. It's worth it.
The really cool thing about the path to extraordinary is that each of us already has it in us. We've witnessed it in others, just as was witnessed in Die.
But more importantly, we've witnessed glimpses of it in ourselves. We have already been there. It's just waiting for us to remember it. To want it. To not believe it was just a fleeting moment that slipped away.
Be that extraordinary -- always -- as measured by being the best possible YOU. Those around you will benefit. Your organization will benefit. Our community will benefit. But most importantly, the joy and pride (and humility) that comes with living your best life will sustain you!
And for those of you who are already leaders of organizations, our challenge to you is...be that extraordinary leader who brings out the extraordinary in those who have the courage to follow you.
Be bold. Be authentic. And never dismiss the impact your path to extraordinary is having on others!