This speech was originally delivered at the WE LEAD Social held at Labadi Beach Hotel on 17 June 2022. The WE LEAD Social is a gathering of women experts in law to meet, greet, connect, and strategize on how we can work to support each other.
Wondering what to say to a group of accomplished, well-put-together female lawyers huddled together in one room, I decided to go with what I know best: standing in my truth and sharing what’s on my heart. I am going to let you eavesdrop on some of the conversations I have had with myself over the last couple of months which, for me, are relevant to our meet-up today.
I want to share my thoughts on what I have christened: Afraid To Shine.
A couple of months ago, I was reacquainted with a reincarnation of my younger self. She waltzed through my office door prettier, more vivacious, more slender than I was when I was her age, and seemingly more confident than I was back then, and, yet still, me, masquerading in a different body. It was the eve of an important firm program and we were in the middle of a dry run. My super star turned to me and said in a whisper: “the very thought of tomorrow’s programme petrifies me.” What if I stutter, freeze, or go blank. I answered in almost silence: “I have graduated from petrified but I am still nervous, you know!”
Eyebrows raised, disbelief splashed across her face, then an undulating wry smile, which screamed – don’t play the “we are all in this mantra” to make me feel better about myself. It would have been great if that was the reality because it would have spared me a leader vulnerable moment. We would sermonize about the distinct character of fear to empower or overpower you. For a number of years, outwardly, I have taken long strides mentally, I was tiptoeing. I avoided the spotlight I just wanted to be in my space with at best only a lamp-shaded glow. Being the classic introvert, to perform before the audiences I could not avoid, I modeled another Isabel mentally. She was extroverted, loquacious, and more interesting. I commandeered her to perform when I had an uncomfortable or challenging moment. But this left me worse for wear, tired and drained.
Why am I telling you this?
I am talking about this because the fire to network, and open yourself to opportunity/spotlight can easily be sparked but sustaining it is the challenge. For some of you, putting yourself forward, and being in the limelight is a walk in the park but I have found that for most of us it is not, or we do not want to, or we are tired of it. Either way, some rejuvenation is required.
I will tell you what finally liberated me was a solemn realization. That we all have God-given gifts – intelligence, resilience, courage, grit – countless, designed for a purpose. These gifts are sharpened by other gifts of experience, challenge, success, and even pain and failure. If your experiences don’t eclipse you, then you must reflect its light. These God-given gifts are not yours to hide under a bushel, they are entrusted to you to share with the world! This new thinking has freed me, transformed my anxious moments into excitement, and given me a new energy to want to shine everywhere God places me. I am enjoying this new journey.
Shining is not about attention, it’s not about applause, it’s not about reward. It’s about throwing a light on the gifts of God which enjoins us not to shrink ourselves, our abilities, and our gifts. But I know that is not simple. Expect to be engulfed with fear and hesitation. And yes, there is the risk of shining especially if you are making your debut. You will have your cheer and jeer leaders.
There is also the risk of people wondering where you are coming from especially when you have been in the shadows for so long or when people know your not-so-glamorous beginnings, false starts, faux pas, and embarrassing moments. There is also the temptation to think that there are bigger stars and brighter lights that eclipse your light. But it is not about how well you shine against others. Your gift is different and how you shine will impact uniquely.
I spent too many years avoiding the light. I could have lit the path for many more people if I had recognized this duty and turned my fear into excitement. I encourage everybody who will lend an ear and who is as accomplished as all of you here to shine. Nurturing and supporting each other is a great way to shine the light on each other to create a galaxy of unstoppable women. I am excited to be here and I look forward to learning from all of you.