At thirteen my mother found me secretly reading a movie star magazine. She kindly explained, “you aren’t pretty enough to be a movie star so you should develop your personality.” Now, do not take her words as insulting. I didn’t and I don’t. Till her dying moment she was my biggest fan. She did not say those words disparagingly at all but rather to do me a favor to get me to focus on more than wanting to be pretty.
I took her words to heart and decided to develop my personality — that became my goal. The local library had a self-improvement section and that summer I read every single book in it. I went down the row reading anything related to personal development: manners, etiquette, confidence, character, public speaking, comportment, appearance, psychology, humor, even selling. Some of you may remember “Psycho-Cybernetics” and of, course, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” which were two titles that got read more than once.
So what happened after the summer when I headed back to school with all that new found knowledge? Nothing. I was still a gangly, tall, skinny, eye-glass wearing, self-conscious teenage girl. Just because I read the books didn’t mean I’d understood or captured all the good advice but it was a start.
Recently I had the occasion to reminisce with an old class mate and over lunch she commented, “you know in high school you were pretty nice to everyone, pretty funny, pretty interesting, pretty smart, pretty confident acting, and I was pretty jealous of you.” That was not my self image at all so it was a pleasant surprise to hear that’s how this friend remembered me. And I got to thinking that maybe I was pretty enough after all.
The beauty of maturing is that you have eye-opening moments and they help you put your life in perspective. I’m glad my mother told me the good advice. Unbeknownst to her she gave me a head start for my ultimate profession as an executive coach and speaker on leadership communication.
I’d like to hear your own early life-shaping experiences. Write your story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.