Signs and signals guide us each and every day as we traverse through our work and life. It's universally accepted that red means stop, yellow means slow down (or for you, thrill seekers, speed up), and green means go. There are different shapes and sizes and colors to traffic signs that help us recognize how we need to pace our journey.
Have you ever gotten a different kind of sign? You know that feeling if something is perfectly right, or perhaps is about to go terribly wrong?
I remember getting a massive RED sign on September 28, 2012.
I had flown to Berlin, Germany with my best friend to run my fourth world major marathon, and to support her in her first skate marathon. Something was wrong, though. Even though I had trained to be there, and deserved to be there, and had just 9 months prior, pushed myself to a 6:30 finish in New York, I knew I needed to STOP. The sign was clear. I didn't even lace up to go to the start line. Instead, I watched from the sidelines and dreamed of a healthy finish to come.
Stopping taught me to listen to my body, trust my instincts, and better prepare for a healthier race. It took a year longer but I finished in 2013.
Then, I got a few YELLOW signs last fall.
After joining a battered company embroiled in ongoing divestments, litigation and restructuring, I woke up 18 months later to a team of once-very committed leaders who one-by-one elected to retire. Seeing great people choosing to exit helped me to slow down and carefully evaluate my own options as I watched them transition into a new peaceful chapter of life. I observed with a curious eye, an open mind, and with unwavering courage to create, enter, and transition into my own pre-retirement. Three weeks ago, I joined them.
These past few weeks I've had a few signs.
It wasn't until today I connected all of them to make sense of the journey. Since my self-imposed sabbatical, I've been focusing on quality family time, finishing my book, relaunching my speaking, and squeezing a few veg and cheat days.
Several weeks ago, the editorial staff at LinkedIn nudged me to post a few articles on the Pulse wire. My first was a hit! Sheryl Sandberg launched #banbossy and I launched a #bringonthebossy campaign in response. Wow, five thousand views and several comments and I delighted in the fact that I could bring an edgy perspective to the hot topic.
Eager to please again, I tried again a few days later. But before I did so, I lost my focus and started reading what everyone else was writing about: leadership, management, how to find a job, etc. I decided I'd give it a try again and posted a few more on LinkedIn.
Nothing. Duds. Average. Less than mediocre.
And while my friends sung my praises, secretly I began to veg more and write less. I put my book writing down. Oddly too, my publishing rights to the LinkedIn blog platform seemingly disappeared, or so I thought. I grew frustrated. I found myself having a conversation that became unproductive really fast. "You're not a good enough writer," I told myself. Oh the self-defeating messages and arguments I had in my head were awful. They reeked of fear.
When I was able to clear my head of the fog, I re-read my posts. What did I learn? Well, I wasn't my typical edgy self. I was trying too hard to fit in and be normal like everyone else. I fell into that old trap that says you should just, you know, be normal! Hell, what IS normal?
It's BORING. It's SAFE. It's the sign you need to go home, dig deeper, get real and bring your best back.
Earlier this week before the news of her death broke, I noticed a message from Maya Angelou on Facebook that read. "If you're always trying to be normal, you'll never know how amazing you can be."
I didn't know it then, but it was a sign.
I posted the 5 Signs of a Bad Leader immediately. The words just flowed. I didn't let anything stop me from being myself: edgy and different.
The world rewarded me on Monday and Tuesday with a massive response....cheers, likes, comment, and atta-girls. As my post got picked up, new friends across the world engaged with comments like "Spot on!" "Wow, this is precisely how I feel." "Thank-you this is brilliant!" among others. My email and Twitter feeds went nuts. Today I had a request from a Singapore media outlet to do a feature and I'm still combing through the responses. I'm still in shock.
It was not normal. It was better because I got a taste of amazing.
Maya sent me a sign this week. You want to know what it says?
It says, GO, Katie. GO.
I don't know what this all means, yet. But I'm going. Thanks for believing in and pacing this journey with me.