A couple weeks ago I did something I could not have imagined even a few months ago. What’s more, you will find it on my left forearm. In other words, short of wearing long sleeve shirts all the time, it’s hard to hide it. However, I don’t want to hide it as the whole point is to be bold by having it out there for the world to see. That’s right, if you haven’t guessed, I have my first tattoo!! This whole process of deciding to get one, deciding what I wanted on it, and then actually following through has been an incredible journey. However, it really isn’t about the journey; it’s about the meaning to me.
So much meaning
I’ll start by answering what seems to the most common question I receive. Why? The most important answer is “because I wanted one”. However, the tattoo is full of meaning, from the overall purpose right down to the smallest details.
Overall it is my commitment that I am going to make the most of every second of every day in my life. No more compromising doing things which don’t align with my purpose, values, etc. No more sitting quietly holding my tongue out of fear of offending someone. No more denying the fullest expression of who I am. Simply put, this bit of artwork is the fullest and most obvious expression of my life, purpose and my commitment to not wasting any of it!
The cardinal is my spirit animal. Cardinals keep showing up in my life seemingly at just the right time. According to spiritual animal guides, cardinals are about being bold and standing out. It’s not something they have to try to be or think about doing, it’s just what they are. Every time they’ve shown up in my life, it has been at a turning point as if to tell me to be bold. So when I listen to the cardinal and am bold about what I’m struggling with, something great happens; every time!
The lantern and heart-shaped flame, are my commitment to my life and work. The current version of my life purpose statement is “I was born at this time in history to share my heart and light to help others find their way out of their darkness”. Although the words have changed, my purpose has been consistently the same since I started this journey a few years ago.
The leaves represent my connection with mother nature. I love to spend time in nature, and I can feel a very deep connection when I slow myself down and allow myself to hear it.
Trying to prove something
A good friend of mine, Dave Dame, will often tell people of the time he and I first met. I was working as a Project Manager and he came into the place I was working to explain this thing called Agile to us. He will tell people I was dressed like the perfect Project Manager, business casual and very professional. When I look back on it, it’s as if I somehow attached other’s perceptions of me with how I dressed. In other words, by dressing professionally they would treat me professionally.
I have lived much of my life in a very conservative way. From how I conducted myself, to how I dressed, and the stands I would make. All of it was very conservative, and when I reflect on why that was I believe most of it was to stay under the radar.
I can think of many patterns which would explain why I would want to do that. Some of the top reasons include, not wanting to appear like a failure, trying to please others, not wanting to look foolish, wanting to be seen as good, and numerous others I’m sure. It’s for these reasons a tattoo would have been inconceivable even a year ago.
Nothing to prove
So here’s the thing. I’m done trying to prove anything to anyone. Simply put, I have put so much energy on trying to live up to someone else’s expectations that I’m not living my life. The thing is when I try to prove something to someone, it’s really not about them. I know from experience when you start telling yourself a story about what other people are thinking of you, it’s simply a work of fiction on your own part.
Take, for example, the act of getting a tattoo on my part. I was making up these wild stories about what other people would say about me getting a tattoo. I was expecting comments like “Why the hell would you do that?” or “Have you lost your mind?” I was even expecting some outright criticism, telling me I’m an idiot for having gotten one. I was doing a great job of making up lots and lots of really juicy stories.
In reality, I have received nothing but respect, admiration, and compliments. OK there’s a couple people who politely told me it’s nice, and I can tell they’re wondering why someone would do that. However, these things I’m hearing are not just about the art work, but also my courage and commitment to my life and work as expressed through this piece of art.
What I’ve learned is how much effort I waste when I get all hung up trying to prove something to someone. How I dress is trivial, it’s really the stories I get all caught up in, and the time I was figuring out how to look good in the eyes of others. Truthfully I look my best when I follow the cardinal’s lead and live life in the fullest expression of me; bold, bright and out there.
I don’t always get this right, but my intention is to live my life without trying to prove anything to anyone. I am more powerful, and certainly happier when I do this. Every day and every moment I will live boldly in the only way I possibly can … as me.
You don’t need prove anything through your leadership
Powerful leadership is about your ability to respond to what is happening around you. When leaders are concerned about image or trying to prove something, they tend to lower the impact they are capable of. Trying to prove something takes effort, which is energy you are not putting into providing the leadership needed in those moments.
I’ve seen this show up as leaders put on a song and dance to present bad news. Or rather than digging into the issues needing their leadership, they put effort into how to continue to look good. Whatever it is, why not put 100% of your energy into what really needs you to show up authentically as you?
Regardless of your leadership role, you will be far more powerful if you stop trying to prove anything to anyone. Let go of it, look at the core of who you are and simply show up as the fullest expression of yourself. What I know is you will have a far bigger impact in this world for having done so. Nothing to prove, nothing to show up as, just simply … you.
The good news is you don’t have to get a tattoo to do this; unless you want to of course, in which case go for it. Speaking from experience; you will not regret it!
I want to give credit to the artist, Adam Fowler. I showed up with only a notion of what I wanted and the resulting artwork is totally his talent at work. If you’re in the Kitchener area you can find Adam at Mom’s Tattoo shop: http://www.momstattoo.ca/adamfowler.html