The Bad Advice About “Image” That Is Holding Us All Back

I felt a hot wave of shame rush over my throat and chest as she said it. Lisa, I think you need to watch how you say things in front of them. The kinds of questions you ask make you look like an amateur and you wouldn’t want them to get that impression of you, now would you? You need to maintain an “image” so they “respect you”.

For a few seconds I was embarrassed. But after sitting with it for a few hours, I began to see that “advice” given to me by a successful colleague as part of a larger problem.

No matter how successful I become, or how much of an “expert” I am deemed to be, there is one value I have always held to be deeply important in being a true leader. It’s so important I teach it at the beginning of all of my programs and in the beginning of working 1:1.  

Always suspend your disbelief and bring a beginner’s mindset to every experience.

I’ve been in the world of personal development for over 20 years at this point. I’ve read most every theory out there. I’ve been in business for almost 9 years now. I started my business before the online rush commenced. I’ve seen almost every strategy and technique out there (and tried most of the ones that weren’t sleazy too). I’ve built a successful business from the ground up and I coach some VERY successful women to boot. I know my shit.  

But I still think it’s important to show up humbly and open, even when you think you’ve heard things before.

Yet, my colleague was telling me that it “made me look bad/appear like an amateur” to show up in this way within a mastermind group of colleagues in my business.

I always take in feedback from people I request it from and whose opinions I value. But there was something different about this feedback that didn’t sit well with me. And after sitting with it for a few weeks, I finally realized what it was that didn’t sit right with me even after sifting out my own personal triggers and processing it all.

The realization came to me as I spoke with different womxn interested in working with me that month.

I want to raise my prices and step into a higher expression of my leadership… but I feel like doing that will mean I have to act like someone I’m not, some “idea” of a high end coach that only wears Manolos and hangs out in 5 star hotels. And that’s just not my personality. I like hiking and camping. Kicking back a beer in a beat up Mexican beachside bar. That’s more my style. Can’t I make lots of money & be hella successful and still do stuff like that?

These are the paraphrased words of womxn who all wanted to step into the next highest level of their leadership and work & raise prices. Yet they all had this idea that doing that meant “keeping up some sort of image” that didn’t line up with their actual personalities.

That was an interesting clue.

Then I noticed a few womxn who had worked with me wrote AMAZING testimonials for our work together, but then requested to be named as “anonymous” when the testimonial was published. I got curious and asked why they wouldn’t want people to know about all they accomplished during the time we worked together.

One client confessed, I’m afraid that my own community won’t see me as an “expert” if they know I was struggling with something in my business and needed help for it. Like they will suddenly think I don’t have credibility and then they won’t hire me, and instead want to hire you.

I noticed in me the SAME DAMN THING a few months ago, when I wanted to write a testimonial for a coach I had worked with for a short period of time who helped me tremendously in a mindset piece around my body and showing up as a leader at the weight I am. I felt if I wrote this testimonial, people would think I’m a hypocrite because I’ve written so much about body positivity and acceptance. And here I was “admitting” in this testimonial that this is still something I need support in from time to time, because it’s not easy being a curvy, Latina womxn in an industry dominated by white, uber thin “lifestyle” coaches with perfect Instagram accounts. The micro-aggressions I receive on a daily basis from the world require some extra support from time to time. There is NO shame in that. Yet this tiny part of me was saying otherwise.

I kept noticing it everywhere. Womxn who I knew were working with coaches writing about their “mentor” on social media and blog posts, but never mentioning her/him by name. Saying they were going to an “event” instead of saying they were attending a retreat where they were being coached and getting support. Posting pics of the retreat or event as if they were the keynote speaker, instead of saying they were there to be coached.

And it all hit me…

We don’t realize it, but this kind of behavior contributes to toxic patriarchy. The very toxic patriarchy that we as womxn leader claim to want to transform.

In the toxic patriarchy we are supposed to “keep up with the joneses” and perpetuate some “image” that we NEVER need help. That we somehow built successful careers all on our own. Like we are some sort of genius wunderkind who always knows what to do.  

And we “never” are supposed to reveal that we might have needed help from others. And certainly don’t reveal the names of the people who helped you because in this hierarchical patriarchal worldview, THEY may get seen as the expert instead of you and all your clients might go to them. You always have to be the one that is seen as the one on top by your “audience”.  

Think about it. And admit it, these things have crossed your subconscious every time you have not wanted to name a mentor, give credit to those who have helped you or want to remain “anonymous” on a testimonial to someone who helped you get to where you are right now.

The toxic patriarchal view is all centered around “appearance” and “image”. Perfection. In the toxic patriarchal view you must remain a genius God in the eyes of your community otherwise you won’t get any “respect”. And certainly never ask “beginner’s mindset” questions at an event (as my colleague warned me not to do).

I notice it often when I go to high level mastermind events. So many people walking around, not being vulnerable and admitting they need support in certain areas. So much posturing and concern over “image”. As an empathic leader, underneath that posturing all I see and feel is fear. Fear of not being enough. Fear of losing money if we are seen as humans who have our own struggles, too. Fear of losing status.

At the root of it all, is the belief that we are not good enough. That we are not allowed to struggle, overcome and have a process once we get to a certain level of visibility and success.

This view of the world reinforces toxic power dynamics, where certain people hold all the power and somehow “magically” make lots of money without needing any help. It’s the same reason why Hollywood was created — to make people feel inferior and pine after the riches and success of the stars, because this sold more movie tickets as people hoped to somehow get closer to that success by watching that celebrity on the screen or buying what the stars use.

Everytime we fail to act human, credit a mentor, or be open about getting help because we’re concerned about “how it will make us look”, we are contributing to this toxic patriarchal system.

Every time we fear that sharing we have a mentor means you’ll lose money because people won’t see you as an “expert” anymore or that your community will work with your mentor instead of you–this is a way of contributing to the toxic patriarchy.

It is a subtle way of ultimately profiting off people’s insecurities.

What we need is more leaders who are willing to be HUMAN. Who are less concerned about how they “appear to their followers” and who show that ALL LEADERS need help. And that true leaders get tons of support to get their ideas out there.

It’s not some inaccessible, “secret gift” that only they have. This kind of thinking excludes others through psychological manipulation by giving people the impression they have something others don’t. When in reality, they are just like everyone else.

And it doesn’t give you less credibility to share that you got help and that you had struggles. Instead, it shows your community that they are capable of so much more than they realize, they just need a little extra support, like you, who they follow. (Not to mention that crediting your teachers often and citing their influence in your blog posts and speeches, shows humility and gratitude for people who have made a huge impact on your life and will continue to do so long after you’ve stopped working with them).

It demystifies this idea that only a “select few” get to have success and it opens up success to so many more people.

It crumbles the toxic patriarchy and it keeps BS and politics out of rooms where colleagues can be learning from each other instead of wasting time posturing to make people fall at their feet.

You will not make less money because you’re keeping it real with your peeps. In fact, you will build a much more sustainable business in the long term with loyal fans.

Why?

Because it’s been shown over and over again that people don’t like being manipulated or made to feel inferior repeatedly, by leaders who pretend to be perfect gods all the time. This is why so many “giants” in my industry are secretly wringing their hands right now, not knowing why their revenues are down 50%. Because their tactics work a few times, but people wise up. People want depth, meaning and inspiration in the long term.

Most leaders who have loyal communities who continue to buy products/programs and other things from them are leaders who have been authentic. And their community trusts them because of this. Because they are REAL. Revenue-wise these leaders are the ones doing well over the long term.

In my case, where for a moment I felt afraid to share I had worked with a body image coach, I chose to write the testimonial anyway, even if I felt that hint of toxic patriarchy come up inside of me too.  

Because I think it’s important: 1) that the womxn who helped me so much in that area get credit for the amazing work she did in helping me get over a little hump in my own body image;  2) that my community should know I am not perfect and I struggle with and overcome things too.

To me that is the definition of a good leader.

Does that make me look like less of an expert? Or an “amateur”? Honestly? I don’t give AF.

That’s not the kind of leadership I want to contribute to in the world anyway. I don’t want to contribute to this idea that “credible experts” never struggle with anything and are geniuses that came up with all their ideas on their own.

Because it’s not truth. It is a lie. And I always want to tell the truth. Even when it brings up a ton of ego fears that were indoctrinated into me by a societal view that is on its way to extinction anyway.

I’d rather be ahead of the curve and leave a legacy that inspired vs. manipulated.

So today I’m challenging you — where are you playing into the toxic patriarchal view of what a leader is? Where are you not consistently crediting teachers or mentors? Where are you subtly pretending you somehow got that breakthrough all on your own? Where are you being subtly inauthentic in how you present yourself to your community?

And what will you do to shift that?

With love,

 

 

 

 

 

P.S: Did this resonate with you? If so, let me know in the comments below.

 

 


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