This is a story about an ambitious woman (we’ll call her Sandra) who, for most of her life, was undervalued, under-appreciated, and lacked self-belief. In recent weeks and months, she has managed to turn this around simply because, for once in her life, someone believed in her.
As a leader, it is very easy to forget the effect we have on those around us. In the words of Simon Sinek, “Bad leaders and managers play a finite game, trying to win from one day to the next without considering the long term, more infinite game that needs to be played if we are to get the best out of those around us.”
The story of the woman here highlights the dangers of this approach on everyday workers. These types of behaviours can perpetuate a situation to the point where those suffering the negative outcomes find themselves in vicious cycles of self-doubt.
They lack larger ambition and suffer from a fundamental disconnect from what could otherwise be a thriving life full of purpose. As leaders, we all need to do better to understand our behaviours and the impact that they have on others.
Back to Sandra. Sandra’s childhood was not a story of depravity nor opulence. Rather, it was a story of a busy family trying their best in the time they were existing. Her dad worked at the local hospital in a senior position and her mother worked as a cook in the hospital kitchen. She had two sisters and they lived in a small house in the countryside outside of the town.
Sandra was naturally outgoing and was quite athletic. Her chosen sport was swimming, which she absolutely loved. Socially, growing up in the 60s and 70s, she was drawn to various vices, including smoking and other similar activities. These did not run her life, nor did they present barriers, but they were habits that Sandra, to this day, still tries hard to separate from.
During her teenage years, Sandra had visions of going to university and wanted to have a career in something to do with working with dynamic people. The barrier to this was her father. Her father refused to sign the form that allowed Sandra to take out a student loan to finance her degree, hence leaving her with no option other than to go straight into work.
Sandra spent the next few years bouncing from job to job, mostly in the fast-food industry, whilst also continuing to practice the social life described above. The reason that she kept bouncing from job to job was that she was not getting satisfaction for long enough, so would move from job to job, seeking the feelings that the honeymoon period of a new job gave her.
Then, Sandra met her husband and quickly they had two children together. During the first few years after having children, Sandra’s husband was asked to work away from home for extended periods of time, leaving Sandra at home alone with the kids and the need to work. The jobs, not surprisingly, followed the same pattern as those from her late teens. Each job she took on had the same outcome; short term and poor managers who did not believe in her.
The power of belief
As her children aged and started getting involved with sport, music, and other interests, Sandra found several opportunities to help the community through volunteer parental networks supporting sports and the arts. Everything she touched in this area literally turned to gold. Standards raised; money bought more things in her time in these roles than had been done in the previous ten years of the organisations.
For the first time, Sandra felt that she had purpose and was achieving something; albeit, not getting paid for it. For the first time in her life, Sandra was surrounded by people that believed in her.
Making a big move
Sandra carried on like this until her youngest went to university. When this happened, the work she was doing in the community ended and it was back to the situation she was in back in her early 20s. Back to the mundane jobs with less than inspirational leaders that didn’t believe in her.
In a move that would turn out to be the best decision they had ever made, Sandra and her husband moved from the town they were in to a much larger city location.
The initial transition was difficult at first, but there were clearly more opportunities to be found.
Unfortunately, following the move, Sandra continued to work in roles that lacked purpose, lacked leadership, and ultimately, left Sandra feeling unfulfilled. It all came to a head one day when at the end of a long week at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, her boss called her into his office and said that they were letting her go. He gave no reasons and was very cold when Sandra pressed for answers as to why this was happening. Devastated, Sandra called her youngest son and they chatted everything through. The advice, “move on from this” as it was clearly an organisation that didn’t understand the value that Sandra could give them.In addition, it was time to start writing down all the people that Sandra knew in the area that might be able to give her an opportunity. At 61 years of age, Sandra was reluctant but did as her youngest had requested. Following this process, Sandra sent a text to one individual, who bit the bait.
Employee of the year
Fast forward 2 years to January 2022. Sandra was invited to attend her new company’s annual national convention in Las Vegas with all expenses paid. To her absolute shock and surprise, the reason she was brought to the convention was so that she could be rewarded as ‘Employee of the Year’ with the national company.
Shock is the best word to describe how Sandra felt and in her acceptance speech, she said ‘thank you to the team that I work with for this amazing recognition. All I’ve ever wanted to do was help people get better and improve. No one has ever believed in me, until now. I love what I do, my bosses let me do it, and I’m loving everything about my new life.’
The big reveal
By the way, Sandra is my mother, and she is an inspiration to us all as she never gave up on her dream to find a place where she could feel heard, valued, and surrounded by people that believed in her.
When we show people that they matter and that we believe in them, there is no end to what they can achieve. When I asked her whether she would still take the retirement due to her in a year’s time, she didn’t hesitate in saying ‘absolutely’. I asked her why and she said, ‘Because my purpose is now changing. Now that I believe in myself, I need to see the world and do the things I kept myself from doing because I didn’t believe I could. I now have that belief so want to get started ASAP.’
To say that I’m proud is an understatement. My brother, my father, and I have always known what she was capable of. We are grateful that she has been able to finally achieve her Super North Star and know that as she retires, the energy that she has amassed will continue to grow.
What is your purpose? Who believes in you? Let us know in the comments and share your experiences with us on social media. Find out more about Compass For Life and discovering your Super North Star: https://compassforlife.co.uk