I went through my school years not fitting in. I was always different from my classmates, which they did not allow me to forget. I liked reading, which was not an acceptable hobby. I used big words, which meant I must read the dictionary for fun. I wore hand-me-downs which never got me cool points. I was way into fantasy novels and writing poetry and wandering the woods and developing Alexander Dumas fan fiction. I was not a “normal kid.” I was an intelligent kid, always making good grades but totally bombing tests. I was not a good test taker. I enrolled in my first college class at the age of fifteen. I wanted out. I was done with not fitting in and desperately wanted to turn the chapter and start fresh.
I was different in my satellite college classes, too. Of course, being the youngest in the room of full-grown adults taking night classes automatically made me different. But, for the first time in my life, this was different in a good way. They seemed to have respect for me, appreciate my contributions, maybe even like me a little? It was the first taste I got of this new feeling of comradery and acceptance. That feeling continued when I graduated high school and entered uni. A completely new world where the playing field was level. No one knew I was the least popular kid in school, picked on every day to the point I developed a stutter. Something clicked during my senior year in high school. All of a sudden on my first day, I decided that I no longer gave a flying cluck what any of my classmates said about me. I was moving away after the year ended and I’d probably never see any of them ever again anyway. My can’t-touch-this attitude made my random thoughts come out like they’d never had before. I was loose and funny and the weirdest part was, my classmates began to treat me better too. Maybe the teasing didn’t stop altogether, but it lessened and even when it happened, I would actually have a rebuttal that would shut them right up.
Through college, I was able to work through my stutter. It is still present to this day when I get into a situation that really intimates me, but by in large, I’ve tamed the beast. I went to classes, developed battle-tested friendships, met a guy, did special projects for my school, earned honors. It was awesome. I found communications and film to be where I fit in. We were all creative and odd in the best ways.
Trying to justify a creative personality with corporate rules and rigid expectations out in the workforce was proved a little tricky when it came to it. I forged my own way, you know, cause I have a problem with being put in the metaphorical box. When someone who gave me an interview told me the position would only be part-time, I looked at her and with all heartfelt sincerity, told her no, it would be full time. I convinced her why and she gave me the job. I machete'd my way through the tall, dense grass of developing a department from the ground up, 5x’d bookings. I learned so much about asking for help at that job.
Then I fell into direct sales. Most people have heard of it. Shoot, you probably could name three of your friends or family who sell Arbonne, Pampered Chef, or Shaklee. I found one such company and wholeheartedly slid on my very own pair of rose-colored glasses. The empowerment, the wisdom from a women-led company, the sisterhood, the shiny black Mustang, it was all amazing and I felt all the benefits of my new pink bubble. I clung to my recruiter and sales director, wishing to learn all the ways of their success so I could emulate it and have the freedom I desired for me and my new hubby. At the time living in our own place was right at the top of my wishlist. I was at every meeting, taking the most thorough notes, encouraging the new recruits, building my own team, and still, I struggled to keep bookings on my calendar. Nothing I did seemed to work, but I was trying it all. My sales director saw that I was working hard and showing up so she opened her home to me for personal training and coaching. Of course, I was there. I soaked it all up. And I would go home and try to justify her methods with I felt comfortable with and in the end developing some Rowan/Sales Director hybrid of her suggestions and my ideas.
Months down the line, I was at her house again to gain some insight into why I wasn’t making progress like all the brochures said I would. At this point, I had separated from my steady, paying job so I could focus 100% of my professional energy on this work-from-home business. We were relying on only my husband’s meager desk clerk job for a paycheck. After I spilled my guts, my hopes, and dreams at her feet, eagerly awaiting some level ten guru wisdom, magic bullet, she turned to me and said, “You’re just not coachable.”
I honestly don’t remember what happened after that, what I said, or even how I arrived home. I was shocked by her response. Not coachable? How was I not coachable? I attended every meeting, supported others when they achieved their goals, took notes, hit the phones, the streets, hustled. But I wasn’t coachable. I still don’t understand why she thought that. If you are an empath, sensitive, an introvert, or a Libra you might be able to relate to the phenomenon of being able to recall awkward and painful things way beyond their sell-by date. It’s been around seven years since that encounter, but I still remember it from time to time. For years I thought it was the most scathing, detrimental review I’d ever gotten. Another person who thought I don’t fit in. And worse, this time it came from someone I admired. It was a difficult one to get over.
It really wasn’t until I started doing to seriously introspective personal development work at the tail end of 2018 that reframing hurtful statements like this became a practice for me. I had learned about framing in one of my communication classes. Framing, in the field of communications, is the focusing of attention in a certain area and can be accomplished through language or visual manipulation that ultimately influences the person exposed to the message. In other words, you set the scene your audience sees and everything occurs within those set parameters. So in life, anything that occurs is a neutral event and we assign meaning to it depending on our outlook. For example, say you forgot a bag of groceries at checkout, discovering the error when you arrived home. You can frame this event as “a mistake,” or “things always go wrong for me.” This is the route into the negative is where I assume most people go, which is totally understandable as you just forked over your hard-earned cash for those things that you do not have in your possession anymore. Or you could frame it in a positive light by thinking “happy accident for someone else” or “I probably didn’t really need that package of Double Stuff Oreos and what would’ve been my 4th scented candle this month.” One perspective sets up the event as a negative, the other sets up the event as a positive.
This year, I learned to take that principle and apply it to my own stories that I’ve created. Narratives I believe to be the truth but aren’t based in actual reality. One of these stories I had written for myself is that I’m not successful because I am too different. It was evidenced in the fact that, although I’ve always had an above-average reading comprehension, I still read relatively slowly. So I would score lower than students who were at or below average in reading comprehension. Different equals worse. It was evidenced in the fact that I had basically done whatever my intuition said I should do to grow my department but ultimately didn’t feel appreciated so I left. Too creative, too different, they don’t understand me. Different equals worse. It was evidenced in the fact that my sales director felt that my doing-it-my-way philosophy made me uncoachable. Everyone else “get’s it, why can’t you?” Different equals worse.
This story was written from the first day of elementary school and I held on to it my whole life, finding evidence for it all the time. Being different was bad. So I pushed down and quieted my creativity, uniqueness, and quirkiness. When I finally felt free enough to be myself in my direct sales group, here came my old friend Different Equals Worse to intimidate me back into the box.
So, back to me learning to rewrite my own limiting beliefs. This one, Different Equals Worse or Bad, was a slippery one to manage. Even though I know feel I’ve landed in a good place with the rewrite, the Man, corporate America, and the institutionalized Patriarchy is there to tell me just how wrong I am. The thing is, I still have to read my rewrite and remind myself of all the evidence I have discovered to support it. I am saying it is a work in progress. You can’t override 30 years of bad overnight. But here’s how I rewrote this nasty little gem.
She said I wasn’t coachable.
I assigned all sorts of meanings to that, tacking all my insecurities, previous limiting beliefs, and all the people who never believed in me to her statement. It wasn’t a fair thing to do. Her statement may not have intended to carry all of that baggage. Come to think of it, that statement was just that statement. It wasn’t an assault on my character or personal lifestyle choices. It was a statement I should have taken at face value, and if I knew then what I know today, I would have been able to approach unpacking that statement in a fully mature and rational way.
If someone said that same thing to me today, this is how I’d break it down:
Mentor: You’re not coachable.
Me: Your style and my style may not synchronize. That’s okay! We can operate differently and still support one another. How can we work together to use our strengths in a mutually beneficial way?
Mentor: You’re not coachable.
Me: Perhaps I missed a vital lesson. What do you feel I could be doing differently to be successful?
Mentor: You’re not coachable.
Me: I have always felt like I take good direction and I am eager to unpack this one because I’m not sure what made you draw this conclusion. What makes you say I’m not coachable?
It’s important to note that if I was having this exact conversation in the heat of the moment, it would be all the more crucial to keep emotions off the table and approach the situation assuming the best of the other person. Assume good intent. Also notice I used the phrase “what makes you say…” in lieu of “why did you say.” This subtle shift in language keeps the emotional weight on the action, not her merit or character. It’ll make a productive conversation easier.
I can’t go back to that moment and clear the air, but I did begin to rewrite the stories that I attached to that statement. One of them being Different Equals Bad. Once I stopped and looked for evidence in my life to the contrary, all sorts of interesting things emerged from the depths of my memory. I turned feelings of self-loathing, comparison, and stifling the way my brain worked into a productive narrative, backed up with real things from my history that supported it.
I was so different that I was forced to become resourceful and scrappy in a way my homogenized classmates didn’t need to learn.
I was so different that I had already written a handful of original works by the time I hit my first lit class.
I was so different that when the script for the Spring Play gave no direction at all, I added blocking that beautifully accented a touching moment. That blocking call was so unique that it earned me a directorship on our all-student film project in Los Angeles.
I was so different that when I developed that department, I self-taught HTML5 and CSS5 coding, Photoshop, learned how to draft proposals and business analysis reports. I learned how to network and work with local vendors and municipal centers. I learned our ballroom’s sound system. The accomplishments at that job are still holding strong on my resume to this day.
I am so different that while all of my family punch a clock, I feel like working for myself is the only way to go.
I could continue with the rewrites. I rewrote my worst narrative until I couldn’t’ think of another single way being different was a positive attribute. There has actually been time after time when my differences from the group have helped me shine through. I just couldn’t see them over the negative times. It was a challenge sitting down with my special Zebra 0.7 mm pen to find reasons why my excuses were just that. Excuses. It hurts when you realize that you’re at least partially, if not totally, responsible for the negativity in your life. Although it wasn’t a picnic, I do this on repeat now.
If you’re reading this when it goes live, it’s Holiday time. One of the most stressful times of the year for most peeps. Emotions are heightened, tempers are short, people become walking incubators for the plague, kids are overstimulated goblins, extra visits and traveling always is on the agenda. If you focused on the negatives that crop up through your day, you’re just going to have a plain miserable existence. I am learning to rewrite these events (remember, every event is neutral and then we assign it a meaning) in the moment. A co-worker calling in sick leaves us shorthanded, but I’m glad they are getting must needed rest and they aren’t spreading the ick around the building.
So what that she said I’m not coachable? I’m a multi-passionate person who uses the right and left sides of her brain hemispheres. I see things differently and that keeps my circle from groupthink, it keeps things innovative, and upbeat. I am usually the first to extend grace and a helping hand. I offer compliments like I’m a first-shift server topping off coffee. And I think that’s much better than being coachable.