Power is Not Liability

In 2014 I left a full time sign painting gig at Trader Joe's, to wait tables at a swanky downtown spot. It appeared to be a courageous move. Then I got let go. 

I was 34 at the time: A former teacher with a masters in education. The career move looked weird, but I had spent a year thinking it through. I reasoned I could free up creative energy to work on a passion side hustle, while paying bills on 3 shifts a week. I reasoned if I failed I could back-pedal.

So I jumped.

As I wrapped up the final two weeks painting signs, I began the firehose drinking process of fine dining training. The 7 am- midnight double shifts were taxing, but more than that, the new job felt weird. Entering the restaurant each eve felt as if I were stepping into an energetic shark tank. I couldn’t shake the vibe of getting judged before anyone knew me: “This one is sensitive. She's gonna get eaten.” Even my sweet trainer advised: “You can’t let people see your sensitivity. They’ll view it as weakness.” I sensed he was right, but it was like asking a fish to fly. 

The day I completed training the GM pulled me aside. Gently but bluntly he let me go. He cited sensitivity issues. I was shook. I had never been... fired. Moreover, I thought my career courage leaving TJ's would be rewarded like in the motivational speeches you hear. This hadn't been part of the story.

I had to weigh options quickly. I called a dear friend. She's the type of friend that exists in the metaphorical boxing ring corner. When a loved one puts up the bat signal she swoops in:

"Who needs superpowers?" (Clears throat: "Who needs an ass-kicking?)

She listened to me fret about being a sensitive loser.

“Umm yeah. So what? You’ve worked fine dining forever. You’ve worked in education for longer. You were sensitive during all those jobs, and they loved you. The difference Bec, is that this job doesn’t view your sensitivity as a superpower. It views it as a liability. Why do you want work at a place like that?” 

Her words hit my from head to toe.

In seconds, a false narrative broke into a thousand pieces. I felt like the girl in Frozen without the gloves. I was sensitive. Everyone knew it. Some people wouldn't get it, but those weren't my people.

Her words became the foundation of my art business, and I've been thinking of them recently. Up until that point, I truly believed I was too sensitive to work for myself. Getting fired made me realize the opposite. The failing hadn't been a failure. The failing was helping me find the right rails. Later I got hired at a restaurant that didn't want sharks.

{They wanted whales.} 

Not surprisingly, I didn't feel weak in those waters. I was strong there, and I worked with other whales until the day I moved into art full time. The world didn't need me to be a toughened buttercup. It needed a sensitive superhero. Who we truly are is not a liability. Our greatest weakness is the underbelly of our greatest power. We get to choose which side we show the world.


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