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What is Eclipsing Your Brilliance?

Last week, we experienced a solar eclipse. In celebration of this celestial event, I thought I’d do something different in today’s article. We are all capable of being brilliant. When we’re at our best, we can light up the world in a variety of different ways. But it seems like these days, most folks only catch glimpses of our own and other’s brilliance. So, today I want to dig into the question, “what’s eclipsing your brilliance?”

On Monday, April 8th, I started sketching out this article. In fact, I sat outside to write as I watched the eclipse. I’m in St. Louis, so we got to 99% totality. It put an interesting twist on the day. To see something, we take for granted just disappear before our eyes is a pretty unique phenomenon. It also reminded us of how important it is that the sun generally doesn’t hide itself. I mean, without it we wouldn’t survive. We need the sun’s brilliance.

I thought this was a lovely metaphor about us. Just like the sun, when we are in our brilliance, we bring warmth and life to the world. But when things are blocking that light, we no longer have the same impact. You might be able to see glimpses, but our energy is being overshadowed by something else. My question to you today is, “What is eclipsing your brilliance?” I don’t want this to be a long article, but I do want to challenge you to start thinking about whether you’re in the right place or if you have what you need to bring your best to the world.

The last solar eclipse was in August of 2017. That was just a few weeks after I left my campus job to start Strengths University. In fact, I went back to that campus for a viewing party because that’s where I’d called home for thirteen years. I’d had many opportunities for my brilliance to shine while I was there. But as leadership changed, there became more and more obstacles. That’s why I left. I was tired of being eclipsed by people who didn’t appreciate me and what I could bring to the table. I was tired of hiding my authentic self to navigate certain personalities and politics.

Looking back on the past seven years, I can see how most of my journey has been focused on making sure nothing was getting in the way of my brilliance as I built Strengths University. Now you’re probably not trying to start your own business, but quite frankly neither was I. I just knew that I felt stifled and less and less like my authentic self. And that meant everything I did was less. Even the things I loved about my job became less joyful. And as I’ve mentioned in past articles, I would describe myself as “actively disengaged” by the time I left campus. My light in the world was simply not as bright because of the environment I was in and my ability to navigate that environment.

So, I’ll ask you…what might be getting in the way of being your authentic self? What is eclipsing your brilliance?

That may seem obvious. Something or someone might have immediately popped into your head. Or it might be something you need to reflect on a bit. A great place to start is to ask where your energy is going. We’ve talked about this concept of energy management before. It’s your most valuable resource and it can easily be drained by things that don’t serve you, your values, or your goals.

When I was on campus, a ridiculous amount of my energy was going towards fixing what I would describe as injustice and non-strategic decisions of certain administrators. Those individuals negatively impacted the culture – one that I’d previously loved – with their decisions and attitudes. I fought so hard against them, because I wanted to fix the problems that they had caused me, my colleagues, and my students. But what I didn’t realize was this was a losing battle. Instead of turning the tide, it left me exhausted and bitter. Again, those are things that dulled my brilliance.

Now, I do want to clarify that I often challenge you to step up and make change even if it feels unchangeable. That’s still 100% true. We often go with the flow without attempting to make things better for ourselves, our team, or our students. Far too easily, an element of learned helplessness can creep into our work. In those situations, challenging your stories and approaching things differently can indeed lead to meaningful change for you and your environment. But in some situations, there is indeed nothing you can do. It took me years of beating my head against the wall to finally get the message that the solution to these problems was for me to remove myself from them. As you reflect on what might be eclipsing your brilliance, think about this from both perspectives.

Another issue that held me back both on campus and as I started Strengths University, was how my talents were showing up. As we’ve talked about in previous articles, your talents can show up as strengths or weaknesses. The way you know is by asking yourself, “Are my talents helping me or getting in my way with this?”

When I was struggling on campus, I saw my talents showing up in very dysfunctional ways. For example, I have Strategic in my Top 5. Well, my supervisor loved to get overly involved with students, including situations I was supposed to be handling – aka undermining my decisions. So, I became obsessed with keeping her out of those situations. Whenever a student came with an issue, my Strategic would go on hyperdrive trying to figure out how to address it and avoid their nonsense. Sometimes I’d go talk out my plan with coworkers, including Alicia. I vividly remember her giving me this look like, “What is wrong with you?” She tried to explain a more rational approach, but I was so often stuck in “fight or flight” that I couldn’t see it. We’ll talk more about the impact of stress in a bit.

When I was focused on building Strengths University, my brain was overwhelmed by the change from being on campus. My talents kept showing up in ways that would help me in the environment I’d been in for almost 20 years. I had to slowly retrain them to show up in ways that helped me build a business, instead of supporting students on campus. Whether you want to stay where you are, look for another job on campus, or do a solo adventure, how your talents show up everyday matter. You can easily get in your own way by the things that come so easily to you. That’s why understanding your talents and how they show up can be so crucial.

When I asked, “What is eclipsing your brilliance?” you might have immediately thought of certain people or situations. It’s often easy to blame people or situations when you feel stifled. And to a certain degree, you’re right. For me, I was dealing with a supervisor and administrators who negatively impacted outcomes and the overall culture of the institution.

And at the time, I thought they were the ONLY things holding me back. I mean things seemed to be going pretty well until they got there. I did well in my role. I created new opportunities for my team and my students to grow and develop. Plus, I had a great time doing it surrounded by wonderful colleagues. If it weren’t for those folks coming in and “ruining” things, I might still be there today.

BUT looking back now there were plenty of things that got in my way of better navigating that environment more effectively. I had stories about myself, work, and Higher Ed that compelled me to put my energy into pushing back and trying to fix the problems I saw as stemming from them. Instead of looking for a new job or thinking about my options outside the institution, I doubled down on trying to change the unchangeable.

And even if those individuals hadn’t come to campus, I think leaving allowed me to shine my light even brighter. Being content there was getting in the way of becoming my best self. When I look at what I’ve accomplished personally and professionally after I left, I see that I had more to give to myself and the world. Sometimes, we need to be in a place that’s comfortable and stable. That’s totally legit for so many reasons. But we can also stay there too long.

Now, I promised we’d talk about stress earlier, so here we go. I’ve done many an article on how stress negatively impacts our productivity, relationships, decisions, etc. That also means it dulls your brilliance. Instead of shining brightly, your brain and body go into a stress response that ONLY worries about survival. Look at Maslow’s or any developmental theory and survival is always at the bottom of the pyramid or chart of whatever. Survival is just about making it through the day. It doesn’t make anything better for you or anyone else tomorrow.

All the things I mentioned earlier, your environment, your stories, how your talents are showing up, etc., can add to your stress. That’s why Alicia and I like to harp on how important it is to focus on stress management first. That includes self-care. And if you haven’t heard me talk about this before, we’re not talking about massages or bubble-baths, although you can absolutely do those things. We’re talking about ANYTHING that you need to do to bring out your best self. That might mean a massage, but it could also mean learning how to set healthy boundaries, getting regular sleep or exercise, learning a new skill to make ____ less stressful. Self-care is simply caring for yourself like you care for oh so many of your team, students, family, and friends.

The world needs you to be at your brightest. There are problems that can only be resolved by people who show up in their brilliance. As you go through the day, the week, and the end of the semester, start paying attention to what’s eclipsing your light. You don’t need to change everything all at once but start making notes about what you notice. If you see patterns, think about what you could do to change what’s keeping you from showing up at your best. Maybe it’s more rest. Maybe it’s learning a new skill. Maybe it’s using your talents in more effective ways. Maybe it’s changing the systems in your office. Maybe it is leaving for a new adventure.

Change can feel scary, especially if you already feel overwhelmed. But this is about discovering or rediscovering what you can truly bring to the world. Sometimes that happens with huge changes, but it can also come from small, incremental changes that develop over time. There’s no set path. There’s just you reflecting on where you are, who you are, and what you can truly bring to the world. That’s how you’ll know what comes next.

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