Communicating effectively is essential for success in all aspects of life, including marriage, business, and even tattoos. My friend’s daughter Emma was recently finalizing a design for a new tattoo and asked my daughter for her opinion.
My 16-year-old daughter has studied Japanese culture extensively and is fluent in the Japanese language. Emma was planning to get a Japanese “kanji” tattoo, so she had the good sense to check with an expert before getting permanently inked. A tattoo acquired at the age of 20 will be with you for quite some time, so getting the translation right is a good idea! The intended meaning of her tattoo was “change,” specifically, a transformation in the girl’s life.
My daughter started laughing, because the direct translation of the kanji the tattoo artist choose for “life change” in Japanese translated to “menopause.”
Not exactly the “life change” symbol 20 year old Emma was wanting to express.
While accuracy in communication can be pretty important, how you communicate is an essential element as well. This is an area I struggled with for a very long time. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I really found my “voice,” and finally became a truly effective influencer. This has applied not only to public speaking, but also to many other areas of my life such as parenting, leading my business team, coaching sports, and even influencing the homeowners association. If you’ve ever been a part of an HOA, then you know the latter is probably the most difficult of all. By sharing my discoveries with you, you will have the tools to become a more influential and impactful communicator, too.
Embarrassed and Paralyzed
Before you start on your journey to become an influential communicator, I’ll share my journey with you, so you can see how I reached this point. The path to great communication isn’t always smooth sailing.
The Beginning of It All
For me, the importance of communication and its effects on influence were clear early on in life — in fact, it all started on one particular day. The year was 1978, and I was a 6-year-old girl who stuttered and desperately wanted to be part of a team. Being dyslexic, I wasn’t a very strong student, so sports seemed like a promising way for me to find my “tribe.” Already being an only child, I didn't want to play an individual sport; my heart longed to contribute to a team effort. I wasn’t looking to be a star player, or even a leader; I was simply looking to belong somewhere.
Like many of us as children, I wanted so badly to “fit in.”
You see, not only was I a poor student, but I didn’t see myself as a cute little girl at that time. I was an awkward tomboy. I even looked like a boy. After the 1976 Olympics, a U.S. figure skater named Dorothy Hamill emerged and dominated pop culture after she took home the gold medal. She was an adorably feminine, short-haired, young woman. My mom assumed Dorothy’s hair cut would also be just as adorable on me, so she cut my very thick and cowlick-filled hair like Dorothy’s. What was totally cute on the world-class skater resembled something more like a thick, blonde guinea pig sitting on my little head.
It wasn’t even the “bad haircut gone wrong” kind of cute. It was just bad.
In my 6-year-old mind, belonging to a team would fix all of my social problems. I chose soccer for three reasons. Firstly, my parents grew up in Belize. In Central America, playing soccer is a natural childhood ritual, so of course, my dad wanted me to play the sport closest to his heart.
Secondly, that summer, our country was captivated and inspired by the excitement of the 11th World Cup and watching a passionate Argentina win the championship over the Netherlands.
Lastly, growing up in Florida, we watched and attended several Rowdies games, as they were our local professional U.S. soccer team.
Soccer was an obvious choice for me. Not only was soccer in my blood, but my family could also afford it. My parents were in their early 20s, and like many young couples, they didn’t have a lot of disposable income. Compared to other sports, soccer equipment was affordable (at least it was then before the modern day “club” circuit took over!). Hey, all I needed was a ball, shin guards, and cleats.
Over the next few weeks, my mom managed to scrape together a few dollars, and we bought my first pair of cleats. I was so excited to “suit up” in my gear. Lacing up my shoes made me feel like I was part of a team, without even attending my first practice. I wore my cleats around the house until my mom told me they were causing dents in the wood floor. I had so much excitement and anticipation built up inside over the first practice that I couldn't even sleep! I lay in bed thinking about being a member of the team and being appreciated for my contributions. But, what was supposed to be the debut of my childhood dream ended up sending me home—heartbroken and in tears.
What wasn't obvious to me was that girls in the 1970s traditionally didn’t play soccer. Soccer was considered a world-class sport played primarily by boys and men. I showed up on that sunny south Florida day, and instead of getting a warm team welcome, I felt like I annoyed the current players with my presence on their field.
To add to my alienation, I didn’t realize that those bargain cleats my mom bought and I was wearing so proudly were actually softball cleats.
White softball cleats.
They were not even close to resembling the black leather cleats my male counterparts were sporting on their feet. At an age where most 6-year-old girls would have dreamed of having sparkling princess shoes, in that moment all I wished for was black leather cleats.
There I stood in those bright white shoes with no choice but to suck it up and continue. I lined up single file for my very first drill. The coach asked me to go first and handed me the ball. He instructed me to dribble the ball to the cone and back. I only knew “dribbling” as a basketball term. Although it seemed an odd request, I obeyed and awkwardly basketball-dribbled the ball down the grass field. Hearing the uncontrollable laughter of my teammates turned my face beet-red with embarrassment.
“Why didn't he just tell me to run and kick the ball?” I thought, seething in anger. Now I also feel like a moron for not knowing the right terminology.
After that first practice, I went home crying, hurt by the ridiculing, mocking and alienation I had endured. What was supposed to be a glorious debut was instead a day I wished I could have erase from my memory forever.
Needless to say, I was ready to quit after what was then the worst two hours of my life. I was 100 percent certain that I would never play again. I would've walked away from the sport forever had it not been for two very different conversations that night with my parents.
My mom, of course, wanted to protect my feelings and immediately offered great solutions: “We can find you another activity,” she said. “You can play an instrument, be a cheerleader, or take ballet. I can work an extra few shifts at the hospital and we can get you soccer shoes if you still want to play. I will help you fit in, Sweetie. I can go to the library and get a soccer book that will help you with soccer terms and rules.” All of these were great solutions and alternatives, yet none of them motivated me to ever step back on that field with those boys again.
My dad waited for my mom to finish, which was rare for his excitable nature. But this time, he did. “How do you feel right now?” he asked.
“Kinda mortified. Horribly humiliated and embarrassed,” I replied.
“Do you want to feel that way forever?”
I wasn’t sure where he was going with his question.
He then enthusiastically insisted that I was born to play on a team. He told me I deserved to be on not only that field, but on any field just like everyone else. He reinforced my belief that I could be a leading scorer and my team would be missing out if I were not a part of it. He told me that winning wasn't about the type or size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
And if I didn’t want to feel embarrassed for the rest of my life over this, I had to do something about it. I had to change the trajectory. “Seay, this is not about the color of your shoes, the lack of experience or knowledge, or that you are a girl. This is about YOU and what you are made of. They win if you quit. Don’t quit without a fight. Prove them wrong.”
He went on to remind me of the passion I had before the practice. He reminded me of the promising thoughts I had stirring in my head the night before. He reminded me what it would have meant for my life to belong. “Do you really want to give all that up over trivial things?”
His words didn't fully resonate with me that evening, but even though nothing had changed in my physical environment, I saw that his words had the capacity to change my mental situation. He wasn’t quite finished yet though. He said, “You still have a choice to make.”
I also didn't know it at the time, but how I processed this advice would propel me down a road of future choices that I would continue to follow for the rest of my life.
He put it this way: "You can spend your time staying safe on the sidelines of life while cheering for someone else's accomplishments, or you can be out there on the field of life taking risks while others are cheering for your accomplishments. The choice is yours. On which side do you see yourself, Seay?”
There was no question of what I was going to do or where I saw myself. With my white plastic softball cleats and the humiliation and rejection of being a girl in a boy’s sport, I chose to be the “dog” with passion in her heart on a mission to prove them all wrong. In that moment, I choose to own my place on that darn team.
I’m certain they were all shocked when I returned to the field that next practice. But this time, I wasn’t going down without a fight; I wasn't going to give them that power.
Yes, I was scared I was going to be rejected again. There were even moments when I let my sale-priced plastic shoes define my worth on that field. And yes, I was terrified that despite all of my commitment and passion, I would still end up being a lousy soccer player. But when I returned for my second practice, my head was high and I was once again ready to play and be a part of the team.
Two weeks later, I had earned a striker position from my coach. My job was to score goals, and although I didn't have much in the way of ball skills at the time, I had tremendous speed and intuitive timing. We won our first match of the season with a 2-0 victory as a result of two goals that I scored!
After the game, my dad was jumping, cheering, and sprinting onto the field. He resembled a circus clown debuting in the big top!
He yanked that white cleat off my right foot and held it up high for the entire team to see. “Let’s agree that everyone was able to clearly see Seay's two fabulous winning goals because of these glorious bright white shoes! No one could have missed her moves!" he boasted with fatherly pride.
Wouldn’t you know, by the end of the season I was the leading scorer on the team, and I was one of the star players in the entire league. Over the course of the season, no one cared that I was the only girl in the league or that on my first day I had dribbled the ball with my hands.
As for those white softball shoes, not only did my teammates stop making fun of them, but they started buying white cleats themselves! Those white shoes actually started a little trend in Ft. Lauderdale, FL that season. Suddenly, they were no longer plastic softball cleats; they were beautiful, proper, white leather soccer cleats.
My father's words at the most crucial time changed my life forever. While my mom offered great “solutions,” my dad’s words instilled a “belief” in me that I could fulfill my passion. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I also learned a valuable lesson in communication that would prove to be critical at a later time in my life, which is what I’m going to share with you.
I continued to play soccer throughout my childhood. I played varsity soccer as a freshman in high school, was named All County player of the year, was voted the player with “Most Inspiration and Leadership” in my senior year, was captain of my team, earned a spot on the “Florida All State” soccer team, and earned an athletic scholarship to a college in North Carolina. There, I was the third-leading scorer in the nation, NCAA Division II, and I was again voted the player with the “Most Inspiration and Leadership.”
Each of those soccer accolades, all of those amazing experiences, and even a college scholarship could have been completely lost due to one lousy, miserable day of soccer practice. Yet all was salvaged due to one successful conversation… I’m thankful for my parents and the conversations they had with me that fall night back in 1978.
I’m aware today that both of my parents spoke to me using completely different “languages.”
That speaking style changed the course of my entire life. And by defining and sharing it with you, that when you are in a position of influence, as a parent, a sports coach, a leader, a politician, teacher or a business owner that it will change yours.