TWU

TWU College of Business Commencement Speech: 'I’ll See It When I Believe It'

In May, I gave the commencement speech for the College of Business at Texas Woman's University. I'm a big fan of TWU and serve on the inaugural advisory board for its Institute for Women's Leadership, so this opportunity meant a lot to me. My speech contains a timeless message that I hope will give you a little inspiration and remind you of what is possible. (You can also watch the video of the commencement speech.)

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

A couple of years ago, I heard these words in a guided meditation I was listening to. They made me pause – especially since I was going through a really challenging time in my business and my life. I’m really passionate about developing high-performing leaders, especially women, and had come up with an idea for an app that I thought could really make some proven tools available to a much wider audience. For me, this was about impact. As I got further into the development of the app, I realized that my technology partner wasn’t the best fit for me or my clients. I was really frustrated because we were behind schedule, I had invested a lot of time and money, and it was challenging to get things done.

So I started using every strategy I could to manage my stress, including meditation. One morning, during a guided meditation, I heard these words: 

“I’ll see it when I believe it.”

 “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

That wasn’t exactly what I had been telling myself, which was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s what most of us are used to hearing. In other words, once I see the evidence that it’s true, THEN I’ll believe it.

Unfortunately, that focus on seeing something tangible first puts you in a place of judging and evaluating instead of seeing the possibilities that could be right in front of you.  

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

Where those words took me was to a place of putting aside sunk costs – the time and money that I had already invested– and thinking about what I should do now. It was just what I needed to shift my direction and move forward.

I’ll see it when I believe it shows up in so many ways. 

I didn’t realize how much this was part of my own belief system. It had been engrained in me over the years through my parents. As young children, my parents left everything behind during the partition of India, which displaced over 14 million people along religious lines. When my brother and sister were little, my parent migrated to England to seek better medical care for my sister, who had been born with some severe health issues. My dad, a man with two master’s degrees, worked nights at an ice cream factory to earn money and interviewed for teaching jobs during the day. 

When I was 9, we relocated to the U.S. The racial discrimination we experienced in England was enough for my parents to decide a big change was necessary. They sought a better life for all of us. They didn’t know how it would all turn out, but they truly understood the power of first believing that what you want is possible – that you can do it. My parents had picked up and started over and over and succeeded.

I’ll see it when I believe it.

I remember when I started college, I was so sure I wanted to be a doctor. And then I took chemistry. I’m not sure I have words for how that subject made me feel. Maybe just draining sound effects would be better! Taking that one class and seeing my brother going through medical school made me stop and re-evaluate. How badly did I want this? Was I passionate enough about this to go through years of school and then have piles of debt at the end?  So here I was asking myself, “Now what?” And I remember freaking out a bit because I hadn’t contemplated anything different up until this point. But I believed I could figure it out. 

Looking back, I’ve seen my career unfold in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Although I worked at Deloitte Consulting for 14 years, it wasn’t a straight path. I left after 3 1/2 years, got recruited back, worked in three different consulting groups, and when the choice to become a partner was in front of me, I left consulting altogether to move into Human Resources. And then a few years later, in 2008, as an HR executive, I decided to walk away from it all to start my own leadership development company. Little did I know that in three short months, the economy would take a complete nosedive. Nonetheless, 11 years later, I still love what I do. I get to effect change and help people really believe in themselves. It was all worth it.

I’ll see it when I believe it.

You may think that you should have everything figured out, and that everybody else already has. It can feel like you’re the only one who hasn’t. But I’ll tell you that even the high performing leaders that I coach at Fortune 50 companies don’t have things figured out all the time. 

So, what I want to leave you with today is my perspective on how to cultivate a philosophy of I’ll see it when I believe it in your own life.

In the work I do with women leaders, most of them really want to make a difference. In fact, sometimes that passion motivates them far more than getting a bigger paycheck or title. But when I start to ask them about their strengths and the value they uniquely bring, it’s usually met with exhausted sound effects — like my experience with chemistry. The humility that most of them have been socialized with kicks in.  

But when I explain how noticing your own strengths and how you consistently get results is the first step to helping others develop those same skills, they get a lot more engaged. Many of them think what they’re doing isn’t anything special and that others can just as easily do it. They’re just doing their jobs or doing what’s expected. 

When I hear that, I challenge them to look around them. What does the evidence tell you? How many people can easily do what you do? 

If you keep minimizing what you bring to the table, you’ve missed a huge opportunity to have a bigger impact.

One of my favorite exercises is to have people answer the following question:  

If someone were to describe you to someone else, what are the top three things you would want them to say about you? 

And then dig a little deeper:

What do you say or do that reinforces those three things? 

And what’s the impact of those three things? In other words, why should anyone care? What can you do that others can’t easily do?

Maybe your “can-do” attitude, even in the most challenging situations, inspires others to be part of the solution rather than digging their heels in and saying we can’t do it. Maybe you can sift through a lot of information, connect the dots in ways that others can’t, and distill invaluable insights.

I had a client a few years ago who was at a transition point in her career and was trying to figure out her next step. As we talked, she told me that she had come across her dream job. I was really excited for her and asked her when she was going to apply for it. She hesitated, telling me that they wouldn’t be interested in her for that position. I was really surprised, given what I knew about her. So, I asked her to tell me all the ways that she was uniquely qualified for the position, no matter how big or small the qualification.  She proceeded to rattle off a lengthy list off the top of her head. At the end of it, I asked her to tell me how she felt now. And she said, “Wow, I’m kind of a big deal!” We both laughed. 

Sometimes you have to just stop and notice. I’m sure each of you are a big deal in your own way. 

I’ll see it when I believe it.

You will see amazing things happen – in your own life and in the lives of people and organizations that you touch – when you believe you have unique talents and strengths.

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

These are words to live by and I hope they inspire you to see how much opportunity you have in front of you. Class of 2019, congratulations! I can’t wait to see the impact you’re going to have when you really believe that you can.