I am sharing this on the off chance there is a parent or boss out there who needs to hear it.
I was not an easy child.
Every teacher I ever had, from preschool through elementary, described me as “spirited.” It’s one of those passive-aggressive, saccharine words meant to soften the blow of describing a child as a jerk.
I wasn’t particularly nasty or mean. I wasn’t a baby psychopath. I was willful. Bull headed. Stubborn as a mule.
Sometimes, I was even defiant.
All of these qualities make well-adjusted adults in charge of “spirited” children practically homicidal.
My general state of being was essentially a middle finger to the universe. I was so difficult, in fact, that my mother and I saw more than one psychologist together.
This is not to say I wasn’t sweet or loving or playful or friendly or compassionate. I was all of those things, too.
But my bull-headedness often ran the show.
For all of the people who were quick to criticize me and the torment I caused, there was one precious angel of a teacher who pulled my parents aside for real talk.
She said, “She may be ’spirited’ now, but it’s that spirit that will make her a resilient adult.”
Which loosely translates to “She’s a fighter and a survivor. You just don’t know it yet.”
And she wasn’t wrong. (Excuse me as I cry a little as I type this.)
If you find yourself parenting or managing a “spirited” individual, here are techniques for optimizing our innate wiring and making it work in our favor – and yours.
Our Fierce Independence Makes Us Great Entrepreneurs
I came out of the womb pushing everyone away. My mother could only snuggle me if I were dead asleep, otherwise I was having none of it.
Don’t pin me down or hem me in.
I still feel this way, but not with physical affection, more with ownership of my time and space. Which is why I started my own business.
I had to fight everyone else’s way for a solid 20 years before my stubbornness finally worked in my favor. I embraced the opportunity to take control of my time and space for myself, and design the life I was always meant to live.
When I am in my untethered and unbound happy place, I do my best work for myself and my clients.
Now I enjoy collaborating with folks worldwide, from the comfort of my home office (or sofa, not that there’s anything wrong with that), or from the remote corners of the globe.
Deep Insight: For the spirited one, the way in which we work or play is almost more important than what we’re actually doing. Optimize our environment and methods, not our outcomes.
We Thrive with Responsibilities Requiring Tenacity
During my early years in public relations, a number of bosses referred to me as a pit bull. It took a while to understand the two sides to that statement.
My myopic tenacity for goal achievement – especially in media relations – made me somewhat of a hot shot (brushes off shoulders.) Some of my most impactful media returns were the result of wearing someone down until they wrote about a client just to get rid of me.
The downside of my inner wiring was an inability to divorce myself from my own ideas. Often times, I would come up with something that set me on fire with enthusiasm, but didn’t align with our strategy or match the needs of the client.
When I was shut down, I carried a lot of anger and resentment because I thought I was being dismissed.
My most emotionally intelligent bosses eventually figured this out and found a way to manage it out of me. They acknowledged my enthusiasm for the idea, and then gave me space to kick it around. By doing so, they redirected my thinking back to the strategy instead of writing me off altogether.
This technique transformed me from a linear thinker into someone capable of thinking in systems and of thinking critically.
Deep Insight: This is a tactic I use on myself and others to this day – even children. Especially when the latter are dead set on combining peanut butter and pickles in their sandwich. Let them try it. Worst case is its total garbage and they’ll move on to the next absurd idea.
Our Love for a Good Challenge Makes us Great Problem Solvers
Spirited individuals are unique in that our brains are constantly in motion. And one way to harness that never-ending higher thinking is to solve puzzles.
We think like a Rubik’s cube, turning everything inside out and upside down. We like to see all of the different angles in different lights, and move things around in our head until everything fits.
There are plenty of puzzles for children. For adults, we thrive in complex, multi-faceted systems.
For example, spirited adults make particularly great management and leadership consultants. Our bull-headedness and our tenacity allows us to more quickly identify pain points and solutions because we aren’t waylaid by emotional attachments. Our puzzle-solving brains are analytical and are wired to make connections that have otherwise gone unnoticed, changing the way teams perform together and optimizing them for success.
Deep Insight: Solving puzzles is a productive challenge that leaves us mentally satisfied, and gives us pride of accomplishment.
We Bounce Back Stronger.
Like any one of you reading this, I have had my share of devastating experiences – some of my own making, others completely out of my control. And frankly, it is any wonder I am a highly functioning, self-sustaining, generally happy adult.
It’s because my spirited-ness made me like one of those punching bag blow-up clowns that are weighted at the bottom.
You can keep knocking me down but I always pop back up.
Every time the world and life and other people leave me feeling like I am unworthy, or unlovable, or ineffective, or unintelligent, or all of the other limiting beliefs I carry around, my Spirited Inner Child comes screaming out of her cave yelling, “THAT’S B.S.! DO NOT BELIEVE YOU.”
And then Big Girl Meghan says, “Hold my beer and watch this.”
Deep Insight: It’s not about proving someone else wrong. It’s about proving myself able…to myself. Anyone else is just a spectator.
I might be spirited, but I have a superpower – tenacious resilience.
Who would’t want that?
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