Second grade was a big year for me.
It was the year I crushed the fourth finger on my right hand in one of those heavy portable classroom doors.
(You know the ones that were so heavy they took forever to swing to a complete close).
But it was also the year that I:
1.) began to suspect that there was something “different” about my academic abilities in relation to the other students in my class, and
2.) I learned that being different wasn’t necessarily going to be celebrated by those around me.
We were learning basic multiplication, and I picked it up quickly. At the time, math was like a puzzle, and I enjoyed puzzles. Especially the ones I could solve.
My teacher came up with a game to make math “fun.”
She made us get into two groups and form two lines in front of the chalkboard. The game turned out to be a competition between LINE 1 and LINE 2. She’d write a math problem on the board, and a member of each line would have the chance to run up and solve the problem. The person who solved the problem the fastest would get another turn. The person who wasn’t able to solve the problem as quickly would have to sit down, and that team would lose a player. The object was to have the last team member standing.
The game was fun, competitive and moving quickly.
When it came my turn to go to the board, I was excited to bring this game home for LINE 1. My competitive spirit kicked in and I solved my first problem in seconds.
My opponent from LINE 2 sat down.
The teacher gave us an additional problem. Again, I solved it in seconds. My LINE 2 opponent sauntered to his seat.
By problem 3, it seemed my teacher was getting a little…something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but she didn’t seem to share in my excitement.
I solved problem 3 and sent another defeated student from LINE 2 back to her seat when my teacher said, almost annoyed,
“Amanda, why don’t you go to the back of the line and give someone else a chance to play.”
I went to the back of the line, feeling a mix of things.
I was excited to help my team, and I was following the rules. I was winning, but for some reason, winning didn’t create the result I had expected.
Of course today I can understand my teacher’s predicament. In her place, I can’t say that I would not have done the same.
But the second grade me got another message, and she got it loud and clear:
“You’re doing too much.”
I can remember shrinking to the back of the line because I was a pretty perceptive child, and I sensed that my playing full out didn’t leave room for the others to be who they were. It was like there was a big pot of “success” and I took more than my share, and that wasn’t okay.
Instead of my excellence being celebrated, I was in essence shamed to the back of the line.
From that day on, I can assure you that I approached future academic competitions in elementary school with an amended strategy, even if I didn’t realize it.
But it wasn’t an isolated incident as the message was reinforced all throughout my years in school. In ninth grade, a teacher at my magnet school – my honors English/History teacher no less – gave us an assignment to visually depict the story of our lives without using words. Use art, artifacts, photos, whatever, she said – but tell the story of who you are and where you’ve been.
I remember spending all night working on the project. At the time I was taking pretty high level music lessons and was entrenched in music theory so I chose to score a song that depicted who I was and all I’d gone through at the time.
Nerdy, I know.
Anyway, with music as my theme, I painstakingly drew parallels between the measures of a song and the years of my life as I mapped out the song.
I used staccato notes to depict the dicey era of my parents’ divorce, whole notes to describe the good times, and a crescendo at the end to communicate the triumph of finding my place in the world. I beamed with pride after presenting my ‘song’ on the huge piece of poster board in front of the class.
That was until my teacher got up and, quietly, almost nervously, thanked me for my presentation before addressing the rest of the class. She told the other students that she still wanted to hear from them and see their projects. She told them that whatever they came up with was fine, and urged them not to “feel bad” if their’s wasn’t as thought out as “the music one” or another project that she threw in there not to single out mine.
I had done my very best on that project and instead of being celebrated, again, I felt shamed for “doing too much.” I remember my sense of pride dissipating quickly.
I just wanted to hide. I shrunk down in my seat and tried to disappear.
It’s a theme other high achievers have echoed to me. When you’re “in your bag” so to speak, and operating in your zone of genius, it’s bound to make others uncomfortable. It may be because they aren’t as free as you are, as proficient as you are, or as confident as you are. Whatever the case may be, you get the message that you’re doing too much, and you begin to hide your gifts as a result of that.
So you stop giving your very best. You start showing up as only 50% of your authentic self so you don’t step on anyone’s toes.
But at a certain point, the hiding backfires, because people can’t see who you really are and all that you have to offer.
As a personal branding advisor, I’ve learned that doing too much is ESSENTIAL. It’s critical to fully embrace who you are, be it too smart, too loud, too fancy or too opinionated, as it’s the key to unlocking everything you want.
Because embodying your brand IS about doing too much and being more of who you really are, let the chips fall where they may.
What would happen if you embraced your too muchness and went all in with it?
What would happen if you doubled down on the boldness or excellence you think separates you from others?
It will definitely repel some people, but I can guarantee that it will also attract more of the right people who identify with you.
Imagine the implications for your career or your business. For your books, services and events. For your love life! For whatever requires people to follow you, rave about you, choose you.
Doing too much is how you build an authentic brand, a loyal following and a devoted tribe, not hiding.
Tell me, what message did you receive about your gifts early on? Did it force you into hiding? Or how’d you handle it instead? Give me your tips, lol.
And are you still shrinking to some degree because of it?
I’d love to know – simply reply in the comments and tell me.
Originally published at www.amandamillerlittlejohn.com