On New Year’s Day, I joined one hundred thousand football fans in Pasadena, CA to watch the Rose Bowl. By any account, it was an exciting event. But for me personally, it marked an important and interesting gateway – the 25-year anniversary of our University of Michigan National Championship win, and my own Rose Bowl debut.
You see, on January 1st 1998 I stepped foot on the Rose Bowl stadium field for the first time, a freshman in college, wide eyed and awe struck by the nearly perfect football season we’d had. I was one of three featured baton twirlers who, along with our infamous drum major, led the Michigan Marching Band.
Sound glamourous? In truth, it was a grueling, exhausting and challenging day… but it was worth every minute.
Our college lifestyle was one of discipline. Going to bed early on Friday nights (no drinking or partying for us!), getting up at four or five o’clock the next morning for a hearty practice, before early lunches, costume changes, parades and our pre-game performance. Each week I would feel the rush of one hundred and eleven thousand eyes on me. The pressure to do a good job – hold onto the baton – and hopefully make someone’s mom or grandma in the nose-bleed section at the fifty-yard line smile.
Each week, I would hear my name come barreling over the loudspeaker, “LeeAnn Mallorie, from Sharon Pennsylvania…” as I sprinted down the field, leapt into the air, and then struck a pose, before joining my colleagues at the front of the Block M formation.
The funny thing is, while I do work today that requires me to exercise discipline, get visible, and to lead, most people don’t know this part of my history at all.
It’s a bit like a secret alias from the past.
But when I heard that Michigan was going back to Pasadena – literally 25 years after my thrilling college freshman experience – I knew I had to go. To remember. And perhaps, to be initiated into the magic once again by a part of myself I had all but forgotten.
In many ways, that distant history seems to have nothing to do with my current life.
And yet, it built a some core skills that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else. Skills like intensive rigor, expansive presence, and comfort with risk, which I leverage in my current work – and skills that I may need to engage at my own next-level in 2024.
In case you’re a fellow Michigan Alum, I hope you’ve had a good time celebrating that week!
(And perhaps had the pleasure of joining me on New Year’s day at the game).
But whatever your alma mater, I invite you to consider your own “secret aliases” from the past, as we embark on the journey of 2024.
Consider these questions:
- Who were you in your younger years that (perhaps) most people don’t know about today?
- What qualities, skills or superpowers did you cultivate back then?
- And… do you still use them today?
The new year is a good time to reflect – not just on the year past, but also on who you are at your core, and what’s in you that needs some updated avenues for expression.
When you take the time to reach back into your past, you may find that you’re stronger, braver, and even more magical than you give yourself credit for…
may it be so.
It’s true, that distant identity of the baton twirler has very little resemblance to my life today.
But here’s what I do know: Our earlier life passions often hold clues to the most activated, aligned and on-purpose versions of ourselves… IF we’re willing to revisit them.
In our free Guts & Grace coaching discovery sessions (which are designed to help potential clients clarify their 12-month professional development goals and uncover their most potent, high leverage next steps to advance at work), we frequently end up talking about long-forgotten wins – and “failures” – from their past.
- A role where they really got to shine
- A passion project that wasn’t part of the core business model
- A favorite hobby they had as kid, or young adult
- A promotion that didn’t quite work out
- A time when they got a lot of visibility, then fell out of favor with their audience or their organization
- An “almost” successful project that was a great idea but ultimately flopped, or just didn’t get off the ground
Both kinds of stories are interesting, and can help us uncover the work required for a leader to be truly on purpose – including, stories about how she “failed” back then. Because the MAIN factor in determining if it mattered (or not) is actually ALIVENESS.
How did it feel when you were doing that thing? (whether or not you succeeded)
Did you feel like YOU? Did you feel ALIVE?
If so, then it’s worth revisiting – even if it doesn’t totally make sense.
Purpose, it seems, leaves breadcrumbs. In the form of successes. In the form of failures that actually hurt. And in the form of stories and identities that feel distant, but you still love to tell about yourself today.
Daring to face and tell those stories (out loud) can reveal strengths, gifts and superpowers that offer a unique, personal foundation upon which (when fully activated) to build a deeply meaningful career.
So, for example, while I’m not actually a die-hard football fan outside of my relationship Michigan athletics, I DO have a deep love for high-visibility performance that still plays a role today in my career as a women’s leadership speaker, trainer and coach.
In fact, my time as a (spoiler alert) baton twirler in the Michigan Marching band built a few skills and strengths that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else. Skills that I benefit from tremendously when I leverage them in my current work. Skills like:
- Intensive rigor – If ‘grit’ is pushing through, ‘rigor’ is simply the ability and willingness to show up and do hard things, precisely and well, again and again. Like the perfectly straight lines and 90-degree knee lock step we practiced daily, going down the Big House field. We worked hard, and we played hard.
- Comfort in the spotlight – As a featured twirler on the fifty-yard line, I could feel the energy of forty or fifty thousand pairs of eyes watching my every move. Will she drop it? What’s she going to do next? Rather than get shaken by the pressure, I learned to let go of the outcome and love the game. It wasn’t about life or death, but I was making a difference in people’s experience.
- Expansive presence – The rush of energy that comes with big visibility asks for a big presence to meet it. I could feel the crowd, and I wanted them to feel me back. I learned to project my energy, presence, and enthusiasm at scale. I often won accolades for my grace and my full-bodied smile.
- Willingness to risk – Under pressure, it’s easy to make mistakes. And it can be tempting to take fewer risks in order to avoid them. But the payoff that comes when you toss a baton into the air, perform a front walkover or turn around three times and nail the catch makes the risk feel worth it. The true maverick in me would rather be seen going for it, than playing safe or small.
Now it’s your turn.
In case you missed my Tuesday email (or you just haven’t done your ‘homework’ yet), I invite you to consider your own “secret aliases” from the past, and the strengths, gifts and skills they may call forward.
Consider these questions:
- What role(s) did you play in your early career – or even younger years – that you don’t account for in your current work… or perhaps that most people don’t know about today?
- What qualities, skills or superpowers did you cultivate back then… that you’re not currently using… but that might be useful in your work today?
- And… what holds you back from doing so?
As we embark on the journey of 2024, these questions can serve as a springboard into further reflection about the kind of leader you were born to (and want to!) be.
And I’d love to help!
If you have a past-self story that’s ready to get integrated into your future work…
Or if you’re curious to learn more about how we could help you reach your goals this year…
I invite you to book a discovery call –
and let’s tell stories together.
Whatever step you decide to take, I encourage you to set aside some time to reconnect with your younger (and braver) self, this week.