May 10, 2013

Leaning in to Who You Are

L. Leona Frank

Recently, I had the following conversation during a call from a client:

Client: After you left the meeting, Mike commented about how beautiful and exotic you are. Me: Thank you. I know. Client: (Laughing) Well, aren’t you arrogant? Me: While I appreciate what appears to be a compliment, it is not something that I accept credit for. Physical beauty is a gift. This means I did nothing to receive the gift. I am grateful for the gift.

I was once a tomboy. I was raised in the inner city and attended public schools where the demographics were 75 percent black and 25 percent white. I am Amerasian. I desperately wanted to be normal, and not until my early 30s did I accept that it is perfectly okay to be different.

I have noticed an undercurrent of bias toward women, which is perplexing to those of us with advanced degrees. In many ways, I see that women are biased against themselves. If given a compliment about their appearance, many women shy away or dismiss it. You may recognize this concept from responses to the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg has received both praise and criticism for her stance. I’d like to share my own insight on “leaning in.”

I am a woman who practices law; it is one thing I do. It is not who I am. I am well-rounded and have diverse interests. I am a trail and mountain runner, professional model, mother, business owner, community activist for the homeless and immigrant populations, tennis player, writer, paleo-eating fitness enthusiast, and seeker of all things spiritual in nature.

On any given day, I would rather talk about my “other” interests than about being a lawyer. Not because I don’t love my profession, but because I work from an introverted perspective and belief that it lessens the impact of my work to talk openly about those that I help. An act of kindness and love is diminished if I speak about it. I call this humility. Not talking about it is the best way I can stay humble. My exception to the rule is if my sharing can help another.

Humility is not a gift I have always possessed. An old saying goes: No one wags the tail on the dog but the dog. We are often taught to lean into our triumphs and successes by reminding others of them. But my beauty comes from how I lean. As a practicing Buddhist (and Catholic and Cathar), I draw from a center of myself that contains all that is good in me. This center also exists in you. I did not always understand that I had this center because I was too busy leaning out, shying away in a corner, worried about what you and the world would think of me if I spoke or let you know my thoughts. I was afraid. I wore drab black and grey suits, my long locks in a bun, and unnoticeable makeup. I played small.

Then my spiritual journey began, born from accumulated tragedy. I have experienced poverty, homelessness, and child abuse; witnessed a parent’s death when I was 12; and went through a divorce. If my tragedies seem greater than yours, I assure you we have more in common than these differences. You, too, have overcome challenges. Pain is our greatest teacher and, in my experience, the beginning of hope and miracles.

At age 36, I now focus on the greatness within me. As one of my favorite authors, Marianne Williamson, has stated: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ . . . Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

So the next time someone gives you a compliment, lean in, accept it as truth, and say thank you.

L. Leona Frank

L. Leona Frank is a solo practitioner with a legal practice focusing on money, debt, and death. She lives in Indianapolis with her five-year-old daughter. She often wears couture to court and on runways, runs 15 to 20 races (slowly!) a year, and loves the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, books, people, unicorns, and God.