Neatly stacked piles of paper with research from Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford sat on the table as we began our discussion about the event we were planning.

“What’s that?” I asked my soul sister and colleague, Mali Phonpadith, excited to talk about how we can pull our resources together and co-produce a retreat for executives seeking breakthroughs in leadership.

With an excited look on her face, she grabbed the first stack and said, “I went through all the top business schools and leadership training programs I could find. I pulled together the best language from each website and printed it to help us with messaging.”

My stomach cringed at the thought of regurgitating the same old language everyone else was using. I wanted to think about what we have to offer as unique and create our own language based on that.

Considering Mali’s level of excitement, I couldn’t just say, “Scrap that. Let’s create our own,” so instead I asked more questions and listened. Her thought process made perfect sense… from the perspective I held a couple of years back when she was helping me with messaging for my website.

“Mali, I appreciate you for doing all this research,” I said, “and I think we need to put it to the side for now.”

Seeing the look of confusion on her face, I paused and suggested that we come back to what everyone else was saying to lure executives after we’ve uncovered the language that was most fitting for our unique value proposition.

Almost as soon as she sat back, I knew the scene she was about to recall.

“Misti,” she said, “do you remember that day I came to your office and we spent hours going over your messaging?”

Of course I did. It was an agonizing three hours that resulted in a bunch of words that made no sense to me. I was frustrated and irritated that Mali—the messaging genius—didn’t hand me the perfect words to create a sudden influx of the perfect clients.

“You demanded…,” she started, before I cut her off with, “I know, I know.”

Finishing her thought…“Every time I would ask questions related to the work you do, you’d cut me off—‘no, Mali, I can’t use that language. I have to find the words people are looking for’—you insisted.”

Exhaling, as I sat back in my chair, and all I could muster was, “I know. You’re right. I know.”

With that, she stood up, paced for a few brief moments before saying, “You graduated, and I need to acknowledge that.”

While her language didn’t resonate with me, her intention inspired me to do the same for every person in my life—let them show up new.

It’s easy to think you know someone, but pigeonholing others doesn’t give them a chance to continue their own evolution/growth. And, if the only thing that stays the same is change, we’d do well to support and encourage positive change.

Here’s to Your Greatness,

Misti Burmeister

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