Make a Splash
By Devree Molnar, Assistant Vice President, Cancer Treatment Centers of America
“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?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”—Marianne Williamson
Three years ago I stepped into the boardroom for the first time as a “senior” leader at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Philadelphia. I had just been promoted to assistant vice president, transitioning from a corporate role in Chicago to a hospital operations job on the executive team in Philadelphia. It wasn’t my first time in a board meeting. As a management fellow at CTCA, I grew up in the organization and had the opportunity to attend board meetings regularly. But now I wasn’t a spectator—my name was on the nameplate, and I was expected to contribute. Yet, stepping into the boardroom that day, I did not feel the confidence of a brand new promotion. Instead, I felt encumbered by a feeling of being too young, inexperienced and under-qualified.
Silent Survival Tactics
I buried those feelings and did my best to look the part of an executive, smiling confidently, introducing myself and shaking hands with the board members whose biographies and headshots I studied the night before. I found my seat and settled in. By the end of the meeting, I thought, phew, I made it through. No one called on me! But, as I walked out, the CFO said, “Next time, don’t be so loud.” That wasn’t the first time I would hear that from him.
Spending the following months in a state of hesitation, I knew I couldn’t hide for long. I needed to contribute. Sharing my struggle with one of my mentors, he asked me the question, “What makes your heart sing?” We proceeded through an exercise of identifying my strengths. I was refreshed and energized as I remembered why I cared so deeply about my work and what I brought to the table that no one else did, including my strategic thinking, empathy, interpersonal connection and strong sense of altruism. So I asked myself again, what is holding me back? I could not hide anymore behind a false belief that I was too young and did not bring value to the team.
Pulling back that veneer, I came to my “agency moment”—what David Brooks describes as a transition, when one stops “being blown about by [one’s] voids and weaknesses and [begins] to live according to [one’s] own inner criteria, gradually developing a passionate and steady capacity to initiate action and drive [one’s] own life.” I realized that I was being blown about by others’ expectations. I was afraid to make a splash because I imagined it might upset the natural expectations of what a new leader could do.
With this realization, I began making my own splash. I now hold myself accountable to owning my actions. I deliberately focus on using my gifts every day. And I don’t wait for anyone to ask me for my opinion. It took a period of struggle, as it often does to grow, but I now have freedom to give everything I can to my vocation.
With this newfound freedom to contribute, I find my entire team more engaged, too. Playing small not only limits you and robs your organization from what you can contribute, but also robs your organization from the contributions of the entire team. When you play big, you give everyone around you the encouragement they need to play bigger, too.
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do…. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”—Marianne Williamson