Thursday Thoughts: Giving Yourself Permission to be Awesome

Self-Growth. What can be said about it that hasn’t already been said? We all know that we are not perfect; or rather we all should know that. Everyone can always use work somewhere, and some of us put a lot of time and energy into addressing those “areas of opportunity” as we in the professional development community so often refer to them. I just call them areas where I suck because I’ve never needed to be PC with myself – one of the principles I follow in Stoic philosophy is “strictness with one’s self; tolerance and patience with others.” Anyone who is acquainted with me even only slightly knows that is how I roll.

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with the relationship between logic and emotion.  As I enter my mid-40s, I’m only now realizing how it has affected and is still affecting my mental health. Imposter Syndrome is a really good friend of mine; it keeps me honest with myself. This is one of those conflicts – logically, I know I’m good at things, but emotionally I feel that I’m terrible at everything. What do I do? I meet in the middle. “Yes, Ian, this is good enough for now, let’s move onto the next thing and try not to screw it up.” Sure, Khan has his down sides (that’s what I’ve named my Imposter Syndrome, from Star Trek 2 – The Wrath of Khan). Long story short, I’ve learned to take a challenge like Imposter Syndrome and put it to work for me. This is only important because I want you folks to know why I’d never claim or call myself an “expert” on anything. Khan says I’m not an expert – he says I’m good enough for now. And I’m cool with that. That’s another principle of Stoicism – satisfaction with one’s current situation. One day, I’ll grow up to be Captain Kirk and I’ll get rid of Khan, but for now, I don’t have the tools to do that. It’s another project for later. Try not to confuse ‘contentment’ and ‘complacency’; as Dad used to say “words matter”.

All that said, I want to share something very surprising that happened to me at work in December of 2023. At that time, as part of a Learning & Development team, we developed an introductory course on emotional intelligence, handling uncomfortable conversations, and de-escalating difficult social situations. This course was primarily geared for our employees to help further develop soft skills for client facing roles. To be completely honest, I wasn’t expecting much of a reception or response; however, I still confronted the assignment with the normal gusto and desire to amuse and, at the same time, teach the audience.  As I often tell my wife when she asks about my presentation style – “I pretend I’m a gameshow host and just try to have fun with them.” The course itself was a two-hour introduction to the concept of emotional intelligence, sympathy vs. empathy, and tips to de-escalate difficult uncomfortable social situations. To cover the entire department, we deployed six sessions over the span of two weeks; wrapping up just in time to start holiday vacation. Yes, I may have timed it that way intentionally.

Imagine my surprise when, after the first session, I started to get direct messages over Teams from learners that…wait for it…wanted to know more. People were showing genuine interest in the topic being discussed, and not only that, they were also seeking more info after class.

The first question that came my way was “what books do you recommend on this subject?” At this point, y’all, I’m beaming. Are you serious? You want book recommendations from me? Then, who was the lady that did the empathy vs. sympathy video?” – and sidenote, they were talking about Brené Brown and Dr. Teresa Wiseman. I know what you’re thinking – seriously? These people are excited about the topic of EQ? I couldn’t believe it; I was overjoyed that training was getting through to people! Will I talk to you, you ask? Yes, I’ll talk to you all about this, but…wait…why me?

And there it was – the strange thing I mentioned. Why were these people coming to me? I’m not an expert on this or anything else for that matter. This had happened a few times before in my life, don’t get me wrong. But this time it was something serious, not gaming or something trivial; this was a legit, professional, adult topic. At first, I wasn’t sure how to process the emotions that were coming from this. And, yes, the irony of that is not lost on me. Here I was preaching to people about the importance of a well-developed emotional intelligence, and I can’t even handle a few compliments and inquests for professional advice! So much for the battle between logic and emotion – in this story, no one was winning! It took my wife pointing out the obvious to me to resolve that emotional roadblock. “Babe, you just finished talking to them about it for 2 hours straight – who else do they know personally that they can turn to for guidance AND (very important one here) won’t judge them no matter what the question?” Now, mind you, I’ve always said that trust is one of the most valuable gifts anyone can give you. Being free from judgement with another person is a big part of trust. For one of the first times in my professional life, people were coming to me as an expert on something that wasn’t directly related to any type of role or job training at the company. In other words, people were trusting me enough to be a source of information.

That felt good!

And this time, I didn’t even punish myself for being awesome! It made me think back and reflect on the time in my career in which I first started to really seriously learn and absorb the concepts centered around EQ – and the person that mentored me on the subject, Stefanie Adams. At that time, Stefanie led the Learning & Development Team and was a huge inspiration for me in many things (and, in fact, continues to be an inspiration). At any rate, everything was all coming full circle right there. She taught me, and then I taught them – and holy cow people were interested. And in that moment, Kirk started to win against Khan.

That moment of reflection and realization has since grown. I can’t really explain why it took that specific training course and that specific thought at that specific time. Maybe it was the cosmos sweeping in and doing its thing like always, or maybe it really was chance. Whatever the cause, I’m making the most of it. Maybe you’ve had a moment similar to that and wondered what the heck it was. Don’t ignore it – take the time to reflect. Maybe you’re on your way to finding the Kirk you need to stand up to your own Khan.


Ian Harper is a learning and talent development specialist who is always striving to make the crooked road straight for folks striving to be their best. His background includes nearly 15 years in professional development and corporate training. Over the course of that time, he has helped sales, operations, customer success, and project management professionals realize their full potential by providing positive encouragement and practical tools to reach their professional goals. When he’s not training, he’s busy being a husband and a dad to an incredible family!