We Give Each Other Permission

So earlier this week I had the great joy of giving a talk about bravery at the North Texas Workforce Solutions annual awards luncheon (Really, if you don’t know what your local Workforce Board is up to, you really should familiarize yourself with their work. They’re changing lives.)

After my talk, I hailed a Lyft and this perky young woman (who normally works in healthcare – that’s two drivers in one trip I met who work in healthcare) picked me up for my half-hour journey back to the airport. She had epic taste in music! We were rockin’ out to 1970-80’s R & B—Donna Summer, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie—it was awesome! I had such a good day and the music was so uplifting that I couldn’t help but hum along quietly in the back seat. Which started her humming along in the front seat.

Then Gladys Knight started singing “Midnight Train to Georgia.” How can anyone sit quietly when Gladys Knight sings that song? I think it’s physically impossible. So, of course, I started singing quietly along with her from the backseat. Which started Patrice, my driver to sing along too. Within seconds we were belting out “Midnight Train” on the freeway, me, Patrice and Gladys, I’m sure we were a sight!

Just thinking about it gives me the giggles. How could I have let myself sing in the back of a Lyft? How silly! How strange! How embarrassing! Normally I would have resisted the urge. I would have controlled myself. I would have held back. Yet in that moment I felt nothing but joy. Pure joy. And freedom. Joy and freedom. Joy and freedom that I would have never experienced had I maintained proper Lyft decorum and sat quietly in the backseat as social norms would recommend.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you start singing at the top of your lungs while waiting in line at the post office, or on your next flight (although wouldn’t that be a fun thing to witness?!) as you might end up in a padded room somewhere with your loved ones deeply concerned. But I want you to recognize how powerful you are.

Clearly, Patrice, my driver, was more than ready for our duet. She had been bopping her head to the beat and tapping out the rhythm on the steering wheel 5 miles back when Lionel Richie was singing “My Love.” I bet Patrice sings at the top of her lungs when customers aren’t in her car. Her head bopping started my head bopping. My humming started her humming. We gave each other permission to remove the mask and constraints that we normally put on ourselves and experience the joy and freedom that come from losing yourself in the music and being fully human.

We get to do that for each other.

There is not a person on this planet that doesn’t want to feel the joy and freedom of being fully themselves. We walk around life masked and protected hungering to be seen, but it doesn’t feel safe to show our true selves, so we hold back. The best we have to give—our full engagement—lies behind those masks and that armor. If we need the people in our lives to be and bring their best—our employees, our clients, our colleagues, our kids, our service providers, our partners, our friends, our neighbors—then we need to be willing to take down our masks to make it safe for them to do the same.

Which means, as leaders, we need to risk going first.

We get to make it safe for each other to be our true selves. Is there no greater privilege or responsibility? We get to do this at home, at school, at work, in life or in a Lyft.

(cue: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell:

Here’s to you, brave leaders, and the difference you make!


Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davis
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’s Executive Education Program's Transformational Leadership Program and their Latino Leadership Initiative. She is also privileged to teach for the Bush Institute’s WE Lead Program (empowering female leaders from the Middle East). Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her book, Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, is the 2019 winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Business and Career; an Amazon Bestseller in Business Leadership, Business Motivation, and Self-Improvement, and Motivational Business Management; and was named as the number one book to read in Inc. Magazine’s “The 12 Most Impactful Books to Read in 2018,” with a cover-endorsement by best-selling author Daniel Pink.

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  1. Kimberly — Well, you struck a chord with this one! (groan) Seriously, what a powerful message: “Which means, as leaders, we need to risk going first.”

    We live on the 6th floor of a 6-story NYC co-op, so there is often an opportunity to connect with a “neighbor” going up or down, and not suffer in the dreaded silence — especially if we’re riding with someone who lives on 5 or 6!. Sometimes it’s just to ask them about their child or children, or comment on the weather. My wife is a master at it. She’ll even introduce herself, “Hi, I’m Jennifer.” (Yes, even in NYC!) My favorite so far was to get in the elevator with two people holding pizzas and plastic bags of groceries. “Those pizzas are a lot to hold,” I observed, “Let me help you!” Everyone broke out laughing.

    • Your elevator experience has perfectly prepared you to visit me in Texas, Jeff, where everyone talks to everyone all the time. It was very strange when we first moved here (we originally moved from Seattle where, like NY, people rarely talked to strangers. Although when we lived in NY I found that people were incredibly friendly if you had the courage to talk to them, but it was the question of who was going to go first that was the issue!

    • I was a bit familiar with the “don’t talk to strangers” atmosphere having lived in Boston for 25 years, but in NY, it’s almost an art form. The main rule on the subway is “no eye contact.” That said, I’ve witnessed (and participated!) in awareness of others. Many times on the subway, I see people jump up to provide the elderly, mothers-to-be, etc with a seat. And it never hurts to ask a restaurant server their name – if they lack a name tag – or to call them by name if they’re wearing one. Their whole demeanor changes. “We get to make it safe for each other to be our true selves.”

  2. Kimberly you always have such upbeat and optimistic energy. I so can see you rockin’ out, I love the message you are sending about risking oneself, and I bet you had so much fun writing this piece! I really, really dug it. Thank you!

  3. Being authentic means taking the risk of choosing to be true rather than appreciated. To step outside our comfort zone by expressing our ideas, expressing our views, share our creations, knowing that we would be criticized, attacked or marginalized for it. That’s why weaving relationships, we tend to find a kind of “accommodation” to the expectations, standards, external cultural models and, to be more responsive to the context, we wear a mask, changing it according to the expectations, the self-interest, our expectations and even those of others. But behind our mask there is a constructive force that is waiting to come out. And when we come into contact with it, accepting it, and recognizing it, we find the courage to take responsibility for our lives, beginning to change our world and, above all, bringing to the world our uniqueness. Authenticity is something that must be built through the choices we make every day. Choose to be authentic means first of all, be consistent, learning to act listening and expressing our emotions, our needs, our desires, regardless of the opinions and judgment of others. Authenticity requires, also and above all, to accept us unconditionally, by cultivating the courage to be imperfect and vulnerable. Unconditional acceptance not only towards themselves but also towards others because we all have strengths and weaknesses. Only in this way we can get closer to the empathic understanding of others, trying to get into the reality and see it as our own. Authenticity, then, understood as the responsible choice to be loyal and honest, with yourself and with others, such as the choice mainly to let our true self is visible.
    As a great Italian playwright (Pirandello) said, “life” is the result of the drives and the tendency to live outside the box. “Life” is, however, blocked by “form”. In order to live in the “form” man is forced to wear a “mask” by playing a part within society.
    I believe, frankly, that a leader is rarely and hardly sincerely oriented to take off his mask, trapped as he is in his role and in his comfort zone. And this is also the reason why, very often, it is not able to relate trustfully with its collaborators.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful response, Aldo. I appreciate you sharing your insight and bringing such richness to the conversation!

  4. Great story! The premise makes me write down another bullet point on my “Things I Love About Being a Mom” list. I am my true self around my children. We sing like crazy, have dance parties, make dinner together and laugh! They are the only two people in the world that have seen me at my worst, my best and everything in between – and they still love me. I’ve also seem them at their best, worst and everything in between – and I still love them. He’s to not only being your true self, but loving your true self!

  5. I appreciate the joy and freedom you experienced in taking down your mask and belting out those fabulous songs, Kimberly. I can also offer that at 14 years old I actually was placed in the all white room-it wasn’t padded. It did have three doors-one to freedom, one to the restraints, and one to the bathroom. Staff held lots of keys. The feng shui was incredibly out of harmony because only one of the five elements was in the space-metal ( represented by the color white- which holds the energy of intellect, organization, clarity) but without the other elements in the physical space it lacked warmth, grounding, or personality. I guess my presence in the space added the other important elements. I promise you this wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my life-this began my spiritual awakening journey, the quest to understand what I had previously endured from birth forward, what specifically had happened to my body, brain, psyche, soul, heart -that landed me in the all white room -and all the unbelievable adventures I have had to complete mask free freedom that I live to this very day.

    All this is to say not to fear the so-called “padded room” because I’m a pretty damn amazing human being who lives in love and service, thinks critically, keeps healing and transforming, and wears absolutely no mask, makes no apologies for the experiences I have lived, and what I’ve learned and everyday feels incredible gratitude and joy being this free, open, honest, vulnerable, and brave.

    Thank you for the permission to be transparent! I wish you an amazing, liberated day of joyous singing!

    “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” is another one I love to belt out loud. And “The Rose”! And, Yeah, I probably won’t sing these while standing in line at the post office. Then Again it might bring some cheer to that not very balanced or harmonious feng shui physical space & all the people standing in line with me. 🙂

    • What courage! What joy! Thank you for sharing your heart and journey, friend. You have been through hell but it has forged a remarkable woman. (and those are two awesome songs!)

  6. I love this Kimberly, and why shouldn’t everyone! Truth be known, I think I could probably transport myself around the country via Uber and Lyft and not have to pay a dime, as most drivers would be happy to hurry to my destination free of charge if I only promise NOT to sing… but I hear you, good tuneage can really turn a person’s day and attitude around. Music lives in my head and heart and can truly propel people to let down barriers and be less concerned about appearances and more relaxed and in tune with their true selves. I know someone who DJ’s at weddings, and he says that just one song can really kill a groove and so he is careful about playing just anything at the weddings that he does. We all have that permission to be who we are, but the last gatekeeper on that permission list is ourselves, and too many of us have built really high walls that can’t be taken down without great prodding. Music, as I said in the piece that Dennis posted on Saturday, can change the world. We all need to show up the way that you do… no question.