A pine forest surrounded my childhood home in Atlanta, Georgia, with a creek that ran alongside it. It was a home that sparked imagination and adventure. The neighborhood kids would build forts under the trees, soft pine needles serving as our beds. We were outdoors for hours, rolling down hills, balancing along the slippery grey rocks in the creek. One of my favorite things was bending the smallest saplings and riding them like a horse. Yeehaw! I was a confident, creative, happy, wild, and free little girl.
I believe every woman deserves to be heard, seen, and respected.
Here’s my story.
Maybe you can relate.
Happy & Free
The Shy Girl
In the second grade, that spirited child’s spark began to wither. We moved to New Jersey, where my classmates made fun of my southern accent each time I read out loud. I got quieter and quieter until…I stopped talking in class. My teacher was concerned and called my parents, “Your daughter never raises her hand. I’m concerned there might be something wrong with her. She should see a psychiatrist and get it checked out.” After a battery of tests, he told my parents, “There’s nothing wrong with your daughter. She’s just shy.”
From that day on, I became known as the ‘shy girl’. That label haunted me and held me back for the next 40 years.
Just before entering 7th grade, my family moved again, to Baltimore. I was experiencing that lovely time in a young person’s life when her body changes, but her brain hasn’t caught up. I was ahead of my class in most subjects, but the administration thought it best for me not to skip a grade so I’d more easily adjust to the new school. Big mistake…
That year I didn’t study, and I still got A’s and B’s. In 8th grade, I still wasn’t studying, and my grades had started to slip. By 9th grade, when I got my first F, I was given a new label: ‘underachiever’.
I was an excellent ‘shy underachiever’. If I didn’t speak up and didn’t study, no one would ever know how smart I really was. Deep down, I was afraid if I tried my best (and failed), people might find out I wasn’t so smart after all…
I hid under the cover of the ‘shy underachiever’ for many years. And my inner spark began to wither even more.
I underachieved in college.
I didn’t apply to the art school I really wanted to attend, the Maryland Institute of Art. What if I didn’t get in? What if I found out I really wasn’t that talented? Afraid of rejection, I attended a local university instead. I got a good education, but I’m sure I would have reached greater heights had I been trained at one of the top schools in the country.
I underachieved in love, too.
In my twenties, when the man I wanted to marry left me for another woman, I closed down my heart. A few months later, I got engaged to a man who loved me. I thought he’d keep my heart safe. But I was mistaken.
Over time, we drifted apart, until we became two strangers living under one roof. I felt alone and unhappy, but underachiever that I was, I believed this was as good as it got. I had stopped believing in love. And I had stopped believing in myself.
My inner spark had almost extinguished.
And then, a good friend changed my life.
She said, “Sandy, you’re so talented and smart, but you’re only living a small percentage of your potential.” I was? I had never thought of it that way. I was so busy helping everyone else; I had forgotten to shine my own light. I realized if I wanted to explore my true potential, I had to leave my marriage. It was the only way to find myself, and to reignite my inner spark.
Divorce was scary, but the thought of staying stuck in a bad marriage for the rest of my life was even more frightening. I was now free to create a life I chose, to reconnect to that fearless wild girl I once was.
Once I discovered I wasn’t shy after all, but simply afraid of being judged, I was finally able to shed that label. It was time to start showing up as the real me. And the underachiever label? That was there to keep me safe from failing. But, it also kept me from reaching my potential. It was time to start standing up for what I valued, without letting fear get in the way.
If we let others label us, it limits us and keeps us from letting our inner spark shine brightly.
Becoming a Woman of Value
With guidance from a brilliant life coach, I rediscovered my spark, and I began to reclaim the parts of me that were lost for so many years. In the process, I found my true passion—first as a dating and relationship coach, and now as a woman’s empowerment coach. I help women reconnect to their value and rediscover their inner spark through speaking up and being true to themselves, instead of believing those labels others may have given them.
I did things that scared the heck out of me, such as giving a TEDx talk entering (and winning) speech contests, and writing for important publications. And with each success, my self-worth increased.
This ‘shy underachiever’ has now become the exact opposite of what everyone thought she’d be, a SPEAKER and a LEADER. I’m finally reconnected to the wild little girl I used to be, hair flying in the wind, riding that pine tree like a horse.
Are you ready to shed your labels and reclaim the spark that lies within you? The world can’t wait for the authentic you to speak up powerfully and shine your unique light!