Manifesto: Write a note to yourself about who you are at your best

Some life lessons are harder to learn than others. They are the ones that the universe keeps teaching us over and over again throughout our lives. Sometimes it is hard to remember who you are at your best. They’re the lessons that we learn, then forget, relearn, then forget, and relearn. Repeat as necessary.


For instance, I have always struggled to feel in my bones that I belong. I grew up in Dallas, Texas as one of a tiny handful of non-white kids. My only good friend was also the only other Asian American in the school. I was painfully shy, socially awkward, and known as the teacher’s pet. I would do just about anything for anyone to be appreciated, including letting the cute boys copy my homework with the hope that they might spare a second glance my way. They didn’t.


It was only when I went to summer camp that I first felt like I belonged and could be accepted for who I was. At the age of thirteen, my family moved to Hawaii. As I packed my things, I wrote a note to myself. I don’t remember the exact words but the essence was:


Dear me,

Don’t forget that the real you is who you are at TIP. You are daring and brave. You are joyful, outgoing, and fun. In fact, you are the center around which other people like to gather. You love to learn and there’s no shame in that. You have a ton of gifts and strengths that are worth sharing and that make the world a better place. A boy said you were beautiful, and you are. When you get to Hawaii and start high school, remember these things. Be you. You are wonderful just as you are.

Irene”


I tucked the note in my jewelry box. For a year, I read that note every time I opened my jewelry box to remind myself that even if nobody else saw my value, I could value myself.


I eventually lost the note and forgot the lesson. I went right back to where I started. My sophomore year of high school, I remember a popular girl asking me to help her make campaign posters for student council. I spent hours on all these amazingly creative, funny posters. As soon as they were hung up around school, she never spoke to me again. Luckily, soon afterward I discovered the peer counseling program and through their camps and ropes courses, I relearned who I was and how to value myself.


Later in life, I forgot that lesson yet again. As I entered leadership roles, I tried ever so hard to fit into a white male world and do whatever might get others to tell me that I was valued and that I belonged. I was a people pleaser and human giver. Through a lot of coaching, soul-searching, and work, I once again refound myself. The lesson I'm learning now is what Maureen Murdock writes in The Heroine's Journey: "Women emulated the male heroic journey because there were no other images to emulate, a woman was either 'successful' in the male-oriented culture or dominated and dependent as a female... She must not discard nor give up what she has learned throughout her heroic quest, but learn to view her hard-earned skills and successes not so much as the goal but at one part of the entire journey. She will then begin to use these skills to work toward the larger quest of bringing people together, rather than for her own individual gain."


There are many reasons our brains forget what we’ve learned. Time erodes memories. New learning replaces older ones. I believe what’s happening with these hard won lessons is related to what psychologists call encoding specificity. When a memory forms, information about the situation, how we are feeling, and the role we are playing gets stored along with it. That extra information serves as a trigger to help us remember. As we move through our lives, so much changes -- our home, family, friends, emotions, and identity. The memory is still there, stored in our brains, the surrounding information has just changed so much that it becomes difficult to retrieve it.


I have now written the grown-up version of my note in the jewelry box and want to share it with you. I call it my manifesto. (Thank you to Rich Litvin and Christina Berkeley for pointing me that direction.) It’s the hard won life lessons that nobody taught me. It’s my own deep wisdom. It’s the reminder I need to be my best self each and every day. Since I first wrote it months ago, it has changed four times, and I am sure it will change again. That’s a good thing because as my identity flourishes, my growth edges will shift accordingly. Some things will become so much a part of me that I no longer need the reminder. New ones will take their place. Others, like “I know my value. I am worthy and enough, just as I am,” will likely stay on my manifesto my whole life.


My Manifesto

Warning: Do not read my manifesto and copy the items for yourself. A manifesto is deeply personal. Half of the items won’t make sense to anyone but me, and that’s how it should be. For instance, it’s easy and natural for me to stay organized, stay focused, and get s**t done. Stuff like that doesn’t need to be on this note to myself. On the other hand, it’s really really hard for me to embrace uncertainty, lean into vulnerability, or keep my mouth shut when I think I have the answer. I envy those who find those things easy and natural, just as I’m sure there’s people who envy my ability to stay focused and organized. The reminder I need won’t be the reminder you need, just as my identity is different than yours. So as you read, let my manifesto wash over you and ponder who you are at your very best, and what might need to be on your manifesto to remind yourself of that.

  • I am a ranger: a hidden king, a daring adventurer, a guide through the wilderness, a healer.

  • I live, love, and lead wholeheartedly.

  • I found my inner Jedi and act from that place, always.

  • I know my zone of genius. It’s the source of my Jedi superpowers.

  • I know my inner monsters. They are the dark side of my Jedi superpowers.

  • I quiet my inner monsters with compassion, not anger or hate.

  • I don’t “should” on myself. The only approval that really matters is my own.

  • I know my value. I am worthy and enough, just as I am, the light and the dark.

  • My bank account is the ultimate expression of my creativity.

  • When there is emotion, I lean into vulnerability.

  • When there is conflict, I lean into relationship.

  • When there is uncertainty, I lean into my mission, vision and values and flow.

  • When I lead, I lead from behind.

  • When I teach, I remember that the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.

  • I bring an inquiring mind and stay curious a little longer.

  • I celebrate failures for that is how I learn.

  • I restore my own messes and give others room to do the same. Their mess is not my responsibility.

  • I embrace collective wisdom, especially when it seems easier to just figure it out myself.

  • I build “that” house -- the one where people are seen and valued for their humanity and contributions. Especially with my family.

  • I soar with my phoenix, knowing I am never alone.

  • I play the infinite game.

  • When the universe asks me to dance, I say yes.

  • I remember to ask: “If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to.”

  • I stay present and practice mindfulness.

  • I choose joy.

  • I manage my energy, not my time.

  • I embrace, honor, and love my body like the temple it is.

  • I create synergy.

  • I create aha moments. I luxuriate in aha moments.

  • I overflow with light such that the spillover lights a fire in those around me.


I keep a copy of my manifesto in my jewelry box (of course). It’s a document I read to myself, sometimes out loud looking in the mirror. To create one for yourself, take the time to contemplate your autobiography and consider the insights you’ve learned through hard won experience. Recall the life lessons that made the whole world shift with the realization. Write down the top 20-30 and tuck it in your sock drawer or jewelry box. Then let it remind you of those life lessons so you don’t forget.


Read more

I highly encourage you to watch Rich Litvin’s podcast where he reads his manifesto and describes the process. My clients who have gone through with creating their own manifesto found it to be incredibly powerful.


Going further

One of the first things we will do in Synergy, the educational leadership mastermind group that starts in just a few weeks, will be to write and share our manifesto. If you are a passionate teacher leader or school leader who is looking to reconnect with your calling alongside a team of eight exceptional, passionate educators, email me at irene@irenesalter.com or sign up for an hour on my calendar to discuss. We’ll sustain you, celebrate your wins, and fail forward with you into the new school year. You’ll gain a team that will be there for you on speed dial, hopefully for life.


Did that quote from The Heroine's Journey stop you in your tracks? If so, this September I am facilitating a women’s leadership retreat in Mendocino based on that work with Tutti Taygerly, a great friend, executive coach, and designer. Are you an adventurous woman trying to write your manifesto, fit your successes within a man's world into a more wholehearted journey, and find connection with others on the same path? Leadership can be lonely and daunting, but it doesn't have to be. The website launches next week and the first six to enroll get a discount. Email me ASAP at irene@irenesalter.com if you want the inside scoop.




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