My college experience lead me to a deeper understanding of several important life concepts: changing majors five times is not wise; some people are not cut out to be a secretary or a nun (long story); local dives have the cheapest beer; and what it means to be beige.
I remember one particular girl at college who earned the unenviable label of being beige. She was soft spoken, had a kindness about her, and was rather average by most accounts. Her life and her personality lacked any color whatsoever at the time.
She wore gray hooded sweatshirts every day to class. She didn’t participate in any extracurriculars. Even her life story was a bit boring. No broken bones or nasty scars, no drag racing at 2 AM, no sneaking into or out of anywhere cool without getting caught. Her life at age twenty was simply beige.
For some reason, the concept of being beige tagged along with me all these years later. It came to the forefront again recently when I connected with a professional woman who is struggling with shedding her beige.
Nancy has a beige problem
I had a delightful discussion with ‘Nancy’ who is a professional in the financial services industry. I pause here to note that this fact is contributing to her problem right out of the gate. As women, we still work hard to conform and fit into the corporate culture that surrounds us. We seem to believe this is a must for our success. And I must say, Nancy had this down pat.
A brief glance at Nancy’s profile on LinkedIn reveals that she followed the protocols and the corporate gobbledegook to the letter. It begins with a beige summary of her work that only means something to those in her industry. Yawn. It continues with a cookie-cutter description that anyone with her same title could copy word for word. No color, no character, no story. Yup, certified beige.
What’s interesting is that during our conversation, I was taken by the amount of color there was in her story. She was raised by an entrepreneurial mother, grew up helping in her mom’s retail shop, and learned the ups and downs of being a business owner first hand. Great story, Nancy! For peanut butter’s sake, tell it! Why? Because the clients Nancy is targeting are small business owners.Brilliant!
Or so I thought. But when I brought this idea to her attention, Nancy’s response was less than enthusiastic. Snap! She immediately ran back to the concept of the comfortable, the proper, and the fitting in. Seems that beige label is rather sticky for some women.
Mud is better than beige
Update on my friend from college: the woman at the beginning of this story has happily shed her beige label. She enjoys a successful career in the insurance industry and spends her free time traveling the world and competing in road races and tough mudder runs.
Her life experiences tell a colorful story of challenges and personal accomplishments. Not sure if she ever knew that we gave her that beige label back in college. But she’s kicking butt now and not only does that make for a great life, but it also makes a great story.
When it comes to telling our stories, I believe even mud is a better color than beige. The women I help want to tell the stories of their personal journey, the trips to hell and back, and the success in spite of it all. I encourage them to tell their stories in full technicolor.
For some, it takes courage to rip off that beige label. For some, it takes even more courage to put their true colors in writing. But true colors are what captivates your audience. And when it comes to your story even mud, after all, is a better color than beige.