We spend a huge amount of mental energy worrying about what other people think about us. It might be concerns about our appearance, our social positioning, our career identities. The reality is that nobody cares. Sorry. Nobody cares because they, in turn are completely consumed with self indulgent thoughts about their own situation, position and perception by others. Sonya Lennon has run the gamut of many careers and physically and figuratively worn many hats. She illustrates this point as she tells us about two lightbulb moments in her career, one over a decade ago and one, just last week.
SONYA LENNON, DESIGNER, SPEAKER, BUSINESSWOMAN www.sonyalennon.com
It was June 2008, a time in our history that had no power in the moment, but was to be seismic in history. Lehman Brothers would not collapse until September of the same year and the average people of the world had no sense of what was going to be a cataclysmic economic collapse. I had agreed to leave behind my successful career and position as a commercial stylist working on high end TV commercials and fashion campaigns. It hadn't been an easy decision. I had built up a stable of production companies and clients that valued not only my creative ability but my art in bringing all concerned around to a unified decision around what people would wear to sell a product, even when emotions and opinions ran high.
I had been asked to present Off The Rails with Brendan Courtney. At the time, it was a hit TV show on primetime RTE One. It might have been the offer of a lifetime, but I hadn't been sure it was for me. After all, I'd spent 20 years honing my craft and my reputation, not to mention my revenue stream.
After grappling with the decision, eventually I rationalised that statistically, if I said no, it was unlikely that another opportunity like this would come along again. So, I stepped off the melting iceberg of TV commercials and onto the slightly more solid landmass of broadcast television. But I was nervous. Not of the job itself, I have always been sure footed in terms of my professional abilities. I was nervous about how I would be portrayed and in turn, how I would be perceived.
It was my first day in the big house. The powers that be in RTE, in their wisdom, had booked a phenomenal man, Pol Mousoulides to deliver media training to me. We met in the Oasis, a smaller canteen area and I was introduced by my series producer to my guru for the day. He politely asked me if he could have a private word with my producer. I, of course agreed. He spoke to her for maybe 20 seconds before we entered the training room. Now Poll is a smart and insightful man. We both sat and he asked me to tell him what the problem was. My eyebrow arch would have rivalled any contestant on Drag Race as oozed the words 'Excuse Me?'. Well, he explained, I can tell by your body language that you're uncomfortable, nervous and defensive, would you like to tell me why?
Ok, I answered, Ok, yeah, I'll tell you. I have spent twenty years developing myself as a highly respected, highly professional commercial stylist. I'm really good at what I do and I am walking away from it. I'm willing to take a risk on my revenue, I'm not willing to take a risk on my reputation. I do not want to be perceived as some blonde fashion dolly with nothing of importance to say. There. I said it.
Ok, Poll soothingly responded. I have spoken to your producer. I asked her what she wanted you to be. She told me she has no idea, she hasn't given it any thought. So, however you want to be perceived in this new role, Sonya, is entirely up to you.
Wow. Just like that, I realised that there was no reason in the world for me to assume that some salaried higher power had bigger plans for me than I had for myself. Why would they, when in truth, we are all so consumed by our own stories that there is little room for anyone else's. It's very freeing to own your own story, to drive it, and mould it and let it be a living thing.
So, 12 years and five company foundings' later, I got another call. Would I come onto a prominent radio show to talk about the legacy of Jean Paul Gaultier in the light of his recent retirement. Actually, I'm going politely decline if you don't mind, I told the lovely researcher. You see, although I have my fashion Brand Lennon Courtney, I prefer not to comment on fashion in general. My areas of expertise have evolved and now, I'm much more interested in talking about business, women's equality in the workplace and representative leadership. There was a pregnant pause. Is it bad of me to tell you what you should think of me? I asked.
No she replied, it's refreshing and very interesting.
I'm going to change the notes on your file.
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