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Admiring Your Strength

Updated: Feb 10, 2022


Last week I had the amazing opportunity to be one of five speakers for the New York State Association of Women Administrators (NYSAWA) Virtual Conference. I was nominated by the Western NY NYSAWA affiliate to represent our region. To say I was flattered is an understatement.

I wanted to share with you what I said in my speech. I hope in reading it that you can see your strengths that others already admire. Please let me know what you think.


Let me start by expressing how honored I am to have been asked to speak to you today. I have such an affinity for NYSAWA and the work of female educators. As well, it is such an honor to be included in this amazing slate of administrators from across New York. Thank you.

Before I go any further, I’d like to remind everyone here that you are an influencer. Please help spread the word about the great work of NYSAWA and grow your Professional Learning Network. If you tweet during my talk today (and I hope you do), please use the #phenomenalwomen2022, tag NYSAWA and tag me (I’m @lyonsletters).

Alright, without further ado, I think I was asked to represent the Western affiliate of NYSAWA in part because I spoke at our fall session. During that talk, I shared a little about my professional journey and specifically shared a timeline of my parallel pathways including my personal pathway as a wife and mother, my educational pathway, and my professional experiences—including writing two books. With that in mind, I crafted what I’m sharing here today…

If you met me while I was out on a date with my husband, I might be introduced as Heather, Howard’s wife.

If you met me while I was out at a field to watch one of my kids, I might be introduced as Nolan, Lilia, or Oliver’s mom.

If you met me at work, I might be introduced as Dr. Heather Lyon, Lewiston-Porter Central School District’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology.

And finally, if you listened to a podcast interview I’ve done, I might be introduced as Heather Lyon, author of the blog “Lyon’s Letters” and the books Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It’s a Narwhal) and The BIG Book of Engagement Strategies.

I know that there are some who look at what I’ve done and think “How’d she do it?!” I know that not many people wear the “writer” hat. Some people can relate to my day-job hat. Most people can relate to the mom and wife hats. When taken all together, many people see all my hats and think that it’s a Superwoman crown. While I can understand how that impression may be perceived, I have never seen myself as a super woman. I have seen myself as a hard worker, as someone who is driven, as a goal setter and as an achiever. If you think it’s due to some super power, you’re wrong. I don’t drive the Batmobile, I drive a used 2015 Honda Pilot with 87,000 miles on it. I can’t read people’s minds; I read their emails. The only mask I wear is the one required for COVID mandates. There are no super powers here.

If you look under the hats, you will see that I am just a normal human being, like you, and that I most certainly do not have a crown. I know…

  • I don’t know how to break up with a hairdresser so I go to Super Cuts where I get a random person every time.

  • I know that most of the selfies I take are of my teeth using a “smile stretcher” so I can show the Smile Direct Club dentist the progress on my teeth straightening.

  • I know that behind my degrees are some Cs and a whole lot of tears. In fact, while writing my dissertation which took me literally years, I would routinely cry and I am not a crier. The negative feedback I received from members of my committee was biting at times and caused me to go back to the drawing board more than once. It was very hard.

  • I know I married a man who shows his love through acts of service. As a result, my only chore is doing the laundry and I have subcontracted that out so I have my kids sort it and deliver it to their rooms. Meaning, I don’t dust. I don’t vacuum. I don’t sweep and take out the garbage—just to name a few chores that my husband does that I don’t do.

  • I know I’m not a morning person so a good day for me is not getting out of bed until 10:00 AM at the earliest.

  • I know I have applied for jobs and bombed interviews. For example, at an interview right out of college in 2000 and I was asked what I thought about the new NYS standards and replied, “I think my mom read in the paper that the new standards won’t last long.” Take note, when interviewing, don’t mention what your mom read in the paper.

  • I know I have gotten jobs and routinely felt like an imposter and so I worried about what I still needed to learn instead of celebrating what I already knew.

  • I know when I was an interim superintendent at a charter school I got so mad and frustrated with the board during a committee meeting that I got up and left in the middle of the meeting. For real.

I’m not sharing my experiences and challenges because I want sympathy. I’m sharing them because I don’t think we talk enough about our experiences and challenges. We hide them in our internal shame filing cabinet under the file “Flaws” or “Confidential” because we think that everyone else has it so much easier. We think if we share we failed a class or have a unibrow or struggle with our weight or that we have times at work where we literally have no idea what to do, that we will somehow be negatively judged by others. We hide our experiences and challenges as though they are signs we failed instead of signs that we’ve succeeded through perseverance.

There are two things that bother me about the traditional paradigm of shame. The first is that truly no one is perfect. Though we know this intellectually, applying this knowledge can be difficult when we hold the mirror to ourselves. We see the literal and figurative blemishes, scars, wrinkles, gray hairs, chin hairs, and the food in our teeth. We forget to see there were millions of literal and figurative smiles that made those wrinkles and years of great memories that allowed us to age so that we could have gray hair.

The second thing that bothers me about the paradigm of shame can be best summed up by Kristen Butter. She said, quote “Don’t forget, while you’re busy doubting yourself, someone else is admiring your strength.” End quote. All the time and energy I spent worrying about what others would think was time wasted. I was so focused on my shame that I didn’t see that people were admiring my strength.

So, I am done feeling like an imposter. I am done focusing on the could’ves, should’ves, and would’ves. I am done thinking that someone else would be better for the job, would be a better wife, would be a better mom. I’m done worrying about the typos in the blogs or the books. I’m done fueling a fire of shame and I want you to be too.

Like me, I am certain that you have lived a life that is both charmed and challenged. Like me, I am certain that you have had missteps and rebounds. Like me, I am certain you wear many hats over hair that you wish cooperated with you little better than it does. And, like me, I am sure that you have admirers all around you who are blinded by the crown they perceive is on your head. With all of the hats you wear, please wear a hat of honesty and humanity and show your admirers that if you have a crown on your head, it’s not because you’re perfect, it’s because you’re persistent and show them that they have one too.

Let’s not confuse humility and humanity. They are not the same thing. I do not want you to downplay your accomplishments. Own your great work! Wear the badges of honor that you have earned. They were not gifts. No one birthed that child for you. No one but you sat in your classes, took your tests, and earned your degrees. You are the person who is showing up each day to do the hard work. Don’t be shy. You’re doing things that generations of women before you couldn’t even dream of. They fought for a society where you could be anything you put your mind to. Your successes are a testament to their efforts and honor their sacrifices. So, again, don’t be humble.

I do ask though that you also be human. Humanity means that when we’re talking about our accomplishments, we talk about the setbacks that we experienced along the way. It means we cannot allow others to think that our journey was one of rose petals and bubble wrap. Each journey is winding and rocky. We all encounter roadblocks, detours, and run out of gas. Accomplishments are not due to ease, but to tenacity. So, let’s stop hiding the efforts. If people only see the trophy in the case after the race, they might not know about how awful you smelled during the race or how, at the end, you had to take your shoes off gingerly so your blisters wouldn’t burst. If they didn’t see you limping after the first week of training when you thought you might never be able to walk again even though you couldn’t even run a mile yet, then they think you were always able to run a marathon. They need to see you worked up to where you are so they can see possibility in themselves. After all, like Kristen Butter said, You. Are. Strong. Admire that in yourself because others already do. Then, help them admire their strengths because they might not be able to see them yet.


P.S. My Catch of the Week this week are mentors and coaches...those people in our lives who have helped us become the people we are. People who take the time to teach us lessons they have learned so that we can learn from them. I hope you take a moment to reach out to someone who has mentored or coached you to say thank you. I also hope you embrace that role for someone else so they can learn from you.

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09 feb 2022

What an inspiring talk you gave. So glad you’re sharing it with others who didn’t have the opportunity to attend. They need to have you on again to talk about your awesome books!

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