Earlier this year, I was chosen, along with a couple of other team members, to attend the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Tennessee Convention in Sandestin, Florida. This would be the first time HORNE would be represented at the convention. Not only would we meet new, fascinating people, we’d be at the beach in October! Cooler temperatures, smaller crowds, amazing food. Why not? The other two team members and I eagerly prepared to register and arrange our transportation and lodging plans. I was excited to travel to Florida for the first time.
A few months passed. Then, the unthinkable happened—both team members found out they could not attend. We tried to find replacements, but it was too short notice. So, it was up to me: should I attend the convention by myself or not go at all?
As I vigorously searched for the answer, initial thoughts of fear clouded my mind. I can’t go by myself. What will people think of me? I can’t pull this off. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve resolved that quitting because of fear is not a viable solution. So, I replaced those fearful thoughts with positive ones. I can do this. I socialize better when I’m alone than when I’m with a group anyway. This is my chance to stand on my own two feet and not use my team as a crutch. What will people think of me? They’d think I’m brave and smart. I’ve traveled to a different state by myself before. Of course, I can pull this off!
After this intense battle of the minds, I decided to attend the convention alone.
The first morning I was in Sandestin, I went for a peaceful stroll on the beach. Hearing the rhythmic waves reminded me of a story where I’d read about a man learning to own his voice. To improve the projection of his voice, he practiced speaking aloud at a beach. He’d speak loudly enough to hear himself over the crashing of the waves. I told myself that’s how I have to be at this convention. I have to relentlessly own my voice.
Every time I stepped toward the door of my hotel room to go to a meeting or a reception, I became slightly nervous. But I took deep, slow breaths and remembered how I’d learned to use my nerves to work for me rather than against me. I also thought of two outcomes: the one I didn’t want and the one I wanted. I didn’t want anyone at the convention to think, “Why did they send her? She didn’t say anything the whole time.” I did want to have remarkable stories to tell when I returned, to have gained more experience in business development, to have represented HORNE well, and to have catalyzed my network in that market.
By the end of the convention, I’d met about 30 out of 140 people, three of whom knew of HORNE and commented that our work is outstanding. Everyone genuinely hoped to see me and more people from HORNE next year.
When I returned home, I was glad I’d gone. I felt like I’d courageously strove to own my voice. I wasn’t perfect every second, but I believe the experience was a bold step in the right direction.
Why share that story? Attending the AGC of TN Convention alone was one step toward discovering and owning my voice. Everyone who knows me knows that I rarely talk, and when I do, it’s very soft. “I can’t hear you,” is something I hear almost daily. Even when I’m speaking up, I may still hear, “Kimberly, we haven’t heard from you.”
A few weeks before my decision to attend the convention alone, I reflected on those comments and how they made me feel. I wrestled with whether I should change for the benefit of others or stay true to myself. See, when I was a child, I saw my peers get time-outs or miss recess for being too loud in class or at church. I internalized that loud is bad. But as I got older, I saw that people preferred those who were more vocal. For a long time, I was extremely proud that I was quiet. So, I thought if I talk more, I’d be conforming to the synonymous society where being vocal is more highly praised. I didn’t want to change. But I’d hit a dead end on the road to understanding, so I asked for insight from God. What should I do?
The answer was so simple. I have been given a voice, ideas, and a perspective. I wouldn’t have those gifts if I weren’t supposed to talk. I am not defined by whether or not I speak. I am defined by the uniqueness of my values, my perspective, and my ideas. Communicating more will show the world who I am. Not change me. My voice is meant to be heard.
Kimberly is a senior associate in construction services at HORNE LLP. She is a servant leader who is passionate about building the Wise Firm—a culture where we create a sense of belonging for ourselves and for others.