Kimala Bennett On BecomingSunday, November 25, 2018
So there we were bundled head to toe in 21-degree weather. Four Jamaican women who had crossed the ocean, not for a Thanksgiving Day sale or crucial business meeting but for something just as important: to be inspired. It is no secret to those who know me how I feel about Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. So when I saw that both these powerful women would be together for the launch of Obama's book Becoming, a few thousand miles and freezing weather weren't going to stop me. As I glanced over my scarf at our group I could not help but feel grateful to be in the company of like-minded women. Women whose life perspectives, much like mine, had prompted them to respond to my Instagram post and jump on a plane; because for us moments like these are what fuel us. As we stood in line, happily awaiting entry, our excitement almost outweighed the elements. I could not help but think, how did we get here?
There is sometimes a certain cynicism about attending motivational events; they are viewed as clichéd. But there is an art to being inspired. You have to be in touch with yourself. You have to be able to clearly identify your goals and desires so that you can align yourself with those who will truly inspire you. Only then will you be able to tap in to the things that make you come alive. And so our small Jamaican delegation had identified what inspired them: truth, growth, and supporting others. I travelled with Nadeen Matthews-Blair, chief marketing and digital officer at NCB; Keneea Linton-George, designer and principal of the Keneea Linton Boutique, and Lisandra Rickards, chief entrepreneurship officer at The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. It was not lost on any of us that on the stage we would soon see some version of our future selves, for we had not just travelled to be inspired; we had travelled to see for ourselves what we could become.
My mind raced as we entered the arena. What if this was just fluff? What if I had wasted time and money on this? But as I looked at my companions, and the lights dimmed, I was sure that I was exactly where I was supposed to be; and just when I thought it couldn't get more exciting the most appropriate song burst through the speakers: This Girl is on Fire by Alicia Keys
As a teenager I had access to many backstage passes to mingle with artistes, but I relished being part of the audience when the stars made their appearance and I could be seen jumping and waving. However, nothing prepared me for the moment Oprah entered the stage.
Although I had come expecting to be blown away by what was being said, I was nonetheless stunned at how much the experiences of these icons resonated with me. As the former first lady shared her experiences we were immediately impressed by her honesty and vulnerablity and the admission of all her imperfections. But here is where the trip started paying for itself: every life lesson shared by Michelle and Oprah was very clearly geared towards my own self-actualisation as mother, partner and CEO of my business. I listened keenly, taking notes about Michelle's thoughts on happiness within a marriage. She shared that in her partnership she had resolved to be responsible for her own happiness and had carved out her own platform. She was not an appendage or accessory but a whole person with her own joys. As the conversation continued I found there was something of an inner awakening. There is a validation that comes from knowing that even the most powerful women in the world feel the way they do. This validation becomes inspiration when you realise that what may be separating you from greatness is simply acknowledging the thoughts that you hesitate to entertain.
No one ever accused me of doing the popular or taking the road most travelled. I started my business as a film-maker in Jamaica at a time when I was told that there was no way to make a living being creative. I started my agency after people told me to stick to film-making.
One piece of advice that I regularly give is that if you expect all your ideas and plans to be embraced by all, get out of business. So you can imagine the impact of hearing Michelle address the naysayers in her own life. She shared that she no longer makes room for the programmed pessimists but instead uses that doubt as a call to action.
Michelle's reaction when I told her Keneea and I had come all the way from Jamaica was priceless, and when I told her we had to get her down there those weren't just the words of a doting fan but a note to self.... let's just say my vision board was just updated!
As the four of us bundled into a taxi, we sat for a moment in the freezing silence. And then it erupted. All at once we started to process. We had gotten what we came for: answers to long-held questions, validation about our own power, encouragement to speak our truths. Each of us was able to pull meaning from what had been shared as if each nugget of wisdom was custom-made to fit our unique paths. For Nadeen, it was the power of resilience. Everyone has their challenges, including the former first lady of the United States. Keep persisting.
For Lisandra it was a reminder that we are always becoming our lives right up to the end. And for Keneea it was sharing the moment with thousands of successful women who came out to celebrate a woman who inspired them.
For me, I saw all of this and more. My icons, the two most powerful black women in the world, had bowled me over by their lack of ego. Their genuine and seemingly invincible drive to build up other women. I, like a lot of people, may have been misled by the ambiguous graphics on the cover of Michelle's book, which could easily read “Becoming Michelle Obama”, but the title is simply “Becoming” . As this clarification spread over the audience you could see the physical tranformation of the many women as they asked themselves the question: Who am I becoming? In that moment a light bulb went on in my head that this journey being described was all about becoming your best self: acknowledging failure and disappointment, yes, but truly celebrating the journey. As this revelation dawned on me I was flooded with the memory of my grandmother, whose own wisdom and boldness had been so instrumental in my life. I wished I could call her and share this profound experience.
In my observation, when encountering true greatness, you end up with more questions than answers, but the questions are the real prize. What changes are you making in your thoughts and actions in order to meet your goals? These are questions I've asked myself every day for the last 10 years, especially in my professional life.
The process of becoming CEO, a mother and soon-to-be-wife has been an exciting one, with endless rewards. But who I am is more than that; it is how I interact with others. Do I share? Do I support? What are my priorities? Real success isn't about having all the answers, it is about constantly finding new questions. And so I put to you: Who are you becoming?
— Kimala Bennett is the managing director of The Lab Limited.