Heels in the Hall

(A quick, writing-on-the-airport-floor reflection)

The keynote speaker, a storyteller, says she will tell us her leadership journey (the conference theme) by starting at the beginning. In a split second, something in my subconscious asks me what my beginning is, and without thinking, I am back entertaining myself in a somewhat sterile office, appropriate for a hospital, the people shuffling outside in the halls as background noise.

And I hear it. The unmistakable sound of heels on the hallway’s tile floor, and not just any heels, but my mother’s. I’m not sure how I can recognize her gait from the other female footsteps, but I can. I can tell it’s her, walking deliberately down the hall. Maybe she is coming from a meeting. After all, that is what I once told people my mother did for a living – attend meetings.

In reality, she was a hospital administrator, director of the physical therapy/rehab services, at a time when none of my friends’ mothers worked outside the home. I know now how hard it was for her. I know now the harassment she endured. I know now how others looked down on her for her choice.

Or, really, I don’t know. While I have experienced all of these scenarios in my own professional life, I’ve done so in a different place and time. The culture has shifted…slightly, but it’s shifted.

I will never fully know my mother’s experience, but I do know that when I heard those heels in the hall, I thought, “That’s my mother.”

And decades later, I find myself in a convention center, listening to a keynote speaker tell her leadership journey “from the beginning” and am caught off guard when the beginning of my leadership story comes to me as the sound of my mother’s heels in the hall.

I know now how many physical therapists she mentored. I know now how many patients she helped. I know now how many trails she helped blaze. And I know now, from that moment at the conference today, how my leadership journey started in my mother’s walk down that hall.

Happy International Woman’s Day, belated!