As a child growing up on the beautiful twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean, my mother always told me “the sky’s the limit,” that I should “do my best” and that “winners never quit and quitters never win.” These mantras fueled in me, an insatiable drive to give my all in the pursuit of conquering new challenges, and to strive with unabashed enthusiasm to leave things better than I found them… in every aspect of my life.
I was sassy from the start. Or, as my mom bluntly put it as she began her surprise speech at my wedding, “Nikkia was not an easy child.” I was horrified, but also, I knew exactly what she meant. I think that “not easy” was her way of describing living with a child who had an incredibly determined will to have her voice heard, and her perspective integrated into decisions in life that she deemed important.
Being a mom myself to two young girls, the empathy and respect I have for my mother have deepened and I totally get why those words were so apt then. I loved myself a lot before, but that love just keeps on getting stronger as I continue to live in the truth of who I am, and have always been – a not-so-easy (see also: incredibly determined and persistent) crazy, energetic, and passionate human being.
As far back as I can remember, I was a natural leader and an organizer… of my dolls, of my neighborhood friends, and sometimes even inside my own home. When I wanted to stop Saturday dance classes around the age of 6 or 7 because I was missing my favorite morning cartoons, I made a strong case to my mom and that was that. Goodbye dance classes! Hello She-Ra! And then, when at 11, my younger sister began her ballet lessons, the itch to be part of the exciting world of dance was too strong, and so I made the case to my mother to put me back in. Once in, dance consumed me.
Dance was the perfect outlet for my expressiveness, my natural sass and my persistence. Being part of the dance community introduced me to like-minded girls who were strong-willed, fierce, creative and fiery – just like me – and joined me at the hips with some especially incredible human-beings who remain among my closest friends to this day.
Every class, rehearsal and performance fed my thirst for connecting to people, telling stories, and creating lasting memories. I continued dancing all throughout college and during the years between college and Business School because it was a constant in my life during the awkward teething years of early adulthood.
When I landed my first, steady grown-up job post my MBA, that the insatiable desire I had to connect with people, create and tell stories to open their hearts and minds to a new perspective, once through the power of movement and performance, was still ever-present.
I did not have any of the corporate work experience that my counterparts had when I joined my Fortune 500 employer and maybe that was to my advantage. I did not know then, but being a misfit was my greatest asset and being The Dancer In The Room freed my mind from any pretense that I needed to act, look or sound a certain way to be accepted.
And with that freedom, came FUN. My stage transformed into meeting rooms, my audience became my business partners, and I saw my peers and direct reports as fellow dancers. The stories I created to tackle a business challenge, felt like choreography at the beginning- anchored in the technical precision of steps following steps (the data) and sewn together with nuance, subtlety and emotion (the deep understanding of people and culture). And at the end, when it came time to provide a POV that influenced a decision, the delivery brought out my most passionate and enthusiastic self, giving it all as if this performance would be my last.
That indescribable internal drive to give my best and leave every project and team I touched better than I found it, has helped to propel me to higher and higher heights professionally and personally. If my journey can inspire but one individual trying to navigate a strange world without shaving off any of the edges that make you, YOU, then please be my guest, and read on.