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THE MOST HUMILIATING THING I’VE EVER DONE (a life lesson in women, leadership, and fish)


Actually, I’ve done so many humiliating things that it’s hard to keep track of them all. But this doozy tops the humiliate-her chart!

My main motive for sharing the single most humiliating experience of my entire professional career is this: Having already entirely and publicly mortified myself, I might as well make sure it wasn’t a wasted experience. If I could save you an equal measure of humiliation by sharing this with you, then it would be worth airing a bit of dirty laundry. (Before reading on, get a tissue — You’ll either be laughing or crying by the end of this page.)

Here’s what happened:

In the early 90s, I moved to the northwest from New York City. Having failed abysmally to plan this move strategically, it wasn’t long before I’d run out of time, money, and ideas to launch my career. I was — to put it delicately — EAGER TO GET BUSINESS!

I was probably desperate when I AGREED TO DO SOMETHING I HAD NO BUSINESS DOING — speak to a group of 100 women about trends in the fishing industry.

Yes, the fishing industry.

Now, if you’re sitting there thinking, “Wait a New York minute… Nancy doesn’t talk about the fishing industry. Nancy doesn’t know anything about fish. Nancy talks about empowerment, courage, leadership, life purpose, and impact,” – well, you would be exactly right!

Therein lay the problem.

I might also mention that this presentation was to be given gratis, for free, zilch, nada, zero, moolah. I was promised it would be great exposure. The exposure I got, however, was not the kind that I could use to my advantage. (You’ll see why shortly.)

A few weeks before the scheduled event, I forced myself to find out everything I could about fish and the fishing industry (the only thing I already knew was how to cook and eat it.) What’s more, I also had to learn about public speaking because I’d only recently added keynotes to my repertoire of talents.

My lack of experience on the platform had me rushing off to the library (yes, it was that long ago) to learn how to tell a good joke or two from the podium.

Stop laughing. (Okay, don’t stop because I’m guffawing as I re-read this blog).

Books in hand, I kinda sorta slapped a presentation together and, on The Day, headed over to the venue, a local seafood restaurant. I dragged along my then-boyfriend so that he could video the entire production for what was to be my debut demo tape (ignorance is indeed blissful, and, no, I never mustered up the guts even to watch it).

I am slapping my forehead as I recount this.

So there I was, just minutes before my keynote, when I realized in a flash of blinding brilliance that I had no idea what the @%&%X* I was doing there — and that, in just a moment or two, 100 other people would be wondering as well.

At that moment, I HATED my life. I hated myself. I hated my new career. I hated public speaking. I especially hated fish.

I confess that as I stood in the restroom (sweat pouring down my armpits and pooling at the waistband of my skirt as my knees loudly knocked together), I calculated what it would take for me to run out the door and throw myself in front of a speeding truck without incurring permanent body damage.


I reluctantly headed toward the podium — sweat still pouring, knees still knocking — and gave my speech. During Q & A — an intoxicated man wandered in off the street. I was too nervous to notice that he didn’t belong there, and I answered his incoherent question.

Nobody makes this stuff up. That night I returned home and drank my weight in wine.

The following day, I called the client who had invited me to speak. In the most undiplomatic and uncensored rant, she shared her thoughts about my presentation and my lack of industry knowledge; in a nutshell, IT SUCKED.

None of what she said is fit to print. Every word she said rang true.

(TRUE CONFESSION…. To this day, I cannot drive past that restaurant without my stomach flipping over.)

What mistakes did I make? How did I set myself up to fail? Why did I accept an opportunity that didn’t belong to me — that guaranteed I’d disappoint myself?

  1. I WAS DISCONNECTED FROM MYSELF — I lacked self-awareness, so I didn’t know what I wanted or, if I did, how to get it.
  2. I DIDN’T KNOW MY LIFE PURPOSE — which meant that instead of leading my life, I was following it around.
  3. I WAS SCARED — I let the prospect of money seduce me out of integrity. Fear does that to us if we let it.
  4. I WAS INAUTHENTIC, AN IMPOSTER —I pretended I knew things I didn’t know; I acted as though I had it all together when I didn’t. I was living someone else’s life, not my own.

All of which made me MISERABLE! What did I LEARN? More than I have time to write on this page or that you have time to read.

But here are the BIG THREE YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST KNOW so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

  1. NEVER, ever, ever, agree to do anything incongruent with your life purpose, for any reason, or any amount of money. Know your purpose and never stray from it. PERIOD. End of sentence.
  2. Be fully ENGAGED and present in your life. It will increase your self-confidence and self-trust, both of which are required to live a life of authenticity while empowering others to do the same.
  3. Being fully accountable for your life means being able to articulate your BRAND and, as a result, your gifts and talent. These are both necessary ingredients to have IMPACT and make a PERSONALLY MEANINGFUL DIFFERENCE in the world.

Why am I telling you all this? Why am I confessing to something you otherwise would never have known about? Why am I willing to expose my life’s most incredible gaffe?

Because even though I did, YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE THESE MISTAKES!


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WomenThink™ partners with leaders of public, private, and non-profit global organizations to transform their female workforce into a high-performing LeaderForce™; attracting, developing, and retaining the best female talent as a result of creating an uncommon culture of equitable empowerment.

 For more than 29 years, WomenThink’s CEO, Nancy D. Solomon, has been a force for change and the go-to women’s leadership expert in traditionally male-dominated industries such as technology, banking, and finance, worldwide.

 She is a bold, courageous, and unapologetic advocate for women and has helped thousands remove the barriers to their fulfillment and success.

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 Schedule a meeting with us to begin the conversation of how we can accelerate your current transformation initiatives, as well as identify the future of leadership for your organization.

Known as The Impact Expert, she is the main stage speaker, expert trainer, and veteran coach who helps leaders solve key issues related to leadership development, employee engagement, and advancing women. She is the author of the acclaimed book: Impact! What Every Woman Needs to Know to Go from Invisible to Invincible and is currently working on her next book.