How To Reinvent Yourself: Lessons from Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky shed her shame without changing her name. In doing so, she’s revealed her courage.

“My name Monica Lewinsky, although I’ve often been advised to change it.”

And so began Monika Lewinsky’s ‘coming out’ speech at the Forbes Under 30 Summit, after a decade away of the public eye.  And what a powerful, thought provoking, and inspiring speech it was, holding many life lessons and insights worthy of sharing. Here’s five of them.

1. NEVER GIVE ANYONE THE POWER TO DEFINE YOU (LEAST OF ALL SOMEONE WHO REFUSES TO REVEAL THEIR TRUE IDENTITY!)

The sudden reappearance of Lewinsky’s face and name on the airwaves was always going to draw attention, particularly from those who’d judged her harshly and cast her off to as an unfortunate footnote in the annals of American political history.  But Lewinsky’s speech was more than an announcement for her campaign to end cyber bullying and the culture of internet shaming.  It was a declaration of personal power; a woman who had endured the most public shaming showing us that no matter how dire a situation may seem, that people are stronger than anything they ever face and that we should never – NEVER – give anyone the power to define us or shame us, much less to change our name! Watch Monica’s TED talk below on self-definition following her years in the public eye:

2. YOU CONNECT MORE DEEPLY THROUGH VULNERABILITY THAN STRENGTH

Lewinsky’s speech was powerful because it was personal.  She shared how, upon the Starr Report detailing the most intimate details of her affair with Clinton, she wanted to die.  “Frankly, I came close to disintegrating. No, it’s not too strong a word. I wish it were, but it isn’t,” Lewinsky shared.

Yes, she had her notes to read, but she spoke from the heart – revealing her heartache, her depression, her thoughts of taking her life.  By sharing the rawness of her experience, she made herself real to those who’d long ago forgotten she was a human being, not a mere sexual object who tarnished a wayward presidents repute.  By exposing her vulnerability, she connected far more deeply than she would have had she given an intellectual or guarded expose of her experience.

3. YOU’RE AT YOUR MOST POWERFUL WHEN YOU’RE MOST PURPOSEFUL

Lewinksy’s decision to step back into the public spotlight – and once again make herself vulnerable to those who love to deride and shame – was clearly not driven by revenge or self-gratification. It was compelled by her desire shine the spotlight on the devastating impact that online shaming, humiliating and bullying can wreak on people’s lives

4. NOT STANDING AGAINST WRONGDOING YOU COMPLICIT IN IT

If you have never been a victim yourself, you will almost certainly know someone who has.

And of course, it’s very easy to stand by and do nothing.  The term “Bystander Apathy” has been coined for a reason!  But as Edmund Burke once wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” In short, when you sit on the sidelines and don’t speak up for those who are being pulled down and speak out against the perpetrators who do it, you become complicit in the culture that feeds it.  The culture that has torn Renee Zellweger to pieces over the last week.  The culture that drove Charlotte Dawson to despair last year. The culture that has wreaked havoc on so many hearts and claimed so many lives.

5. BY FACING YOUR FEARS YOU LOOSEN THEIR GRIP  

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have been in Monica Lewinsky’s shoes back in 1998.  I had two children two and under and the time and could sparsely put myself in anyone’s shoes back then, much less hers. What I do know is that had I been working as an intern in the White House for President Clinton, I’m sure I would also have been charmed by his charisma, infatuated with his power and flatted by any advances made in my direction. Heck, what 22 year old young woman wouldn’t?!  I also know that anyone in her shoes when the secret became known would have been absolutely terrified by the ramifications.

When Lewinsky’s worst fears became her reality, her world imploded in the most devastating way.  And yet, as we witnessed last week, she survived. In fact, she not only survived, she has ultimately emerged stronger, more courageous and more compassionate because of it.

Likewise for all of us. Too often we spend our lives underestimating our abilities and forever trying to avoid our fears coming true, rather than proactively working toward making our dreams true instead.  So whatever it is that you fear most, realise that it’s not the event itself that has power over you, it’s your fear of it. Deciding to stare it down and step through it won’t make you weaker, it will do just the opposite.  By owning her name, by shedding her shame, and by making a stand, Monica has shown us just that.

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