The Courage to Let Go…

What is wrong with me? This is wrong! My family will not understand! I will be such a disappointment! Who am I? Who do I want to be? 

Let me begin with my personal journey to finding my authentic self…

I grew up a small-town girl from Texas! My family listened to country music, and my formative years were rooted in a certain value system. There were expectations of me growing up and marrying my “prince charming” and having children. At 13 years old while at Vacation Bible School, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. For those that knew me then, they saw me as this happy go lucky, confident, and fearless woman! Inside, I was struggling to find my way in this world. I knew I was different than my family and friends but did not fully understand why until later in life. 

During college, I fell in love with a woman, and the cycle of guilt and self-loathing began. I grew up hearing that being a “homosexual” was wrong, a sin, according to the Bible. To try and “fix” myself, I was baptized and rededicated my life to Jesus Christ at 21 years old.  I attended church every chance I had, hoping these feelings would go away, but they did not. 

I struggled for many years before letting go of everyone’s expectations for me – being straight, marrying a man, and having children. I liked women! How would I tell my family? My friends? 

I came out to my family in a Christmas card – true story! I was too chicken to tell them in person. I was terrified they would turn their backs, so out of fear of rejection, I distanced myself. 

Shit! Well, the cat’s out of the bag now so now what?! Another ten years would take me on a journey of self-discovery.

 “When we choose to be true to ourselves, the people around us will struggle to make sense of how and why we are changing. Friends and family may worry about how our authenticity practice will affect them and our relationships with them. Some will find inspiration in our new commitment; other may perceive that we’re changing too much; maybe even abandoning them or holding up an uncomfortable mirror.” Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection (2020, p.69)

When same sex marriage was legalized in 2015, I married the love of my life after 14+ years together! We were so excited and planned every last detail of our special day! It was such a magical day with our varied assortment of family and friends! The love in the room was palpable! I began my wedding vows, for 30+ years, I lived with pain, shame, and guilt for who I was deep down inside. I felt unlovable and unworthy of true, unconditional love.

The wedding of Shannon Yzquierdo & Kelly Cochran. Hosted at The Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant.

I am not alone in having experienced this personal struggle! For that reason, I am committed to helping other LGBTQ+ people navigate the challenges that present themselves both personally and professionally. 

Let me share my professional journey to finding my authentic self…

When I was a public-school teacher in Oklahoma, being a lesbian fell under the “moral turpitude” part of my teaching contract. This meant that my personal life had to be kept a secret, or I risked being fired. They should keep those homosexuals on the East Coast! Don’t you think? Do you have a boyfriend? Or, a girlfriend? These were comments and questions from fellow teachers and students that were unaware of my private life. So hurtful…I just wanted to fit in, so I hid my authentic self. 

When I left teaching, I swore I would never hide my true identity again. I had no idea the challenges and heartache that would cause me personally and professionally. 

When I entered the Federal Government, I was naïve. I did not realize I was entering a male-dominated world, one in which my boundaries and values would be tested. I was one of a small group of women in the new class of FBI Agents. One of the instructors referred to me as “the lesbian in the class.” A devastating injury sent me back to the drawing board to find my way and reinvent myself, yet again. I felt broken. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let myself down. 

I could no longer try and meet the expectations of everyone else – being perfect. I had to answer the following questions for myself. Who am I? Who do I want to be as a leader? What are my strengths? My weaknesses? What can I do to increase my odds of not only surviving, but thriving in this world?

Through the school of hard knocks, the advice of incredible mentors, and the unconditional love of my future wife, I learned to lean into my fears and embrace my inner courage. My colleagues loved and respected me because I was just me. I did not try to be anyone else. Over time, I became more and more grounded in what I stood for, who I was inside, and what I wanted out of life. Every obstacle molded me into the person and leader I am today. I am grateful for having endured and survived the journey to finding myself, so I can help others find themselves.

As a leadership coach, I help leaders embrace the process as they learn to recognize and embrace their own inner courage and leadership strengths. I help leaders work through challenges they face personally and professionally, so they discover the leader they desire to be and the impact and legacy they want to have on others.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a leader that just so happens to be a woman, a mix of Hispanic and Caucasian heritage, I am committed to helping others discover and embrace their inner courage as they grow into their best selves. I leverage my life and professional experience, and I shift between coaching, mentoring, and teaching, depending upon the needs of my client. 

To close, when I think about my Texas roots, Dolly Parton’s song, “I Will Always Love You” represents transition and letting go to me. I learned to let go of others’ expectations of who they thought I was supposed to be. Being my authentic self is the foundation of my being the person I was always destined to be. By letting go of my need to fit in,  I have learned that standing out, being bold and fearless is who I am. I no longer strive to fit in, I strive to belong.  

How can I help you as you navigate your own personal and professional struggles? Who do you want to be as a leader? What does courage look like for you?