For some time, I’ve been following inspiring women leaders, entrepreneurs, business movers-and-shakers, writers and others on the cutting edge of thought leadership, and I’m still awed and amazed at how much there is out in the world to be inspired by.

In my line of work as a coach, executive trainer and writer, I’m fortunate to connect with women like Whitney Johnson and Judy Robinett who invest deeply in ideas, businesses and people and help their dreams become reality.   And with women like Janet Hanson and Claudia Chan who have a calling to spotlight other women’s growth and promote women’s success like a powerful brand.  Or Tory Johnson who, after a brutal firing years ago, found her calling to become a powerful and empowered voice for working women in America. Brené Brown, whose TED talk on shame and vulnerability rocked the world and continues to make waves of important contribution.  The list goes on and on.

But years ago, I remember being rendered speechless when someone asked me, “Who’s your role model?  Who inspires you?” The sad truth is that, at that time, the answer was “No one.”  I was so out of touch with what I authentically cared about in the world, and felt so alone, despairing and isolated (because I truly hated my corporate work, and myself in it, and just couldn’t figure a way out of it), that having a role model or connecting with women who inspired me was the farthest thing from my mind.

What snapped me out of this isolation and disconnection was my own brutal layoff after 9/11, and my decision then to stop playing the victim, take control, and reclaim my passion, power and purpose in life and work. Figuring out what I wanted to be and do in the world, and mustering the courage and commitment to pursue that was what it took for me to reconnect to the land of the living and find true role models – women who were ten steps ahead of me doing what I longed to do.

 In the past year of writing this blog and contributing to Huffington Post, AARP Work Reimagined and other organizations, I’ve observed some common traits of inspiring people who are achieving amazing success, making a difference, contributing positively to our culture, and supporting women’s growth.  In fact, I’ve found that there are 13 core traits of highly successful and inspiring women. But three traits continue to rise to the top of this list.

Bar none, the following are the top three traits you’ll see in people who inspire, enliven, empower and uplift us.

The three core behaviors or traits of deeply inspiring people:

1)  They have forged their own authentic path — taken a hard, unpaved road that goes against the grain and demanded a tremendous show of guts, strength, commitment, and perseverance 

In other words, these people have taken a brave, new direction and are living full-out what they talk about, study and research.  They are the true embodiment of courage and fortitude in the face of opposition, criticism, judgment, and what sometimes seem to be unbeatable odds.  They don’t just talk about what they’re fascinated by – they’re immersed in it and exude it, body and soul.

2)  They are supremely  “other-focused”  – they derive an enormous sense of satisfaction and reward – and spend most of their professional time and energy — helping other people, or organizations and enterprises, grow and flourish 

These individuals aren’t just talking about what they’ve done – they’re focused on turning their “mess” into a “message” or helping others succeed and overcome the deep challenges out there in the way of greater success, fulfillment, peace, contribution, and progress.

3)  They are riveting storytellers 

These inspiring leaders and ground-breakers spend their time sharing and demonstrating something very different from the same old platitudes and principles we’ve heard over and over.  From their individual set of traumas, experiences, longings, failures, triumphs, and histories, they have a unique way of looking at the world, and they share their special vision through powerful stories that pluck at our heartstrings and stimulate our thinking and our emotions in ways that literally no one else can.

* * * * * * *

I’m happy to say that I am now inspired all the time by men and women who are 100 steps ahead of me, doing what I long to, in the way I long to do it, with authenticity, clarity, grace and power.  All I have to do is watch one new TED Talk or interview someone making significant positive change, and I’m thinking again of what’s possible.

There are so many people in the world who can serve as your role models and help you make the huge impact in the world that you want to, that I’d say this — if you can’t find someone to inspire you, it’s time for an internal shift to heal the disconnection and isolation you feel, and get yourself back in the game of life.

After all, we believe what we see.  To be inspired by another is to be reminded that what stirs us so deeply about someone else is, in fact, possible within ourselves.

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