While looking for something entirely unrelated on my blog, I came across this post I wrote two years ago, before my dream of launching my own business became a reality. It gave me a little lump in my throat, and so I thought it was worth pulling forward and sharing with you.
The three young girls I’m raising and the one that I was
On her second birthday, Nikki spent about an hour trying on all of the clothes she’d just gotten as gifts, while the toys got brushed aside. She rarely wanted to ride in the stroller if she had the option of running. She scoffed at anyone who wasted her time with fairy tales or made-up entities like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Now that she’s thirteen, her friends call her the “Tyra Banks” of her group because of her passion for fashion. She dreams of the day her knee heals so that she can run, run, and run some more. (She’s jealous of me when I run on the treadmill – can you imagine?) She’d rather read a biography than a work of fiction any day.
At two, Julie had a better command of the English language than most teenagers. She learned to negotiate (and sometimes manipulate) almost as quickly as she learned to talk, and before long, we couldn’t keep enough books in the house to keep her happy. Now that she’s twelve, she volunteers for every public speaking opportunity that’s available to her, she’s trying to get a student council set up in her school so that students have more of a voice, and she’s almost always lost in a book.
Some of Maddie’s first words were “can you imagine if…” She filled our house with her imaginary playmates and all of the stuffed toys and dolls her sisters had tossed aside. Her favourite game was a fanciful round of “would you rather?” Now that she’s seven, she still plays “would you rather”, writes story books, paints pictures, calls herself an artist, and creates elaborate play spaces for her dolls under tables or chairs. She loves 3D movies and insists that they’re much better when you reach out for the things that come flying at you.
I don’t know how these things will continue to manifest themselves in my daughters, but I suspect some of it will shape the way their lives unfold. I hope that we as their parents have instilled in them enough of a belief that those passions have worth.
In more than one book I’ve read recently, writers claim that “our youthful passions serve as a foreshadowing of our calling or life’s work.” I want to honour the foreshadowing I see in my children, and so (in my moments of attentive parenting) I buy books on fashion for one of them, help another one coax school leadership to consider a student council, and climb under the table with the third and help her spell out the words for her latest work of fiction.
I want to go back to the child I once was and tell her the same things I try to say to my children. “Those hobbies you have? Those things that make you happy? They’re not just a waste of time. They have value. Don’t set them aside in pursuit of a more practical career. Trust them to direct you into your path. Don’t try to fit into the boxes you think you’re supposed to fit into.”
On the bus yesterday, I read “…just scribble your recollections of childhood passions in the margins here.” And so I did. This is what I wrote:
I loved to go places, either on my horse, my bike, or (on rare occasions when our family went on an adventure) in the car. I loved to wander all over the farm and thought of myself as an explorer in the woods. I had a special little hideaway in the middle of a bramble bush that you had to know how to navigate your way through to avoid the sharp thorns.
I was always creating something – macramé plant hangers, doll beds, decoupaged memory boxes – you name it. I learned to sew and was forever digging through my mom’s fabric closet for interesting scraps of fabric. I was happiest when I had a creative project on the go.
I wrote endless journals, stories, poems, one-act plays, or whatever tickled my fancy. My very first drama was a little play my friend Julie and I wrote and performed in our living room as a fundraiser for a mission organization. I wanted to speak and have people listen. I wanted to influence.
I would walk to the farthest field on the farm if I thought that Dad would give me a chance to drive the tractor. It felt like freedom to me, to be able to drive and to be trusted with something that was usually reserved for my big brothers. I thrilled at the little grin my Dad got when he was proud of my independence and determination.
I loved to be active. I would join almost any team or group activity that was available to me. I played ringette, soccer, volleyball, and baseball. I joined the drama club and the choir. I was never a star but I was always a joiner.
I gravitated toward positions of leadership and influence. I was student council president in grade 9. (After that, though, I had to go to the ‘big’ school in a much bigger town. I lost my confidence and didn’t run for student council again until college.)
What would that little girl tell me if only she could? What were the dreams she had that got set aside when bills had to be paid and careers had to be chosen?
I haven’t totally abandoned those things I loved to do. Even in the practicality of life, I’ve usually found some small way of honouring them. But sometimes we believe other voices rather than our own, we follow someone else’s idea of what our calling should be, and we set aside fanciful things for those that seem more pragmatic and realistic.
Somewhere along the line, most of the passions got relegated to “hobbies” rather than “life’s work”.
What about you?
The straight talk on parenting:
- Some days, you will really, really dislike your children.
- Some days, your children will really, really dislike you. There may even be days when they yell that dislike in your face.
- Children are sucking vortexes of need. Get used to it.
- Almost every day, you will wonder if you are doing everything wrong and totally screwing your kids up.
- In between those hard days and moments of doubt, there will be moments of pure delight, and you’ll wonder how you could possibly live without these amazing people in your life.
The straight talk on starting a new business:
- It’s hard. Really hard.
- There will be lots of days when you wake up in a panic wondering how you’re going to survive financially.
- On your days of greatest weakness, you will compare yourself to other people and find yourself seriously lacking.
- Just when you think you have it figured out, one of your favourite ideas will flop, and you’ll feel like a failure all over again.
- If you can work through the discouragement, you’ll have moments when you’re happier than you’ve ever been, doing the things that make your heart sing.
The straight talk on marriage:
- There are no fairy tales. No knights in shining armor. No happy endings. You might as well give up the quest.
- You’ll have days when you think “what the hell have I done?” or “where did this all go wrong?” or “why does it feel like we are communicating at completely different frequencies?”
- There’s a pretty good chance that some day, maybe even 18 years in, the whole thing will fall apart and you’ll be left trying to pick up the pieces.
- You’re going to have to work really, really hard if you value what you’ve built and want to stay together. You might even need outside help and you’ll definitely need some prayer.
- Once you’ve done the hard work, and given up the fairy tale, you might just find yourself growing (not falling) into real, blinders-off, sometimes-it-hurts-sometimes-it’s-exquisite kind of love. And it will feel like home.
The straight talk on leadership:
- Just like parenting, there will be days when you really, really dislike some of the people you lead.
- There will be days when they really, really dislike you. They might even file a complaint or take you to court if the dislike runs deeply enough. This may not have anything to do with your actions, but you’ll still be tempted to take it personally.
- It may very well be one of the most stressful roles you’ll undertake.
- You’ll often feel lonely because lots of people assume the leader is confident enough that they don’t need any moral support or friendship.
- If you find the right support and the right people to lead, though, it could possibly be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. If you’re living your calling, then it will have meaning.
The straight talk on marketing:
- There are people who will want to offer you a formula for success. Don’t believe them. There are no formulas.
- Sometimes you’ll do everything by the book, and still very few people will show up or buy your product.
- Some people will say “just put out good content and people will show up”. Not true. (At least not all the time.) Lots of people create amazing products that nobody buys.
- A lot of times, it’s just a crap shoot – if the right (ie. influential) people show up and buy your product and then share it with their friends, it may go viral.
- At the end of the day, the most important thing is building relationships. Be kind to people, support them, offer them your best work, and slowly but surely the right people will show up. (Or they may not, and you’ll have to start over again, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, only that the timing wasn’t right for your product, or it needs some tweaking.)
The straight talk on failure:
- You will fail. Get used to it. Sometimes even your biggest, boldest dreams will fail.
- You’ll have to work hard to not believe that failing defines you as a failure.
- Even the most successful people in the world have faced failure at some point in their lives. They may even be failing right now and you just don’t know it because they’re good at hiding it.
- Failure may be your greatest teacher if you’re open to it.
- Sometimes failure opens doors to you that you wouldn’t have seen if you’d never tried. Go ahead and fail.
The straight talk on life:
- There will be many moments when you feel completely lost and unsure of what path you should be on.
- People will tell you to “follow these 10 easy steps to success/self-improvement/spirituality”. Don’t believe them. There are no easy steps.
- Nobody’s path will look just like yours. You’ll never find the perfect book, teacher, or life coach who will give you complete clarity, because nobody else knows your life. (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from other people’s wisdom. You should. Just don’t expect it to be the only answer.)
- Living a life of integrity, authenticity, and compassion takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s still worth it.
- If you are true to yourself, true to the people that you love, and true to your God, and if you pursue your passions and share your gifts, your life will have meaning.
I’m having a hard time putting into words what yesterday meant to me. None-the-less, I want to share it, even if the words fall short of the truth.
First there was the conversation with a coach/magician
After a full day of meetings (Aside: What the heck is going on? Meetings seem to have exploded all over my calendar lately! I can barely catch a breath!), I had a coaching call with Randi Buckley.
Honestly? I’ve been a little skeptical of the whole coaching movement. Any time anything becomes too trendy, I start sniffing it for snake oil and I tend to distance myself somewhat. Not that I don’t believe in coaching – I’ve taken several “coaching for leaders” workshops and have found them quite helpful – it’s just that trends often bring out the people who like to jump on the bandwagon and aren’t necessarily the genuine article. On top of that, hiring a life coach seems to have an element of narcissism that doesn’t sit well with me. (My apologies to my friends who are coaches or who hire coaches! You are all wise and wonderful, so I’m not talking about YOU!)
Needless to say, I’ve never worked with a coach, even though I know people who swear by it. But when I won Randi’s free sessions, I thought “why not approach it openly and welcome whatever might come of this?” Since it was free, I had nothing to lose.
Well, it turns out that Randi is the real deal. Seriously? I think she’s part magician. Or at least mystic. It wasn’t very long into our conversation that she started voicing things that she picked up in my words and energy that were so dead on they were scary. And with only a few well placed questions, she had me digging into demons, identifying the places where I deal with “imposter syndrome”, and voicing big crazy dreams I’d never dared whisper to anyone.
One of the things Randi encouraged me to do (which, I admit, I resisted at first) was to examine some of the negative voices in my life to find the truth hidden behind them. I didn’t realize how powerful that was until this morning when the real live negative voice (not just the ones in my head) I talked to her about made a significant energy shift and actually paid me the FIRST EVER compliment I have heard coming out of those lips – and all because I’d started the conversation with an acknowledgement of the wisdom that person had put into an email the day before.
Then there was the “Sisterhood of the Burning Bra” party last night.
Again and again, I am blown away by the incredible energy that a group of like-minded, open-hearted women can welcome into their space when they gather in a circle. There were fewer people in that circle last night than I expected, but they were the RIGHT people. (The gremlins wanted to convince me that people don’t really like me and hence hadn’t made my party a priority, but I banished those gremlins from the party pretty quickly and they had no choice but to whimper on the other side of the gate.) More importantly, they were MY people – the women who I know will always come into my circle when I need them, to share their warmth, strength, wisdom, and energy.
I felt a little silly about following through on my desire to burn my bra, but Michele built a lovely fire and the women who were there held me in such a safe space (not to mention cheered me on!) that I couldn’t resist. Before the bra was committed to the flame, I talked about what I was releasing and how I was newly committed to treating my body as a sacred space. And then we all watched it burn until there was nothing left but the underwire.
What came afterward was more than I could have dreamed of. Each of the women in the circle wrote whatever they wanted to release on a piece of paper and committed it to the flame. Fear, procrastination, regret, past hurts, and ego were all swallowed up by the fire. (Yes, there were pictures taken, but the files seem to have corrupted themselves in the downloading process, so you’ll just have to trust me.)
At the end of the night, I shared a little story of the necklace that hung around my neck that I’d just purchased. It’s a silver lizard. Martha Beck talks about the “lizard brain” – the part of our brains that lives in a world of “lack and attack”, where we are always tempted to focus on what we are lacking and what is attacking us. I am determined, in this next year of my life, to get better at the practice of silencing the lizard brain that keeps lying to me about my shortcomings and attacks – hence the reminder I wear around my neck.
Tomorrow marks the end of another year of gathering wisdom along this journey, and the beginning of another year of practicing to get it right.
I am just bursting with good energy today. BURSTING! I want to write a post and tell you all about it, but I’m having a hard time putting into words what has happened this week. I keep starting and stopping, typing and then deleting.
I think I need to stew over this one a bit – let it mellow – before I try to explain what good things have happened, and how some really challenging things have shifted into amazing possibilities.
For now, let me tell you a few things that have become more clear to me this week:
- When I am authentic and vulnerable with people, more often than not, I will be supported in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
- When I really trust my leadership gifts, I am capable of more than I could have dreamed.
- When I recognize that I don’t have to do this alone, I am caught off guard by how powerful teamwork can be.
- When I acknowledge the fear, but then go forward anyway, I surprise myself with my capacity for boldness.
- When I slow down, value the time for contemplation and reflection, and ignore the people who would like to rush me, I am way better off in the long run.
- When I trust my own vision and wisdom in an area I am immersed in, I am much further ahead than when I assume others have more expertise than I do.
- When I get my ego out of the way, and let God guide me through rough waters, I don’t have to paddle so hard.
I feel a little like crying right now, but the tears would be good tears. They would be tears of relief, healing, and happiness.
Sometimes (like when I’ve had to do another round of performance reviews and have to listen to the same complaints and witness the same resistance to change or self-improvement year after year) I feel like a complete failure when it comes to leadership. At those times, it helps me to remind myself what I’ve learned about leadership. It usually turns out I know more than I thought I knew.
1. Most of the well-meaning leadership books out there are crap. Okay, they’re not TOTALLY crap (some are actually pretty good), but they can lead you down a dark and narrow passageway that makes you feel like you can’t possibly succeed if you don’t do x,y, and z from one book and a,b, and c from another. Read too many of them and at some point you will throw up your hands and say “I really SUCK at this leadership thing!”
2. You have to learn to trust your heart, not the leadership books. More than anything, remember to be authentic. Show them the real you. People will follow an authentic leader, not the one who’s mastered the art of imitating what’s in the books.
3. If you’re a person who needs a lot of affirmation in order to succeed, don’t get into leadership. Hardly anybody remembers that leaders need affirmation. The people you lead will look to you for affirmation, but rarely, if ever, will they affirm your work.
4. Leadership can be really, really hard. And seriously draining. It can suck the life right out of you if you’re not careful. Do not enter the profession lightly. Be prepared to give a big chunk of your soul to the work. If you’re not prepared for that, find something else to do.
5. Every leader needs to find ways of ensuring they can stay healthy when there are way too many pressures and expectations and the people you lead are acting like normal flawed human beings and they don’t recognize how much they ask of you. Take up yoga, write in a journal, find a career coach or counselor, join a mentoring group, or find a really good friend who’s also a leader who knows what you’re going through.
6. Carve pumpkins sometimes. Remember to have fun with your team. One of my best leadership moments was the time the team I used to lead got together to carve pumpkins for the Halloween pumpkin-carving contest. Not only did we win, but our team really gelled over pumpkins and wine.
7. Be honest – even if that sometimes means hurting people. This is especially tough when you’re doing annual performance reviews, but staff need to hear things like “you have not been extending enough grace to other members of the team” now and then or they’ll NEVER get it.
8. Be vulnerable. Let your team catch a glimpse of the fears and insecurities you’ve been hiding. They don’t have to think you’re perfect all the time. This can be really, REALLY scary, but it can also help the team connect on a deeper level than they have before.
9. Find good people. If you don’t have supportive people on the team (who have the team’s best interest at heart), find a way to get rid of them. And if you have to keep saying the same things over and over again at every performance review, there’s a good chance it’s NOT sinking in and the person should probably move on.
10. Communicate. And then communicate some more. And when you’re convinced you’ve been open and transparent enough, trust your gut and don’t take the complaints seriously. Because the thing is – even when you think you’ve done a great job of consulting everyone on the team on a major decision, someone will invariably complain that they didn’t know what was going on. Get used to it and suck it up. You’ll never satisfy everyone.