You know those seasons of life you sip, savor, and want to linger with a little bit longer because they almost border on picturesque perfection?
Yeh, that is the exact opposite of what the last couple weeks have been for me.
We were only a couple days into August when my world started going wonky. Nothing big, nothing major, no huge universe-shifting life adjustments—just a series of thing after thing after thing getting under my skin. My bank rebooted my online account, which cancelled all my bill payments. Loved ones struggling with health issues. Kids losing passports overseas; kids going off to college. Relational stuff. Life stuff. Mindset stuff. Everywhere I looked, the world looked wonky. And, I needed to breathe.
For about the last 40 years I would have powered through, kept to myself, and kept going. I did this during my upbringing as a good Midwestern girl, I did this in life as a pastor’s wife, I did this in my career as a college administrator, and I was fully intent on doing it in this office, too. But then last Tuesday I sat at my desk and looked at these guiding values hanging on my wall—a visioning poster I created for our organization—and was confronted with ideals like “vulnerability,” “humility,” “authenticity,” “empathy,” “listening,” and “care.”
Shoot, friends—when you write ideals for an organization, you kind of have to live by them yourself first.
I left my office to check in with my team and bury my personal stuff in the comfortable camouflage of avoidance and work-based distraction. I had this notion that I, as a leader, needed to create a space for everyone else to be authentic, vulnerable, and accepted, and I was supposed to be a bastion of empathy, care, service, and listening. Cool idea, except I work for an organization built on Truly Human Leadership. Truly (truth, Rebecca) Human (we’re all human, Sister) Leadership (set the example, Lady).
I really had a choice. I could keep hiding my humanity and power through as I’ve done for decades, or I could be authentic and vulnerable. I could live the things written on my walls.
In one of the highest-rated TED Talks of all time, researcher and professor Brene' Brown talks about the Power of Vulnerability, a concept originally terrifying for a recovering perfectionist like me. Brown explains how vulnerability and authenticity open the door for connection to happen, and how connection is what brings meaning and purpose to our lives. Wrapped in that is having the courage to be authentic, and letting compassion and empathy start with ourselves.
With transparency and empathy, I took a leap off the high dive of vulnerability and gave myself permission to be human before being a “boss.” “Guys,” I told them, “I know we focus on work stuff a lot, but I need to be human for just a moment if you don’t mind.” Automatically they stopped. They paused. They connected and cared. They responded by sharing the gift of their humanity, too, so we spent the next 10 minutes sharing stories about when life gets all lifey. More importantly, we paused work momentarily to relate as real, authentic, vulnerable, strong, powerful, connected humans. And, at that point trust was deepened, team presence was strengthened, and we went forward into our days with a renewed vigor and purpose.
Sometimes life happens, folks. Sometimes it’s picturesque moments in which you want to sip, savor, and linger, and other times it’s the opposite of that. Often it hovers somewhere in between. Connection is the space where life has meaning; vulnerability and empathy are the doors through which we enter that space. When life is all lifey, isn’t it better when we’re in it together?
Human alongside you,