BY MARYBETH GRONEK
Volatility does a number on the human soul.
It makes us lean on protective mechanisms, revert to old and unhelpful patterns, and embrace suspicion and desperation where we tread. At best, it makes us shrink back. At worst, it brings out the ugliest parts of us.
It’s at this point, in the middle of a crisis, where we need leadership.
We need it more than ever.
A leader can be the head of a household, the head of a classroom, the head of company, and yes, the head of a country. There are no minor leagues here. If you have people looking up to you for direction, you are a leader. And you owe it those under your authority to wield the power well.
The good thing is, what it takes to be a leader in bad times is the same as it is in good times. It’s just that the stakes are much higher. And the gap between effective and ineffective leaders is more obvious.
So what does it take to lead with excellence? It’s the 3 I’s of Leadership.
The 3 I’s Of Leadership are intelligence, instinct, and inspiration. Let’s unpack what each one of these mean & observe how they operate in action.
Intelligence relates to the past. It is the ability to acquire knowledge and skills. This can be personal acquisition, or, surrounding yourself with knowledgeable ‘others’ who can help you make informed decisions. Psychologists have broken down intelligence into two categories:
Strong leaders have both crystallized and fluid intelligence in spades. We have all had leaders who possessed one without the other and observed the negative ramifications. For example, a person who has more degrees than Fahrenheit, but can’t seem to figure out that a direct report is so-obviously-duping them. Not a good leader. Or the person who operates from common sense but lacks the polish or communication skills to garner the respect of others. Also a poor leader. Both crystallized and fluid intelligence are needed to lead with excellence.
Instinct relates to the present. It is your gut reaction or *intuition* that guides you. People make decisions based off of 1) what is concretely available through the 5 senses OR 2) off of their intuition. Sometimes, it’s a bit of both. Those familiar with the Myers Briggs personality test understand this as the sensing vs. intuition (or S vs. N) dichotomy.
Only 25% of the population are intuitives. Meaning they perceive indirectly by way of the unconscious and let their instinct guide their decision-making process. They are more concerned with possibilities than actualities. To sensors, this sounds terrifying. Why would someone let anything but objective reality guide their choices and actions? I’ll tell you why. Because in most situations, it’s the best and most reliable option. It just so happens, that our intuition is more trustworthy than we realize: it’s comprised of primordial knowledge, millions of years of interpersonal dynamics, compiled over generations and generations. Instinctual knowledge is hard-wired into our brains and is as healthy for us as their air we breathe.
Over time, we have come to suppress our instincts in favor of the ever-trusted, socially-lauded “objective reality,” that is, that which can be perceived through the five senses. Don’t get me wrong, objective reality is important, but it isn’t everything. Martin Lindstrom, CEO, renowned author, and leadership authority posits that instinct is the most important leadership skill, and provides example after (CEO) example to prove his point. Why are we so hesitant to embrace this? Or rather, how do we come to suppress it?
What kills a person’s ability to lead with instinct:
Yes, instinct is mysterious. Yes, it is unpredictable. But a leader needs it. An excellent leader is not only in-tune with their unconscious, but is also comfortable and adept leading from it.
Inspiration relates to the future. It is the ability to influence, move, or guide others into the unknown. It is being visional and missional. It is having goals and letting the mission drive you. Inspiration is like a cold — first you have to catch it to pass it on to others. You can’t lead others well if you fail to effectively paint a hopeful vision of the future, and if you don’t, at your core, believe it yourself.
An inspirational leader:
Every notable leader though out human history — Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Theodore Roosevelt— all had this. The ability to inspire people. The ability to live a life of integrity. The ability to rally others around a common culture and vision for the future.
I was recently on a Virtual Happy Hour call (those are becoming more frequent in these times) with friends from across the globe. While we are in different time zones, and possess different worldviews, we converge on this point — a collectively shared experience of crisis. Every country, company, and individual is dealing with the same hidden enemy: COVID-19.
We were talking about how the respective leaders in our sphere were dealing with it. My friend Fred, who lives in Canada, mentioned a public figure in local government who was experiencing a surge in popularity in the wake of this crisis.
“He was called out in press conference by a journalist saying that two weeks ago he said something that his actions now are contradicting. This leader responded Yes, I said that. Things have changed. We are in a different moment now. And we have to change course.”
Bingo. No one wants a stubborn leader. Someone who sticks to their old decision even when new information proves it is not the best path. That’s a poor leader, someone who is leading from ego not from instinct or intelligence. Also, we don’t want a leader who refuses to own their past actions. Who pretends they didn’t say what they said or do what they did. That is also a poor leader, someone who is leading from self-protection, not inspiration.
This leader did both things — owned his past decisions & statements, but also the responsibility to change course with new information. He embodied intelligence, instinct, and inspiration in that one moment. Which is why his people respect him. And his popularity is soaring amidst the crisis.
The CEO of my day job did something similar. A few weeks back, right when everyone started working remotely, he sent out a company-wide email saying that based on the criticality of services we provide to the public, we would need to continue reporting in-person to the office. I remember feeling a bit disappointed about it. But I trusted that he had all the information he needed to make the right decision in the best interest of our customers, communities and associates. It took a lot of guts sending that when other CEOs were sending similar emails with a different directive.
Two days later, he sent out another email to the following effect: ‘Due to the rapidly changing circumstances we are facing in this challenging climate, we are moving toward a remote working approach.’ In just 48 hours he changed course. That second email took more guts than the first. This is what effective leaders do: they use up-to-date intelligence, instinctual knowledge, and inspiration to make critical decisions. They pivot irrespective of ego, in alignment with the 3 I’s. Leaders who abandon any or all of them steer their ship off-course. And lose the respect of their people in the process.
An important note re: CEOs and world leaders. Understand that they have the weight of their companies and counties on their shoulder. Quite literally. I appeal to your humanity for a moment. Imagine having such pressure, and having to make decisions with those considerations. Another one of my friends that was on the aforementioned call is a small business owner. He had to lay off 5 people this week. It was the first time he had to lay someone off in 40 years. It broke his heart. But it was the tough decision he had to make to keep his business afloat. He grieved with us on the call. And we held space for him to mourn what had to be done.
So have some grace for the leaders in your life. Even the ones you don’t particularly like. They are people too. They are doing the best they can with the information in front of them. They bear the immense responsibility of best stewarding that which was entrusted to them. Let’s do our part to respect their decisions, even the ones we don’t necessarily agree with.
I started this article with what it takes to be a good leader. I ended it with a discussion on what it means to be under authority, and how to do that well too. This wasn’t an accident. They are two sides to the same coin. The brutal truth: we need to understand how to be under authority just as much as we need to understand how to lead. Because everyone has both in their life. The more I am called to lead others in my life and bear that responsibility, the more I hold sacred my ability to be easily led by those in authority over me.
Because I understand the weight of leadership.
And I understand the unspoken rule between leaders and followers.
As a leader I know personally there is always more to the story, always more than I am at liberty to share. As long as I lead from the 3 I’s though, I will have the respect of my people. And there is an implicit, unspoken agreement between leaders and followers, that as long as leaders abide by the 3 I’s, followers are okay with not knowing everything. They trust their leader is making decisions in the best interest of their team/constituents.
So for those you lead — hold fast to the 3 I’s. Make decisions in-line with intelligence, instinct, and inspiration. You’ll rarely stray from the path. And when you do, your people won’t bludgeon you.
And for those under authority— be easy to lead. We see in part, they see in full. And they are making decisions accordingly.
And for the leaders you have lost respect for? Don’t offer them ire or contempt. Any impassioned response from you gives precious energy they haven’t earned. Offer them grace. That is all an honest person, in-tune with their own leadership shortcomings and their own ugliest moments, can give. A little humility goes a long way.
BY NICK HENNING
Have you ever caught yourself saying "we" or "the team" during an interview?
All too often, professionals make the common mistake of saying "we" versus "I" during an interview.
It can be very subtle and sometimes hard to detect, but it can have an impact on your interview.
The hiring authority is only concerned with what you did and the results of the actions you took.
Your team is not interviewing for the position, YOU ARE so be sure to highlight your specific contributions by using I.
Otherwise, you might leave doubt in their minds that it was the teams' efforts that accomplished the incredible feat and not yours.
What are your thoughts?
Please like, share, or post a comment below, especially if there is a topic you want to me cover ;)
BY MARYBETH GRONEK
For so much of my life I thought “strength” was a monolith that housed multiple personality traits under one roof. Assertiveness. Independence. Tenacity. All fantastic traits independently, but together, forming a master quality called *strength.*
I was wrong. Strength is of a different constitution altogether.
I realized this when I started taking inventory of all the strong people in my life. My 60 year old, sweet and playful mom. My reserved and stoic grandfather. My down-to-earth, yet professional director. There are so many people in my life who I have the privilege of calling strong who share zero personality traits with each other. I mean zero. How could they each be labeled *strong* if they are so categorically different?
This led to a discovery. Strength isn’t a personality trait; it’s a frame of mind. It’s a way of seeing yourself and others. It’s an action but also a place. A home that one both inhabits and brings with them wherever they go.
Strength is challenging to quantify directly, but we know it when we see it. Here are five of the primary signs of strong people.
They have successful friends.
This is different than name dropping and “collecting” successful people. It means those in their inner circle, their tribe, are successful. I don’t necessarily mean famous. I mean good at what they do. Whether in career or relationships or something else. You see this concept everywhere in the personal growth community. Tony Robbins, Dean Graziosi, and other self-help titans tout the value of masterminds — of intentionally surrounding oneself with successful people on a regular basis to take your life to the next level. The old adage is true: iron does sharpen iron.
A mentally weak person cannot have successful friends because it makes them insecure. Weak people must always be the *best* in the posse to gratify their own ego. A mentally strong person holds court with the successful because they are secure in their identity and know this is the only way to grow. If you’re dealing with someone who is surrounded by successful individuals, chances are they are mentally strong.
They are okay with being misunderstood.
Life is an arena, and most people are spectators. I can’t claim this concept as an original thought. I borrow this metaphor from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…” — April 23, 1910, Citizenship in a Republic
While most people are spectators, there are a rare few who are gladiators. Who step out into the arena. Who put their thoughts out there. Who go after what they want. Who are willing to get ‘marred by dust and sweat and blood’ as Roosevelt says. These are people who start their own company, who write for a living, who public speak, who act/perform or participate in the arts. Such people expose themselves to the scrutiny of others, to the spectators in the arena. Roosevelt’s quote itself links arena-living to strength when it says “how the strong man stumbles.”
Willingness to be misunderstood precedes the strong man’s stumbling. Spectators draw their own conclusions about the gladiators, and oftentimes they are wrong. Completely wrong. A weak gladiator will leave the floor and join the spectators in the stands after being misunderstood, maligned, and massacred. A mentally strong person will stay. They are okay with being misunderstood — and everything that comes with it — because they know that it’s part and parcel with success. Greatness is always a few steps after a chorus of who do you think you are?
They embrace vulnerability.
We all have insecurities, doubts, anxieties. A mentally weak person — when confronted with such disappointments — will not lean into vulnerability. Instead, they will act out, withdraw, or feign happiness. Anything but exposing themselves and their thoughts/feelings to people they care about. Like being misunderstood, vulnerability is exposing oneself to the scrutiny of others, but in a different way. It’s leaning into the truth, the insecure parts of us, not knowing if those we love will accept us as we truly are. It’s not spectators we fear in vulnerability, rather our fellow gladiators.
I’m currently dating someone right now, and I see this concept as clear as day in the context of the newer relationship. It’s easy for me to speak my mind to any random person on the street. It’s harder to do so, especially if what I’m saying is unfavorable, to my boyfriend. I have much more to lose by sharing my disappointments. It would be far easier to give a half smile or withdraw when my boyfriend does something that bothers me. This is weakness, though. Instead, I must lean into vulnerability — as uncomfortable as it may be — and share what is bothering me in an authentic way. Vulnerability only matters when the relational stakes are high. It is a mark of a strong-minded person who embraces this, even when they would rather run terrified in the other direction (speaking about myself here 😂). I’m not where I want to be in this respect, but I’m trending in the right direction.
They have a growth mindset.
Have you ever met someone who was just okay with where they are in life, and have never desired to grow or expand as an individual? This type of person baffles me. A mentally weak person has a fixed mindset — they believe they are set in their ways and there is nothing to be done about it. Hence, they don’t even try to grow. A mentally strong person, on the other hand, possesses a growth mindset, a phrase coined by Carol Dweck over 30 years ago.
People with a growth mindset believe they can get smarter, and they understand that effort makes them stronger. They believe that with hard work, exemplary instruction, and the right environment they can improve their life. And guess what? Thanks to Michael Merzenich’s neuroplasticity research, we know this is true. Growth mindset aligns with the reality that the brain does change well into adulthood.
But why does possessing a growth mindset require strength? Because it starts with an admission that I am not all I want to be (humility) and that I hold the keys to my own improvement (personal responsibility), both of which are markers of the strong-minded.
They let you have the last word.
As the Proverb says: “The prudent hold their tongue.” Mentally strong people let others have the last word, even if those “others” are wrong. It is a true sign of security and strength to let someone else shine. To let someone else *own* the moment and take all the glory. Only a secure person who knows their value and isn’t in a comparison game can do this, and not just once, but as a lifestyle. For those who need the last word: Why do you have the need to correct others ad nauseam? What do you stand to gain? Are you that desperate to prove your own worthiness? This is the way of the weak. Being secure in oneself is strength. Affirming others, not self-promotion is strength.
Strength is far from what the world teaches us it is. It’s not lifting weights and a keto diet. It’s not a Herculean body frame. In fact, it doesn’t start in the physique — it starts in the mind. Strength is wanting that which is noteworthy and good. Strength is pursuing our dreams at the expense of our ego. Strength is honoring and caring for ourselves and others.
When you encounter a strong individual, know that this person didn’t arrive that way by accident. Instead, their strength is a result of the million little decisions, each and every day, to hold court with the successful, to pursue growth, to be misunderstood, to embrace vulnerability, and to let others shine. The mentally strong aren’t a series of pop-up bars — they are long-standing establishments with lifetime patrons.
When you find such a person, hold them tight. Wisdom is in their actions. Contentment is in their household. Blessings are in their future.
The world does not deserve them.
And if you spend any length of time with them, you are struck with the humbling, yet justified, feeling that neither do you.
BY DIANE KERTH
I have one of those refrigerators where you push your glass against a lever on the front of the refrigerator, and a stream of water comes out to fill your glass. So, there I was staring at my glass as it slowly filled, waiting and waiting as it climbed the walls of the glass with a slow stream of water. Then something on the kitchen counter caught my eye that I forgot to put away. Before you know it, I had shifted my glass ever so slightly and the water started missing the cup and running down the front of the refrigerator and onto the floor instead of continuing to fill my glass. Of course, I immediately stopped when I recognized what was happening, put my half-filled glass down and cleaned up the mess that was quickly created. After everything was dried off, I started again and continued to fill up my large glass.
I stood there thinking about what just happened and it dawned on me that this is the same thing that often happens in life. We will have our focus on a goal or task but if we take our eyes off the goal, our plans can get off track quickly and we start getting unwanted results. I’m sure when I was originally filling the glass, the water was still filling for a second or two when my eyes were averted to the kitchen counter, and all it took was that extra split second of not focusing on it, for water to keep streaming and missing the cup completely. The refrigerator didn’t move, I shifted my focus which shifted my hand. The good news is that when we are self-aware and realize what’s happening, we can regroup, clean up the water, and start again.
Where is your focus when it comes to what you want in life? Are you healthy? Are you managing your stress? Are you happy? When I take control of where I put my focus, I know I am living closer to the life I want. When I want to (sometimes NEED to) feel good I MUST think about positive things. I must listen to upbeat music. I must do something good for someone else. This is what I know works for me. When my stress starts to climb, I need to figure out what about my situation I can control and what I must let go.
Where I put my focus, I know my actions follow, consciously or unconsciously. This may not be a new concept to you, but how many of us are paying attention to how powerful our thoughts are and remember to acknowledge where we have our focus? There are many things in this world that we don’t have control over, but we DO have control over what we think about and where we CHOOSE to put our focus. What are you focusing on today?
BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I've always been mesmerized by documentaries of people who experienced a taste of the afterlife. You know the story: the person died very briefly, saw bright lights, experienced warm & loving sensations, and then was pulled back to earth to proudly tell their tale.
To be honest, I’m not sure if I believe all of those stories, but to say I’m captivated by them would be a massive piece of understatement. There’s something inspiring and transcendent about coming back from a point of no return and then instructing others as an imperative.
I had a similar point of no return in my own life. I don’t claim to have seen heaven, but I sure have seen hell. And it was a hell of my own making.
I was 26 — broke, lonely, and just not where I wanted to be. I had “friends” who didn’t actually care about me, a job that didn’t value me, a threadbare bank account, and no prospects in my love life. I didn’t know how to stick up for myself. I didn’t know how to communicate my value in a productive manner. I didn’t know how to create wealth. I didn’t know how to date. In essence, I was glum about where I was in life and felt stuck in that I didn’t know how to move forward.
It was at this low point that I realized it was my own thinking that was holding me back. Actually, that’s too generous of a statement. It was my own thinking that was ruining my life. And from that point forward I had a long journey of conquering myself to slowly extirpate that toxic and self-destructive way of thinking.
Along the journey, I had an epiphany. I realized there were four things that were ruining my life. This unholy tetrad wreaks havoc wherever it is found. I share it in hopes that you too can spot it, remove it, and step into the life of abundance you were called to live.
That eerie spectre that looms large, stealing your joy and contentment under a cloud of ‘what if?’ Fear of not having enough money. Fear of speaking your mind. Fear of taking a new job and it not working out. Fear of committing to one partner. Fear of sticking your neck out and failing. Fear pertains to your future. Its focus is forward, it’s hues are extreme, it’s light is always negative, and its landscape is context-less. Fear will ruin your life because it immobilizes you — keeping you from taking necessary action to advance in life.
#1 and #2 are related. Fear is often a manifestation of unresolved pain. It’s being scared to do do what is right & necessary as a result of being burned in the past. The man whose heart was broken and uses pain as a reason to never be vulnerable again. The abused child who grows up and builds walls around her heart. The walls that keep out pain but also keep out love.
Pain pertains to your past. Its gaze is backward, its palate is grim, its characters are grizzly and one-dimensional, and its decision-making is irrational. Pain will ruin your life because it allows you to make decisions contrary to your own interests. In trying to protect yourself, you end up limiting yourself. Pain still rules over you, the dominion-less master that continues to steal from you because you let him. Pain is your old landlord — except you’ve bought a home now and he has no business showing up and demanding things of you. But you still listen. And you keep giving.
Abundance is one step away from taking responsibility for your actions. An excuse: seemingly innocent, yet completely destructive. It’s the reason why you’ve been passed up for a promotion, again. It’s the reason why your kids won’t talk to you. It’s the reason why your ex broke up with you. Excuses pertain to your present. When confronted with your own shortcomings, your knee-jerk reaction is to defend: here is why I did that. Observe my beautiful reasons and you’ll understand. I don’t know why we do this. Excuses make us look weaker, not stronger. They kill our impact and gut any sort of respect people had of us hitherto. When confronted with your failings — whether big or small — there is only *one* response that is suitable: You know what. You’re right. I missed the mark, & I see how that negatively impacted you. I will do better going forward.
Some people use “guilt” as a soft synonym for “pain,” but that isn’t quite right. Pain relates to your past, and often, to things done to you. Guilt pertains to your choices and is a direct response of things done by you. Maybe you made a poor decision that had a terrible ripple effect. Maybe you had a drink when you told yourself you wouldn’t. Maybe you weren’t present and engaged while your kids were growing up, and they’ve made a mess of their life and you feel responsible. Guilt hovers between past, present, and future. It’s the ghost that knows no boxes and goes where it pleases. It’s also the ghost who is ravenous, and everlastingly until you lean into acceptance. This means extending grace for what you have done and accepting what has become. Making peace with all that was and is — it’s the only thing that starves guilt and makes a brighter future possible.
Notice the common denominator in all four — you. You are the biggest obstacle in your way. You are Public Enemy #1 in your own story, both the protagonist and the antagonist. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Don’t for a second buy into the lie that other people will ruin your life. That’s intellectually lazy and counterproductive. The more you make your own shortcomings about other people, the less you will succeed. That grievance you have against others? That blame-filled conga line of so-and-so is the reason I’m not happy, or successful, or don’t have the life I want? As Elsa would say, you’ve got to let it go. Others aren’t culpable for what you’ve done with your life. You need to have the funeral for that line of thinking. I say this not as someone from the outside looking in, but as someone on the receiving end of the very grievances you are citing. I’ve been through hell and back at the expense of other people. Yes, others’ actions may have impacted where I am today, but continuing to blame them doesn’t move the needle in my own life. Not one iota. Me owning my life and decisions moving forward does.
What “happened” to you is just the prologue. You write all the forthcoming chapters. The chapters are rich with your adventure, your actions, your stumblings, your triumphs, and most importantly, your agency. You are the protagonist. Never forget that.
And for goodness sake, stop living in the prologue. Can I let you in on a little secret? When I read a book, I usually skip the prologue. Most people don’t care (or care very little) about what got you here. They are more concerned with the person in front of them and what that person is going to do going forward. “Prologue you” matters very little. “Chapter you” matters much more. It’s where the story is lived. It’s where the character depth is woven and worked out. In short, it’s where the magic happens.
Guard those chapters like a prized jewel. Be vigilant in your thinking. It’s your own fear, pain, excuses, and guilt that detract from everything that journey could be. Join my tenacity in ripping out those dangerous weeds along the journey’s path. We were made for more than smallness and self-sabotage. Any success, anything worth having in life, is preceded first by conquering oneself.
I’m going to walk into today — and every day forthcoming — with the belief that I hold the keys to my own flourishing. I hope you’ll join me.
BY JENNY. B
It has been one of the great honors of my life to have graduated as a Psychology major in 2006.
While I was earning my degree, the field of Psychology itself was undergoing what felt like a Renaissance, expanding beyond a narrow definition or association with mental illness and conditioned behaviors toward a holistic view of wellness and our shared humanity. I was a student at Harvard when the traditional course offerings multiplied and began to include Positive Psychology and new depths in the Psychology of Leadership and Teams and topics surrounding happiness and creativity.
This was certainly the result of hard work and years of stewardship by leaders in Psychology and at the University. At the same time, it felt like an overnight sensation. There were packed auditoriums and an electric buzz around prestigious and up-and-coming visiting speakers and the venerated titans of Psychology on the Harvard faculty.
While it would be an impossible task and a disservice to attempt to distill all that was learned and discussed in those years with those great mentors, I can share 3 key concepts I return to, time and again. I find these to be true whether leading a business, volunteer group, or my household:
BY MARYBETH GRONEK
Do you have auto-reflex cringe moments? I do. One of them is when people are heavy-handed with self-proclamations:
Here’s why self-proclamations make me cringe: they are usually inauthentic. People who *are* a certain way don’t talk about it. They just are it. For example, people who take dating seriously don’t tell me about it, they live it. They communicate regularly and pursue me. They send meaningful and well-crafted text messages. They call. They show up. They put in the effort. Their actions — not their words — inform my opinion of them.
Adjectives are best used to describe others. When people use adjectives to describe themselves I get skeptical. Integrated, self-aware individuals manifest who they are without the need to tell people how to view them. They just show up that way and leave others to draw their own conclusions. They show, not tell.
As soon as someone tells me they are “direct” or “kind” or [insert your own adjective here] I know there is a gap there. It is a line spoken to convince themselves (more than me) that they are indeed that way.
Lies are loud. They have to be. They know they are wrong & their self-consciousness won’t let them stay quiet. They must perpetually assert themselves lest others discover their fallacious nature. The truth, on the other hand, sits quietly in the corner. It is not self-conscious. It knows what it is and does not need to convince self or others. The truth is secure.
I don’t think people do this maliciously. Self-proclamations aren’t as bad as bold-face lies. They are low-impact, subconscious ones. Either the actions of someone who doesn’t see themselves clearly, or someone who has been making strides in a certain area but not quite where they want to be. A work in progress. It’s not so terrible. It is insecure, though.
There’s another thing self-given adjectives reveal besides insecurity — a desire to shape the narrative. To control the way others see us. Whenever I catch myself using an adjective to describe myself to others I pause and ask, why did I just do that? 80% of the time it’s an insecurity and a red alert to hone in on that area and take actions to either grow in that space or lean into acceptance. 20% of the time, though, it’s me recognizing I want the other person to see me in a certain way, and our interactions thus far haven’t yet matured for them to see me in that light naturally. Hence, I’m trying to *speed up* a certain conclusion about me instead of letting it happen slowly and organically.
When I first realized I was doing this, I was embarrassed. It uncovered a fear of mine: I wanted people to get to know the *real* me as soon as possible, lest they think I’m too vanilla and leave. I’m so cool and unique, don’t go! A fear of being misunderstood, and consequently, a fear of abandonment. In a weird way, it’s its own sort of insecurity. And then I heard a quiet voice: Slow down, MaryBeth. Give people time to get to know you. To discover others is a bloody gift. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about relationships. People are meant to be unraveled — beautifully and reverently unraveled. Give other people that gift.
Embarrassment soon led to freedom. Because that’s the encouraging thing about fear — it can always be conquered.
So now I show up how I want to show up and let others draw their own conclusions. It’s an odd, yet contented feeling. Sitting with the potential of being misunderstood by sojourners who pass in and out of my life. Expectant for those who stay and uncover who I am. Not everyone has to be “right” about me. Few will. Others’ premature or false conclusions of me don’t have to align with the reality of who I am. And I’m learning to be okay with that.
BY DIANE KERTH
Last week I heard this phrase when my friend Sally and I were out to lunch. We were catching up on life and how things have been since the last time we got together. The conversation started going down a dark road of stress, frustration, depression and then she said, “What can I do, it’s just the way it is. I don’t have a choice.” My eyes opened wide, she knew me well, I said, “You do have choices, you may not like the choices that are available, but you do have a choice.” Sally looked mildly annoyed and without saying any words gave me the Diane obviously doesn’t understand my situation kind of look. I didn’t let a moment pass before I said, “I know what you’re thinking, and you DO have choices and to take it one step further, you have power in those choices!” When we miss the awareness piece of asking ourselves what options do I have? what choices do I have? we are giving away our power.
Here’s an example. Every Sunday afternoon I go to my parent’s home (they’re 88 years old) and I help them with a honey-do list. I walk in the door each week and they hand me the list right away of the things they want done. I have been going there every Sunday now for 15 years. In the first year of Sunday honey-do lists, resentment started to build because they were taking my time and always expected me to do more and more. I became annoyed, irritated, and stressed every Saturday night that year thinking that tomorrow I would be “wasting” another Sunday not getting anything done at my own house or in my own life. (I know I sound horrible but that’s what I was thinking!) It created friction and issues when I went over there on Sundays. I found myself being cranky and snappy. It was so bad that one Sunday night when I got home I just broke down and cried. In my head I was saying why is this happening to me and why can’t I have my Sundays to myself like everybody else in my office? They get to relax and have fun and do things. I don’t have that. I am stuck helping my parents. UGH!
Why am I having these horrible feelings? I’m a nice person, I respect my parents, how did it get to this point? Then something came over me and I snapped out of it, I woke up! Nothing was “happening to me” so to speak. I was the one with the problem, not my parents. The most frustrating thing for me about this realization is that I have been studying how choices are connected to personal power, and our sense of control, for years. How could I have not connected the dots for myself? This was what I spent years studying and working on. I was so blinded by feeling miserable and self-righteous that I didn’t take the time to look at what choices I had in this situation with my parents.
We often have choices that go unacknowledged or unrecognized because we are so busy “feeling.” Feeling happy, sad, angry, frustrated, lost, annoyed or stressed. We have to wake up, stop ourselves and really look at our options and so…. I did just that. There may have been more than three options, but these were the ones I considered. Option #1- I can continue on and do nothing different. Option #2- I can stop going to my parents all together on Sundays, the end. (Not a great option, my parents needed me, and it would be totally selfish but… it was a real option) Option #3- I can adjust the way I look at the situation. (Which IS the choice I made.)
What a wonderful choice! It was so empowering to take control of myself and realize I AM MAKING the choice to go to my parents every Sunday - no one is forcing me physically to go. I am CHOOSING to spend time with my parents and do their honey-do list. I am blessed that I have this time with them. When I took control of my choices and the direction I DECIDED to go. I felt strong and powerful. I have been filled with pride every Sunday I drive to my parent’s home because I know I am in charge of my decisions and this is my choice.
We all go through ups and downs in life but when we pause and examine the choices available to us, we can then make conscious decisions on how to proceed. It puts us in the driver’s seat. I can say no, yes, or here’s a different option. Over the years I have often been asked how I stay so positive and happy through the challenging things I’ve experienced in my life. I share that once I had the realization of how powerful I am through my choices, my life completely changed. I was instantly strong. I’m in charge of me. I’m in control of the things I can control.
Sally and I talked through each of her options for her particular situation. Once she laid them out and realized that she was in control of more than she realized, she immediately started to feel better. I told her that she was in charge of herself, no one else. She called me 2 weeks after our lunch and told me how strong, calm and in control she feels now. She says over and over throughout her week, “I’m in charge of me.” And wears a smile every time she says it.
Lead yourself. You’re so much stronger when you understand the ways you can influence your own life. Be in charge of you!
BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I insist on being the dumbest person in any room.
Not by choice, I’ll add. By practice. Grueling, ego-killing practice.
And I’ll be honest. It kind of sucks. That is, until the results.
I was recently at a dinner party where I felt woefully out of place. Everyone present was more advanced than me in nearly every topic of conversation: real estate investment, stock market, travel, finances, entrepreneurship. Throughout the party I faced a now-normal internal struggle to check out.
When I’m confronted with my own lack of knowledge and success in a single area, I admit, my natural reaction is to shut down. It’s self-preservation of sorts. Preservation of the ego. It can be exhausting to continually be around people who are in the *than you* camp: smarter than you, quicker than you, overall, just better than you. It makes me doubt my own accomplishments, how far I’ve come, and if I’m not careful, my value.
I have recently learned the importance of doing the exact opposite of checking out: of leaning in. Of asking questions, basic questions that help me understand fundamental concepts of how things work. I realize these questions expose me to the scrutiny of others, to their awareness that I don’t know shit about what they are talking about. But that’s okay. That I can live with. What I can’t live with? Nodding my head, fake-smiling, pretending I know what they are saying, then leaving the interaction not only no more improved, but also guilty of being a preposterous hack.
Everyone is going to have a little bit of ego in them, of wanting to be proud and feel good about self. Of wanting to look smart and accomplished among others. But to lead from our ego? That shit is dangerous. That’ll keep you stagnant. We need to decide what we want more in life: to feel good or to grow. If it’s the latter, we absolutely must surround ourselves with people who will challenge us to raise the bar in all aspects: intellectually, morally, ‘work’fully, fiscally. And for this to happen, for us to actually learn from these interactions, ego must take a back seat. Yes, these people are ‘better’ than me at certain things. But if I run from it now, I will not learn how they got there. Meaning, I will never get there myself. The stakes are higher than we realize.
Here’s where we need to reframe our thinking: Acknowledging someone is smarter than us does not minimize our value. Self-awareness is not a weakness. To look boldly at reality and face it full on — that is a strength. And that is the only place from which personal growth, and consequently success, can begin.
When the success gap between me and the person I’m speaking with is painfully obvious, and consequently, I’m feeling the impulse to check out, here’s what I ask myself: which game am I playing? If it’s the finite game, I’ll surround myself with people that make me feel good. If it’s the infinite game, I’ll put myself in circles that challenge me. Because here’s another law of nature: your network is your net worth. Proximity to power is power. To hold court with success is success. It’s better to hang out with goldmines than ash-heaps. Even if I stick out like a grubby piece of coal among the shine.
Because here’s the thing. Those paragons of success we admire? They were once the dumbest person in the room. All that glitters wasn’t always gold. They dared to question, to learn, to aspire. They dared to hang out in the goldmine. Discomfort, not glory, is the furnace of success.
BY JENNY B
I don’t like to be seen struggling; and, every day is a struggle.
The tension within this paradox of sorts has been driving me forward and holding me back, waking me up in the morning and telling me to go lie down, for years.
Predictably, this theme has played itself out on many stages in my life. In a dozen years of working in a secured building, I was the type of employee who never forgot her badge or keys. And, you could count on one hand the number of times I didn’t have it ready in my hand, walking from the car, to give the appearance of sailing effortlessly through the morning rush. (Having a Director stride by while seeing me struggle to find my ID badge, revealing that perhaps I was not totally organized, as I performed an archeological dig through a large and brimming bag - once was enough.)
I had become adept at anticipating the need and managing perceptions. I’ve found that has a floor and a ceiling to it, as you navigate life’s complexities.
At a cold and rainy bus stop at age 19, one of my college roommates was trying to pool and count coins so that each of the three of us could have exact fare. Impatiently, I tried to shut.it.down by snapping, “Just give $1. The fare is 90 cents.” The shortness in my tone was uncharacteristic of how we spoke to one another, and it was also one of the few times I was quickly rebuked by another of my roommates, “She’s just trying to help. We have to stand here and wait for the bus, anyway.” We were Sophomores, wise fools, at Harvard, years before the invention of smartphones and payment apps. In retrospect, I can still feel how the cold and early morning had worn on me, and how the quickness of the reactions in the situation cut to the bone: I wanted to give a dollar and not care about not getting any change in return. I didn’t want to, even so briefly, feel the weight of scholarships, part-time jobs, and student loans, while I took my winter glove off my cold and grasping fingers to search for coins to save us 10 cents a piece. That was my ‘floor’.
It’s not just about money. You won’t see me playing darts on a night out. No need to show that to the whole bar. And, it took some time for me to get comfortable playing cornhole/sidewalk-toss-bags at barbeques with family and friends, because, despite having years of experience playing sports, I worried that I wasn’t good enough at it and that my shortcomings would let my partner down. I used to anxiously only display what I felt like was good and polished enough.
This took a weird turn when I fell in love with my husband. On one of our fairly early on dates, in a crowded restaurant, I told him what amounted in my estimation to all the unlovable things he might find out about me some day. I am what some call a ‘reserved’ person. I hadn’t planned to do this. And, I can’t remember if he asked some question that prompted the first disclosure. But, once I started talking, the truth just set itself free and I looked up from the table with an expression of, “Well, now you know. And, if you are not going to love me because of it, then time to go.”
We’ve been married 10 years and our daughter is 2 years old.
I was given a wonderful gift, during a visit with my brother. At the height of the holidays, we had driven hours to be together and had almost as many children in the house as adults. I remarked on my intentions to organize and paste in photos in my daughter’s baby book, soon, and how I was going to have to paste a picture over any prompts that I couldn’t quite answer at this point, such as, “Date of first tooth.” (I don’t know. We were busy. She has a whole mouth of teeth, now, and that seems to be going fine.) This is a task I have both looked forward to, not had time for, and dreaded, in equal parts, how it was probably not going to turn out as good as I wanted it to, for her to have it for all time. Children rely on us, in their first years, more than anything. Parents and guardians have the double challenge of trying to construct and document the reality and narrative of how the journey into becoming who you are began, while trying to survive your child’s infancy.
My sister-in-law’s eyes lit up in response, “Let me show you the baby book I made for ours.” With genuine glee and openness she handed me a large, 16x16” album from a shelf where she knew exactly where it was, despite their recent move, and then almost as quickly got called away by a crying baby or a call from work. (There are many instances, and the urgency weaves together for the modern mom.)
The large volume rested on the back of the couch, I stood and took in all the ways she had outlined the memories from first sonogram through first birthday. It was a mix of glitter puffy paint, photos cropped with wiggly-edged scissors, and page titles and captions that could only have been homemade by mom – by this mom. She told me that she had done it during late and odd hours, after spending full days and sometimes nights caring for patients at the hospital. My talented sister-in-law could have made a sleek and elegant album with surgical precision. The one she made looks like it was made by a tired and loving mom. When she had pasted a few photos down and all of the next photo didn’t fit on that page, she just cut the photo and generally pasted the other part on the next page. She did while her household was sleeping, because she enjoyed doing it.
When was the last time I did something as a passion project? When was the last time you did something without judging in advance what the result would be? My nephew’s baby book was complete. And, my daughter’s was still a loosely pinned board in my mind.
Seeing how another working mom had done it, and that done was better than perfect cracked the ceiling for me. What raised the roof for me was when I saw that “Aunt Jenny’s visit” when my nephew was a new baby had its own 2-page spread. I had no idea that my harried, long-weekend visit where I dragged my brother, a-new-and-sleep-deprived-stay-at-home-dad, out to the touristy walking spots in Charleston mattered. It was the only visit we managed in the time they lived in Charleston, where my nephew was born and before I became a new mom in Chicago.
Looking at them now, the snapshots were great of my brother holding his 3-month old son in front of the 500-year old Angel Oak Tree, smiling at the Waterfront Park after we figured out how to unfold the stroller, and at all the eateries where Southern little old ladies and one gentleman cooed over him and awkwardly commented to me as if I had recently given birth to this child. (“He’s so good. Don’t have a second one! It’ll be a terror.”)
But, my nephew will know, because it’s pasted in his baby book across 2 pages.
In this season of resolutions and a new decade of hopes, that is my wish for you: to struggle, be seen, and know you are not alone. Everyone is struggling in some way. Being seen is one of the best ways to get the help or guidance that moves you forward.
I’m a writer, who prior to his hadn’t written anything in a long time. It all felt too deeply personal to share. But, what are we sharing and how are we meeting each other if not ourselves?
I’m going to keep going – when my kid is really snoring, not pretending to snore.
And, I hope you do, too. Happy New Year!
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