How do we make sense of these turbulent times we find ourselves in? We read. We talk. We take action. We withdrawal. We grasp for some bit of information or some kind of traction that will give us a sense of control. The news offers little beyond death counts and closures. Most conversations just end up comparing notes on our shared uncertainty.
I’ve been in a reflective head space lately. A significant chapter of work is coming to a close at the end of 2019 and it’s made me think about the big leadership lessons that have formed me into the person I am today.
Six lessons stand out from the past few decades…
When I led the tune-up of a company’s volunteering program a few years ago, I ran myself into a brick wall. Luckily, the project itself was successful. We saw over 70 percent employee engagement in the company’s program; but my leadership wasn’t sustainable.
I was first exposed to the Enneagram nine years ago. I saw a one-page summary in a book I was reading, and I immediately dismissed the model; it sounded like voodoo magic or a horoscope. Then three years ago my wise friend Daniel Fuller gave me a copy of Stabile and Cron’s The Road Back to You and suggested I take a deeper look.
Three years ago I began studying an obscure tool called the Enneagram. With a BA in Psychology, I tend to be a little skeptical of personality tests, especially those with little scientific data to back them up. The Enneagram wasn’t designed by some PhD. Its’ reliability hasn’t been indisputably proven statistically significant. In fact, there’s much disagreement on whether an actual “test” is a good way to use the tool. Instead, it’s believed to have ancient roots, passed down through centuries of stories and traditions. Currently, it’s experiencing such an explosive Renaissance of interest; I’m afraid to say it’s practically reached fad status.
Several years ago something inside of me broke loose. In the midst of two major relocations, raising four kids under five years old, and starting a new organization, my body began to revolt against the pace and pressure I was subjecting it to on a weekly basis. Nearly every night I woke from sleep in the grip of panic attacks. Quiet walks on the White River Canal were disrupted by unexpected waves of breath-taking anxiety. Emotionally I was detached and distant from those closest to me, unable to articulate the hidden pain I carried around each day.
I’d just returned from an intense four days of work travel and was navigating a Sunday morning with my family. Walking between the garage and the house, my 12-year old son asked in his usual direct way, “Mom, what’s wrong? Are you stressed?”
I was running through the woods at Eagle Creek Park last Saturday with a good friend. I had sensed something was off in our relationship, so I asked him if there was anything I was doing that was making life harder for him. Over the next several minutes he calmly described two of my habits that weren’t working for others around me, or for him.
The holidays are supposed to be a wonderful time of gathering with loved ones. Unfortunately, they also glaringly highlight all the lovely family dynamics you try to ignore. I recently had a family experience I didn’t handle well. As several of us were sitting in my living room talking, one of my male relatives shared an extremely misogynistic video with another male relative. The volume on his phone was loud enough for the entire room to hear. My young adult daughter and my 17-year-old son were present as well. I “kindly” asked through gritted teeth that the video be turned off. This relative said, “What? I thought it was funny.” At that point, I snapped out “Turn it off now!” About an hour after he left, I started raging about how disrespectful he was. I was in full judgment mode.
My son has struggled with severe allergies and asthma for many years now. For him, that means struggling to breathe, struggling to sleep, avoiding common foods, missing lots of school; medicines, lots of doctor visits, planning ahead for unfamiliar situations, packing an extra container with his rescue inhaler and nebulizer machine; searching for root cause answers and getting “band-aid” advice.
Chronic issues– medical and otherwise– have a way of wearing one down. I forget what “normal” and “good” look like. I settle for survival and mediocrity.