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.
I’m in the middle of an unresolved relational conflict, and it has consumed a lot of my thoughts of late. Last Thursday and Friday I discussed this relationship in four different conversations, seeking advice.
Or maybe I was really seeking validation for my point of view.
I have a complicated relationship with leadership development books and leadership conferences.
I read half a dozen leadership books and attend a handful of leadership development conferences each year. I’m passionate about lifelong learning, personal reflection, and the power of stories and fresh thinking to challenge my status quo. However, I find myself thinking, “This is pretty obvious stuff. Why am I spending all this time and money learning about things I already know I need to be doing?”
“How did we get here?” I thought to myself as my wife and I sat in silence, furious at each other on our anniversary get-away. In 23 years of marriage, we had never once had a fight about money. Then, out of nowhere, we found ourselves at odds over how much we were willing to pay for our daughter’s college tuition. I was so pissed that I stormed out of our Cincinnati Airbnb, and started walking north in the cool night air to clear my head.
I returned later that evening in the same state of mind as when I left. Kim and I went to bed angry, facing opposite directions.
Matthias Schlitte is a German professional arm-wrestler. He was born with a genetic bone disorder that made his right arm naturally larger than his left. His training objective is to build as much strength and muscle mass as possible in his larger arm, but keep the rest of his body (including his left arm) relatively trim, so he can compete in a lighter weight class. In the gym, he develops his right arm twelve hours a week.
All humans are on a journey of maturation. We continue to grow throughout our lives, hopefully until the day we die. I’ve found that these journeys are not linear. Much like Matthias, we develop asymmetrically.
As I reflect on my life, I find that the greatest growth has come from challenges that had me paralyzed at the time: believing I needed 34 hours in each day as a plebe at the Naval Academy, failing to stand up to a bully in the Marine Corps, trying to stay motivated and effective when I lost interest in my corporate job, learning to sell services to prospective clients, and understanding the depth of my arrogance and lack of curiosity as a coach and consultant.
I was a decent basketball player as a kid. I went to the Taylor University Basketball Camp two summers in a row, and I learned a lot. I’m right-handed, and I’ve always found it easy to drive to the basket to the right. But defenders would always frustrate me by poaching over to their left, shutting down my driving lane. When I learned to dribble left-handed, it opened up a lot of possibilities for me on the court.
Because of my personality, there are other behaviors that also come naturally to me.
The kindest words that have been said to me lately are, “Jess, I’m worried that you’re wrong, and that it’s going to hurt you.” They came from a friend, who I know didn’t really want to say them, about some personal views in which I had been very confident. Essentially, I had forced her to call me out on pridefully asserting that I was above struggling with something. After opening the conversation, she went on to gently explain her point of view, pointing out some obvious flaws in mine. She was humble, gracious, and obviously continued the conversation for my good rather than her own.
Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi found himself diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 35 with months remaining in his residency. As he and his wife sat across from his oncologist, she asked him to think though his values so he could make the most of the uncertain amount of time he had left to live. While I hope none of us will ever have to have that conversation under those circumstances, all of us live with the same questions and wrestle with expanding and contracting timelines – some which seem more certain than others. I’m convinced that our focus on legacy, impact and leadership development shouldn’t wait until the last decade of our careers.