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.
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.