Someone I recently met said that she tries to build community wherever she’s planted. She’s about half my age and I see so much spunk in her that I remember having at the same age. I recognize that wide-eyed innocence and bubbly enthusiasm, not knowing yet some of the hard lessons of leadership. I can also see that she’s still figuring out her own place in this world, who she is in relation to others. Her journey into leading and motivating others is normal and also unique. The hurdles will be what every leader has faced and will require courage and tenacity, fortitude and resilience. But, how she faces the challenges and overcomes them and shines her light will reflect her own uniqueness.
If this young woman were to ask me – what’s the greatest challenge she will face, I’d say this one thing. The hardest thing about building community is not about putting yourself out there. It’s putting yourself out there imperfectly. Making mistakes – being human and flawed – while in the public eye.
In my own journey, I’ve done some things well and I’ve done other things poorly. There are moments where I got it all right and just as many moments where I totally screwed up. I’ve learned from many of my mistakes. Some of them have been good life lessons about who you trust, managing disappointment and letting go of what wasn’t yours to hold. Other lessons have been just me being insensitive or demanding or thoughtless, my flaws being lived out under the unblinking spotlight of the public eye. Standing alone in the glare of my humanity for all the world to see.
Think about silly or embarrassing things you’ve said or done and wished you could take back. Then think about all of those things happening in front of those you are invested in, actively engaging and supporting. Think about letting others down, letting yourself down. Then consider those who never wanted you to succeed, who clap their hands in glee at your failings. “See, I told you she was [this or that]!” And those things are true.
But, our flaws aren’t the whole story of ourselves. And sometimes the only one reminding us that our pluses are greater than our minuses is our heart, “It’s okay. You’re okay. Keep learning. Keep leading.” And you navigate waters of self-doubt and inner judgment through compassion and kindness that keep you afloat in your own humanity.
After all that, when we decide to create community in hopes that others will join in, the unforgiving spotlight becomes the best teacher of self-love. In order to successfully lead and continue to lead, we have to learn to love ourselves in the kindest of ways that defies the judgment of others. We learn to accept our blemishes and we mature, falling in love with all of ourselves, not just the good parts.
To this young, ambitious, sparkling woman who is embarking on a mission to change the world around her, I hope that she will find not only her own inner strength to rise to the challenges, but to also fully embrace her humanity in all its flawed beauty. We can only give out of what we have, even if we have to figure that out in front of everyone else.