We will be brought low; all the way down to earth. These moments can feel humiliating but they are better thought of as humbling, the essence of the human experience. It is our humor that saves us, and that will be our posthumous gift to those who follow.
humus (n): the dark organic material in soils, produced by the decomposition of vegetable or animal matter and essential to the fertility of the earth. (see: dirt).
humility (n): a modest or low view of one’s own importance.
humiliate (verb): to cause (a person) a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity.
human (adj): of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or having the nature of people.
humor (n): the quality of being amusing; a mood or state of mind.
posthumous (adj): arising, occurring, or continuing after one’s death.
If we choose to think of love as a “state of being…a state of grace…in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth” as James Baldwin challenges us to do, we place ourselves dangerously close to the realization that our capacity for love is proportionate to our capacity to lead.
What is leadership if not the ability to help oneself and others navigate the complexities of change? What is it if not the ability to live at the edge of our understanding and to help others function well in the discomfort of learning?
And what but love allows us to enter into the real conversations necessary to be in those places? What but love strengthens our vulnerability to stay in a place of not knowing long enough to let the next step emerge?
If you have been loved in this way, you have been led. And if you have been led in this way, you have been loved.
It is not only that “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” as President Kennedy said. It is that leadership and love are indispensable to each other and that learning is the fruit of that sacred tree.
Thank you, Carol Pate, for sharing this photo/quote with me.
My friend, Theresa, loves this poem. I haven’t seen her for a few days and that’s too long. Today, that changes. I will welcome “the splash of her touch.”
on a plane,
you see a stranger.
He is so beautiful!
Going down in the
old Greek way,
or his smile
a wild Mexican fiesta.
You want to say:
do you know how beautiful you are?
You leap up
into the aisle,
you can’t let him go
until he has touched you
shyly, until you have rubbed him,
like a coin
you find on the earth somewhere
shining and unexpected and,
reach for. You stand there
by the strangeness,
the splash of his touch.
When he’s gone
you stare like an animal into
the blinding clouds
with the snapped chain of your life,
the life you know:
the deeply affectionate earth,
the familiar landscapes
thousands of feet below.
Please look at the upper left section of this photograph. Please notice that the branch you see in the foreground is the same branch that has not quite snapped off of the tree. Please also notice that this broken limb is sprouting many healthy shoots, new branches well on their way.
This branch is not whole but it remains connected. And the connection that remains is enough to provide the nutrients necessary for new growth.
You are broken in places, and I am too. Our breaks do not define us unless we choose to let them. Our breaks, if we let them teach us, make us more resilient and more committed to find a way to grow, to make life happen in ways we could not have otherwise imagined.
Do not lose heart in the presence of your brokenness. Take comfort; this is your moment to shine.
Walking in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, among ancient cedar trees, puts a few things into perspective. Please click below to join me for a brief reflection on the creativity necessity of engaging with the timeless.
Here’s the link I mentioned for Jumpstarting Creativity on the Ted Radio Hour.
The quote and question after which I titled my first book is, “Are we not safer leading A More Daring Life?”
The motto of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) is Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, meaning “For the Greater Glory of God.” I first learned this phrase in college, at Loyola Marymount University.
When combined, these two phrases form the statement of my personal aspiration:
To lead a more daring life for the greater glory of God.
I know that I am meant to become the fullest possible expression of myself, using the gift of my very life, as well as my innate and developed abilities, to make a positive difference in my family and community.
I know that I am not meant to play it safe, but to venture inward, exploring the territory of myself, and outward, exploring the territory of relationship and learning, in order to risk and to grow. And to always do so in service of something larger than myself, both terrestrial and spiritual.
I cannot say that I have achieved this because I remain a work in progress. I can say that I aspire to this, knowing that my failures are another opportunity to learn. I would rather fail attempting to live up to a high standard, then to set it so low that I guarantee my “success.”
Today is yet another day to lead a more daring life for the greater glory of God.
Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, put out a blog post this week called “Three Things Graduates Need to Know.” It’s his “two cents of advice…for preparing for the world of work.”
His three big ideas are worth repeating here, not only under the banner of “graduation advice” but as a way to answer the question, “What is school for?”
Our most thoughtful institutions of higher learning understand that they are in the business of providing rigorous academic instruction while also creating an environment in which students are challenged and expected to:
- Develop an ethic of hard work.
- Learn social skills, especially emotional intelligence.
- Learn humility (That is, to add some wisdom to their stores of knowledge).
When this happens, if it happens, the downstream effects are positive and potentially profound for them and for the organizations they join. When it doesn’t happen, that learning still may occur in the early (mid?) stages of one’s career, but it is a much bumpier road and likely a less forgiving one.
Students, parents, faculty, staff, mentors and advisors – anyone invested in the best possible outcome of our educational endeavors – will be well-served to remember that success is one (small) part subject knowledge, and three very large parts work ethic, humility and emotional maturity.
Any pain that remains unhealed in our hearts usually ends up getting projected onto others.
If you are in a position of influence this may mean that you abuse your authority, create unrealistic expectations, berate team members, withhold information, feel threatened by other’s success, or regularly operate in passive/aggressive mode. All of these are outward manifestations of internal disquiet.
When I describe leadership as an “inside job” or encourage leaders to “start within,” I am talking, first, about getting honest about what is unhealed and getting down to the very serious business of healing it.
Until that work is begun, even our “best and brightest” will suffer the vulnerability of insufficiency and either avoid responsibility due to a fear of failure or accept it without the humility required to be of service to those they lead.
I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.
These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.
We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.
What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.
Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.
But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.
Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.
There is a valley
Is the oldest story.
Its temperate qualities
Make us descend the trees
To settle down beside
Fruits and fields.
By its river content
To sit quietly in a small tent
To fashion fishing spears
From fallen limbs
No need to climb its hills
No need to go up there
To look to see