I had an “aha” moment this week. Like most “aha” moments, it was unexpected. And, like most “aha” moments, it emerged from the confluence of different experiences in my life coming together at just the right time, in just the right way.
I rediscovered my desire—my need—to lead from true self.
First, some context.
Last week I attended the Global Leadership Summit, a two-day conference that brings together many thousands of leaders across the world. Globally recognized speakers share their most recent thinking about their area of expertise. About 400,000 people experience the GLS through live or recorded content over the course of a year. This is no small event.
Over lunch on day 1, I met up with my OneLife group. OneLife is a ministry of my congregation formed to disciple marketplace leaders in Cincinnati to lead a transformed and integrated life. I’ve been involved with OneLife for several years and am now a co-leader of our group. I love the ministry and the people in it.
Lunch was great, and, since we hadn’t met regularly through the summer, we did more catching up with one another than reflecting on the morning’s content. We renewed our friendships and shared quite a few laughs. It felt good to be back together again.
Later that evening, I met with a different group. It was my first time there—a gathering of community members who meet monthly to support one another’s mental health through holistic approaches. I’d learned about this group in my professional role with NAMI Southwest Ohio, but I wasn’t attending as a representative of NAMI. Rather, I was attending because the session was about spiritual direction. Since completing my training, I’ve wanted to incorporate spiritual direction into my coaching and consulting practice in a more intentional way.
Fast forward to day 2 of the conference, lunch time. Same group of people, same lightheartedness and fun, a little more reflection on content and less catching up.
We followed the same process as the day before: lunch, questions, debriefs, discussions. Yet on this day, I felt out of place. I noticed that I was not acting like myself. I wasn’t participating well. I was experiencing a level of discomfort that, truthfully, was somewhat familiar to me as I’ve interacted with this group. And yet I knew it wasn’t them; it was me. What was up?
It took me being immersed in a setting in which I experienced my true self to recognize a setting in which I did not.
The contrast between participating in the group the night before and the group on day 2 was noticeable. Remarkable. I had felt completely at home in the evening group, and then the next day, like a diminished, partial version of myself. My way of being in one group was completely different than in the other.
What could account for the differences?
It couldn’t be size. There were 8 in the lunch group, 22 in the evening group. If anything, the larger size should have been more intimidating. Especially given the nature of the content we were sharing.
It wasn’t the structure. Both groups were circle-based. Both met for about the same amount of time. In the lunch group, we were seated around a table in a crowded room. It was a noisy environment with lots of conversation going on whereas the evening group gathered in a circle, no table, with a simple vase of fresh-cut flowers in the middle.
Familiarity couldn’t account for the differences. I’d been with the lunch group many times over the course of a year and with the evening group just once. One evening. One time.
And it wasn’t the subject matter. Both groups were sharing intimately about matters that matter to me: leadership, care for self, and care for others.
It had to be something else.
It had to reflect something within me, something true of me, something that resonated very deeply in my soul. Something less about the mechanics of a business, or a new principle to apply, or even how my faith and work mix. Rather, it revealed a truth about the condition of my soul—the soul that’s leading.
I recognized—again—the seed of my vocation.
A reminder of who I am, what I do, and why.
Parker Palmer, in his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation says,
The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?”
My nature is not that of a hard-charging business person, although I am ambitious, focused, and have a solid track record in building and supporting businesses.
My nature is not that of a venture capitalist or serial entrepreneur, focused on short-term gains with maximum return.
My nature is more relational, reflective, contemplative, attentive to the long-term and deep roots.
Palmer goes on to say,
If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and those around you.
I don’t think he means literally putting lives in peril, except via violence we may commit through our words and actions. It’s not like I’m a surgeon, operating on someone without a license.
But we do run the risk of doing great damage and harm, in whatever line of work we’re in, when we’re out of alignment with our true self. Damage to ourselves and to others. Damage to ours or another’s soul. Damage to one another’s hopes and well-being.
It’s a gift to know who you are, to recognize your true self. And to have the opportunity to reorient yourself around that truth.
And sometimes it takes being in an uncomfortable situation to get a glimpse of who you really are.
The next step of my journey is to act on this truth. To remember how good it felt to be in a place I belonged, and to live—and lead—from that place. What about you? What is your next step on the journey?
Questions for Reflection
- What does “true self” mean to you?
- Do you believe you have a true self?
- When and in what circumstances have you seen glimpses of your true self? Be specific.
- When your true self appeared, what did you notice?
- How might recognizing and welcoming your true self change the way you lead?